The Prologue and Infancy Narrative (p. 1)
Luke’s introduction (p. 1)
Birth of John the Baptist foretold (p. 1)
An angel prepares Mary (p. 4)
Mary visits Elizabeth (p. 5)
Birth of John the Baptist (p. 7)
Shepherds visit the stable (p. 10)
Temple ceremonies in Jerusalem (p. 13)
Simeon and Anna (p. 13)
Return to Nazareth (p. 15)
Jesus twelve years old (p. 15)
Ministry in Galilee (p. 24)
The synagogue at Nazareth (p. 24)
Man with an evil spirit healed (p. 26)
Many sick people healed (p. 27)
Call of Peter, Andrew, James and John (p. 28)
Jesus cleanses a leper (p. 29)
Jesus heals a paralyzed man (p. 29)
Call of Matthew (p. 31)
Why Jesus’ disciples did not fast (p. 31)
Picking corn on the Sabbath (p. 32)
Man with a withered hand (p. 33)
Jesus chooses the twelve apostles (p. 33)
Citizens of the kingdom (p. 34)
Legal obedience is not enough (p. 35)
Judging others (p. 36)
The two ways (p. 37)
Centurion’s servant; widow’s son (p. 38)
Messengers from John the Baptist (p. 40)
In the house of Simon the Pharisee (p. 43)
The sower (p. 45)
Jesus and his family (p. 47)
Jesus calms the storm (p. 47)
Demon power overcome at Gadara (p. 48)
Jairus’ daughter and a woman healed (p. 50)
The twelve sent out (p. 52)
Death of John the Baptist (p. 53)
Feeding the five thousand (p. 53)
Peter’s confession of the Messiah (p. 54)
Test of true discipleship (p. 55)
The transfiguration (p. 55)
Healing of an uncontrollable boy (p. 56)
Lessons in humility (p. 57)
The Journey to Jerusalem (p. 58)
Rejected in Samaria (p. 58)
The cost of being a disciple (p. 59)
The mission of the seventy (p. 59)
Who is my neighbour? (p. 62)
Jesus in the house of Mary and Martha (p. 64)
Giving, praying and fasting (p. 64)
Prayers of request (p. 65)
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (p. 66)
Jesus accuses Pharisees and scribes (p. 69)
Beware of Pharisees and Sadducees (p. 71)
Concern about safety and security (p. 71)
Concern about material things (p. 73)
Be prepared at all times (p. 75)
Warning to the Jewish nation (p. 78)
A woman healed in the synagogue (p. 79)
Wheat and weeds; mustard seed; yeast (p. 80)
The first shall be last (p. 80)
In the house of a Pharisee (p. 82)
More about discipleship (p. 85)
Lost sheep; lost coin; lost son (p. 86)
The shrewd manager (p. 90)
Questions about divorce (p. 92)
The rich man and Lazarus (p. 92)
Duty, faith and gratitude (p. 94)
Coming of the kingdom (p. 96)
Two parables about prayer (p. 97)
Jesus blesses the children (p. 99)
The rich young man (p. 99)
The request of James and John (p. 101)
Blind men near Jericho (p. 101)
Jesus and Zacchaeus (p. 102)
Parable of the pounds (p. 103)
Ministry in Jerusalem (p. 105)
The triumphal entry (p. 105)
Jesus cleanses the temple (p. 107)
Authority of Jesus questioned (p. 107)
The wicked vineyard keepers (p. 108)
A question about paying taxes (p. 109)
Marriage and the resurrection (p. 110)
Who is the Messiah? (p. 111)
More about scribes and Pharisees (p. 112)
The widow’s offering (p. 112)
The coming crisis (p. 113)
A warning to be alert always (p. 115)
The suffering and death of Jesus (p. 117)
The plot to capture Jesus (p. 117)
Jesus prepares the Passover (p. 117)
The Lord’s Supper instituted (p. 118)
A traitor among them (p. 119)
Disciples’ failure foretold (p. 119)
Jesus prays in Gethsemane (p. 121)
The arrest of Jesus (p. 121)
the high priest’s house (p. 122)
The Sanhedrin’s judgment (p. 123)
Before Pilate and Herod (p. 124)
Jesus before the people (p. 125)
Journey to Golgotha (p. 126)
The crucifixion (p. 127)
The death (p. 128)
burial (p. 129)
The opening words of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts indicate that the two books were written by the same person. Together they form a continuous record of the origins of Christianity, from the birth of its founder to the arrival of its greatest missionary in Rome.
Both books were written for a man named Theophilus, who, from the title by which he is addressed, appears to have been a person of some importance, possibly a high-ranking official in the Roman government (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). The books do not record the name of the writer, but the common belief from the time of the early church is that it was Luke.
It seems certain that Luke was a Gentile, and therefore the only New Testament writer who was not a Jew. Early records suggest that he was born in Antioch in Syria, though at the time of Paul’s missionary travels he seems to have lived in Philippi, in the north of present-day Greece.
By profession Luke was a doctor (Col 4:14), but he became also a skilled historian. He carefully dated the beginning of his story according to well known events (Luke 2:1-2; 3:1-2), and the findings of archaeology have confirmed the exactness of the technical words he used for places and officials (Acts 13:7; 16:12,35; 18:12,16; 19:31,35)
Luke first appears in the biblical record when he joined Paul in north-western Asia Minor and accompanied him on Christianity’s first missionary thrust into Europe. Luke’s movements can, to some extent, be traced by his use of the word ‘we’ when he was with the missionary party and the word ‘they’ when he was not. Paul’s first centre of evangelism in Europe was Philippi (Acts 16:10-12), and Luke remained there when Paul moved on to other parts of Greece (Acts 17:1). He rejoined Paul several years later when, on a subsequent journey, Paul passed through Philippi on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5-6).
It seems that from this time on, Luke remained with Paul as one of his most valued fellow workers. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and then imprisoned in Caesarea, Luke remained close by. He no doubt used the time to gather information from eye witnesses of the life of Jesus to include in his Gospel (Luke 1:2-3). When, at the end of a two-year imprisonment, Paul was sent to Rome, Luke accompanied him (Acts 27:1; 28:16). He was with Paul during a further two-year imprisonment in Rome, and during this time he finished the writing of his Gospel and Acts (Acts 28:30; Col 4:14; Philem 24). (For further details of events in Rome that helped Luke in his writings, see earlier section ‘The Writing of the Gospels’.)
Luke concluded his two-part record at the point he had chosen. Christianity’s greatest ambassador was proclaiming the gospel openly and unhindered in the very heart of the Empire (Acts 28:31). But the end of Luke’s book did not mean the end of Paul’s life. As had happened many times before, Paul was released from his imprisonment and went on further travels. After visiting churches in various countries he was again arrested, then taken to Rome where this time he faced execution. Luke was still with him, and in fact was the only one with him as Paul awaited the executioner (2 Tim 4:6,11).
Of the four Gospels, Luke is the longest and most orderly. It covers more of the life of Jesus than the other Gospels, though like them it does not attempt to give a biography of Jesus. The writer has gathered and arranged his material with a definite purpose in mind, and with much skill has produced a book that contains more of the well known stories of Jesus than any other.
In writing his account, Luke was concerned with more than providing Theophilus with a record of historical details. He selected and presented his material in a way that defended and promoted Christianity. He wanted to show that God in his love had a plan of salvation for a sinful humanity, and that in accordance with that plan Jesus Christ came to be the Saviour. Those who believed in Jesus received the promised salvation, then spread the message of that salvation worldwide (Luke 1:17; 1:68-73; 2:11; 3:4-6; 4:18,21; 19:10; 24:44-48; cf. Acts 1:8). (Most of the statements and stories represented by the references above, and by those that follow, are found only in Luke.)
Luke shows that although Jesus belonged to the Jewish race and grew up in the Jewish religion, the salvation he brought was not in any way tied to the Jews. People did not have to adopt the Jewish religion or the Jewish way of life to be saved. Certainly, the religion of Israel had prepared the way for Jesus, but now that he had come it had fulfilled its purpose. The salvation he brought was for people everywhere, regardless of race. The Jews enjoyed no favoured treatment, and the Gentiles suffered no prejudice against them (Luke 2:32; 3:6-8; cf. Acts 15:6-11). In fact, Jesus was often more appreciated by Gentiles than by Jews, with the result that Gentiles received his salvation, but Jews missed out (Luke 4:25-27; 7:9; 11:31-32; 17:11-18).
Just as there was no distinction on the basis of race or religion, so there was no distinction on the basis of social class. Salvation was available equally to all. Luke illustrates this (and in so doing gives a warning to Theophilus) by showing that often the socially respectable missed out on salvation, but the socially despised received it (Luke 7:29-30; 10:30-37; 16:19-31; 18:9-14; 19:1-9).
In developing this theme, Luke draws attention to the various kinds of socially disadvantaged people who received God’s blessings. Among these were slaves (Luke 7:2-7; 12:37), aliens (Luke 10:30-37; 17:16), the poor (Luke 1:53; 2:7; 6:20; 7:22) and women (Luke 1:28; 2:36-38; 7:37-48; 8:2; 13:11-13), in particular, widows (Luke 4:25; 7:12-15; 18:1-7; 21:1-4).
The Prologue and Infancy Narrative (p. 1)
Of the four Gospel writers, Luke is the only one who introduces his book by setting out briefly the circumstances of his writing. He wanted to prepare an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, but unlike others who prepared similar books, he was not an eye witness of the things about which he wrote. He therefore could prepare his book only after careful research (Luke 1:1-3). He wrote for a person of rank named Theophilus, to give him a reliable account of who Jesus was and what he had done (Luke 1:4).
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. Because all male descendants of Aaron were priests, there were, even in Old Testament times, too many priests for the amount of work to be done. David therefore divided them into twenty-four divisions, and each division served for two weeks each year. Zechariah belonged to the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5; cf. 1 Chron 24:1-19). (All priests would be required for duty during the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which together would account for the remaining four weeks of the year; cf. Exod 23:14-17.)
Each morning and each evening one priest was chosen by lot to go into the temple and burn incense while the people outside prayed. Priests valued this duty as something they would probably do only once in a lifetime; but for Zechariah the joy of the occasion was mixed with personal disappointment, as his own prayers had not been answered. He and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for many years that God would give them a child, but they were still childless (Luke 1:6-10).
While Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, God showed him that his prayers would now be answered. Elizabeth would have a child, to be named John, who would become a special messenger from God to his people. He would be equipped by God’s Spirit for his ministry, and he would live under the restrictions of a person set apart for God (Luke 1:11-15; cf. Num 6:1-8). John’s task was to call the people of Israel to repentance. If they responded to his preaching, they would be united in spirit with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and would be ready to welcome the Messiah (Luke 1:16-17; cf. Mal 4:5-6).
Although Zechariah had the faith to pray, he did not have the faith to believe the answer to his prayer. As a chastisement for his lack of faith, he became dumb for a period (Luke 1:18-22). God did not, however, withdraw his promise. When Zechariah’s time of service at the temple was over, he returned to his home, and soon Elizabeth became pregnant (Luke 1:23-25).
Six months after Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple in Jerusalem, the same angel appeared to Mary in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Mary was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:26-28). She was startled and puzzled when the angel told her that, though still a virgin, she would give birth to a son, and this son would be the promised Messiah. He would be in a unique sense God’s Son and his kingdom would be eternal (Luke 1:29-34). Mary’s pregnancy would come about not through any sexual relations with Joseph, but through the direct creative power of the Spirit of God. The son born to her would be of Adam’s race but free of any trace of Adam’s sin. He would not be one whom God merely adopted as his son, but one who was actually God’s Son. He would be the head of a new creation (Luke 1:35).
Mary knew that in the eyes of the public her pregnancy would spoil her honourable reputation, but she humbly submitted herself to the will of God. If she had any doubts about what God could do, Elizabeth’s recent experience might have been an encouragement to her. The two women were close relatives (Luke 1:36-38).
With the time drawing near when Elizabeth would give birth, Mary travelled south to visit her. The honour that Elizabeth gave to Mary at their meeting was symbolic of the honour that John would give to Jesus (Luke 1:39-45).
Mary’s song of praise reflects her total submission and deep gratitude to God for what he was doing through her. The song (sometimes called the ‘Magnificat’, from the opening words in the Latin version) has many similarities to the song of Hannah, whose son Samuel was also a gift from God in unusual circumstances (cf. 1 Sam 2:1-10). Mary begins by recalling God’s love in choosing her, an ordinary human being, to be the means of bringing his blessing to humankind (Luke 1:46-49). God did not use the rich, the mighty or the proud, but the poor and lowly who feared him (Luke 1:50-53). In showing grace to Mary and mercy to Israel, God was being faithful to the promises he gave to Israel’s ancestors (Luke 1:54-56; cf. Gen 12:1-3).
Elizabeth’s son was born amid much rejoicing, and eight days later was circumcised in accordance with the law of Israel. Circumcision was a minor surgical operation carried out on all Israelite baby boys, and was the covenant sign that Israel was God’s people. At this ceremony the child was usually given his name (Luke 1:57-60; cf. 2:21; Gen 17:9-14; Lev 12:3). When relatives tried to interfere in the naming of the child, Zechariah proved his obedience to God by insisting that the child be named John. In response God removed Zechariah’s dumbness (Luke 1:61-66; cf. v. 13, 20).
Zechariah then broke forth in a hymn of praise to God. His first words of praise were not for his son, but for the Saviour whom his son would announce. This Saviour was the Davidic Messiah and the redeemer of his people. In accordance with the covenant God made with Abraham, the Messiah would deliver God’s people from bondage so that they might serve him in reverence, holiness and righteousness (Luke 1:67-75).
As he turned his attention to his own son, Zechariah was reminded that John’s task was to lead people from darkness to light through repentance of their sins. In this way he would correct the false ideas people had of the Messiah and prepare the way for them to welcome him. A new age would dawn (Luke 1:76-79). But before John could prepare others to receive the Messiah, he himself had to be prepared (Luke 1:80).
Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth in the north of Palestine (see Luke 1:26-27), but the town to which they belonged according to their ancestry was Bethlehem, the birthplace of their forefather David. When the government issued an order that all people were to return to their ancestral town for a census (probably for taxation purposes), Joseph and Mary made the journey to Bethlehem. The town was so overcrowded with travellers returning for the census that they could find nowhere to stay except in a stable with animals. There Mary gave birth to Jesus (Luke 2:1-7).
The first people to be told the news that Israel’s Messiah had been born were a group of shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. God’s gift of such a Saviour was evidence of his good pleasure towards humankind and his desire that people everywhere be brought into a relationship of peace with him (Luke 2:8-14). The shepherds hurried to visit the new-born child, then spread the news of their wonderful discovery (Luke 2:15-20).
For the second ceremony Mary and Joseph made the ten kilometre journey to Jerusalem, where they went to the temple to present their firstborn to God. Ever since God saved Israel’s firstborn at the time of the original Passover, the firstborn of all Israel’s people and cattle belonged to him. At the age of one month the firstborn was taken to the temple, presented to God, then bought back by a payment of five shekels (see Exod 13:2; Num 18:15-16).
The third ceremony was the ritual purification of the mother after childbirth. In the case of a male child this took place forty days after the birth, when the mother presented a lamb for a burnt offering and a bird for a sin offering. If she was too poor to afford a lamb she could offer another bird instead (see Lev 12:1-8).
Jesus’ parents carried out these two ceremonies on the same visit to Jerusalem. Their poverty is indicated by their choice of the sacrifice available for those too poor to afford the normal sacrifice (Luke 2:22-24).
In separate incidents, two people at the temple recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. The first was a man named Simeon. Unlike most Jews, Simeon had the spiritual insight to understand the sort of person the Messiah would be. He acknowledged that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that he would bring glory to Israel and salvation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:25-32).
Having praised God for the coming of Jesus, Simeon turned to address Mary. He saw that one day Jesus would create a division among the Jewish people. Many would reject him and so fall under God’s punishment, but others would receive him and so rise to salvation. People’s opposition to Jesus would show up the sinfulness of their hearts, and at the same time bring pain and sorrow to the heart of his mother (Luke 2:33-35).
The other faithful Jew who saw Jesus and his parents in the temple was an elderly woman named Anna. In some ways her life had been lonely, but she had never grown bitter. She sacrificed time and personal comforts so that she could devote herself to worship and prayer. Throughout her long life she never stopped believing that salvation would come through the promised Messiah. On seeing Jesus she knew that this was the one for whom she had waited (Luke 2:36-38).
Upon hearing of Herod’s death, Joseph and Mary returned with the infant Jesus to Palestine (Matt 2:19-21). Since the new king Archelaus was as unjust and cruel as his father Herod, they considered it unsafe to stay in Judea, so went north to their home town of Nazareth. As the years of Jesus’ childhood passed, he developed in body, mind and spirit (Matt 2:22-23; Luke 2:39-40).
Joseph and Mary, being sincere and faithful Jews, went to Jerusalem for the Passover each year. Jesus, who accompanied them on the occasion recorded here, was twelve years old at the time. At this age Jewish boys were being prepared for entrance into the adult affairs of the synagogue (Luke 2:41-42).
In the Jewish form of instruction, teacher and student often took turns at asking and answering questions, many of which were concerned with details of the law. The teachers in Jerusalem noted that Jesus was different from other students, both in the questions he asked and the answers he gave. His concern was not with trivial details of the traditional teaching, but with a real understanding of the mind and ways of God (Luke 2:43-47). He reminded his parents of his unique relationship with his heavenly Father and of the need for him to know and do his Father’s will. They did not fully understand what he meant, but Mary kept thinking about it. Jesus, on his part, realized that he still had to be obedient to his earthly parents (Luke 2:48-52).
Preparing the way for Jesus' ministry (p. 17)
The preaching of John soon attracted opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. They sent representatives to question him and then report back on what he taught and who he claimed to be. John denied that he was promoting himself as some new leader in Israel. He did not consider himself to be either the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15,18 or the ‘Elijah’ promised in Malachi 4:5. He was only a voice calling people to turn from their sin and be baptized, and so prepare themselves to receive the Messiah. He was like a messenger sent ahead of the king to tell people to clear the way for the royal arrival (Matt 3:1-6; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:19-23).
John commanded all people to repent, no matter who they were. Those who were descendants of Abraham were no more privileged in the eyes of God than the stones on the ground. All people, regardless of nationality, religion or social status, were to leave their selfish and sinful ways, and produce results in their daily lives that would prove their repentance to be genuine (Matt 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14).
Although John baptized people to show they had repented and been forgiven their past sins, his baptism gave them no power to live a pure life. It was merely a preparation for one who was far greater than John. Jesus Christ would give the Holy Spirit, which, like fire, would burn up the useless chaff of the heart, leaving the pure wheat to feed and strengthen the life (Matt 3:11-12; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:24-28).
Somewhere about this time John the Baptist was imprisoned. Jesus meanwhile continued north into Galilee, where the people’s enthusiastic welcome was in sharp contrast to the suspicion of the people in Judea (Matt 4:12-16; John 4:43-45). He pointed out, however, that the kingdom he announced was not for those seeking political or material benefits. It was only for those who humbly and wholeheartedly turned from their sins (Matt 4:17).
In due course John publicly introduced Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, for whom he had prepared the way. John’s introduction contained none of the popular Jewish ideas of a political or military leader who would bring in a golden age for Israel. Instead it suggested that the Messiah would die, like a lamb offered in sacrifice for the cleansing of sin (John 1:29-30). John then pointed out that he himself was not at first certain that Jesus was the Messiah, but when he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, he was left in no doubt. John’s explanation indicates that Jesus’ baptism took place before his public introduction (John 1:31-34).
When Jesus approached John to be baptized, John hesitated, because he knew Jesus was superior to him in character, status and authority. But Jesus insisted. He wanted to begin his ministry with a public declaration of his devotion to God. Baptism was an act of obedience carried out by those who declared themselves on the side of God and his righteousness. Jesus was baptized to show that, like all the faithful, he was obedient to God and he intended to carry out all God’s purposes. His baptism displayed his identification, or solidarity, not only with the faithful minority of Israel but also with the human race in general. It was an identification that would lead to a far greater baptism at Golgotha, when as the representative of his fellow human beings he would bear the full penalty of sin (Matt 3:13-15).
Having shown his intentions openly, Jesus received openly the assurance that his Father was pleased with him. The Father’s announcement, by combining a quote concerning the Davidic Messiah with one concerning the Servant of the Lord (see Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1), gave an indication that Jesus’ way to kingly glory was to be that of the suffering servant. In appointing Jesus to his public ministry, the Father poured out upon him the Holy Spirit, through whose power he would carry out his messianic work (Matt 3:16-17; cf. Isa 11:1-2; 61:1; Acts 10:37-38).
The genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke show how the birth of Jesus fulfilled the promises made to Abraham (Gen 12:2-3; 22:18). Matthew, writing for the Jews, begins his genealogy with Abraham, father of the Jewish race (Matt 1:1-2a). Luke, writing for non-Jews, traces Jesus’ genealogy back past Abraham to Adam, to emphasize Jesus’ union with the whole human race (Luke 3:34b-38). Between Abraham and David the two genealogies are the same (Matt 1:2b-6a; Luke 3:32-34a), but between David and Jesus they are different, as they follow two lines of descent that started with David and came together in Jesus (Matt 1:6b-16; Luke 3:23-31).
Matthew’s genealogy shows that Jesus had legal right to the throne of David, for he was in the royal line of descent that came through Solomon and other kings of Judah down to Joseph. Jesus therefore fulfilled the promise that the Messiah would be one of David’s royal descendants (2 Sam 7:12-16; Jer 23:5). But both writers point out that though Joseph was Jesus’ legal father he was not his natural father (Matt 1:16; Luke 3:23).
The genealogies do not necessarily list every person in the line of descent. As is often the case, they may be selective and stylized, to make them fit a simple scheme. Matthew, for example, omits some names to produce an arrangement of three sets of fourteen (Matt 1:17).
Luke’s genealogy gives further proof that Jesus was descended from David, by tracing his ancestry through the line of another of David’s sons, Nathan. This may represent another line of descent from David to Joseph, or it may represent the line of descent from David to Mary (but Mary’s name is not shown, since the genealogies record only the names of the males). If the latter is the case, Joseph was the ‘son’ of Heli only because of his marriage to Mary (i.e. Mary was the daughter of Heli, Joseph the son-in- law). It is possible that Mary’s mother was from the tribe of Levi and descended from Aaron (cf. Luke 1:5,36) and her father from the tribe of Judah and descended from David (cf. Luke 1:32,69).
Immediately after being appointed to his messianic ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his messianic powers in the wrong way. (For the identification of the devil with Satan see Revelation 20:2.) Satan’s aim was to make Jesus act according to his own will instead of in obedience to his Father.
Jesus had gone many weeks without eating and was obviously very hungry. Satan therefore used Jesus’ natural desire for food to suggest that he should use his supernatural powers to create food and eat it. Jesus knew that food was necessary for a person’s physical needs, but he also knew that obedience to God was more important. God alone would decide when and how his fast would end (Matt 4:1-4).
Living in a world of unbelievers, Jesus could be very frustrated at their refusal to accept him. He was therefore tempted to perform some spectacular feat that would prove once and for all that he was the Son of God. For instance, he could jump from the top of the temple in front of the people, asking God to keep him from being hurt. But to call upon God to save him from an act of suicide would be sin. It would be putting God to the test by demanding that he act in a certain way merely to satisfy an individual’s selfish desire (Matt 4:5-7).
Then came the temptation to gain worldwide rule through compromising with Satan and using his methods to gain power. As the Messiah, Jesus had been promised a worldwide kingdom, but the way to that kingdom was through laying down his life in sacrifice. God wants people to enter his kingdom because they have a willing desire to serve him, not because they are the helpless subjects of force or cunning (Matt 4:8-10).
In each case Jesus answered the temptations by quoting principles taken directly from the Scriptures. All the references were to the experiences of Israel in the wilderness (Deut 6:13,16; 8:3), suggesting again the identification that the Messiah felt with his people in their varied experiences.
These were not Satan’s only temptations (Luke 4:13). Jesus continued to be tempted with suggestions to put his physical needs before his Father’s will (see John 4:31-34), to prove his messiahship to unbelievers by performing miracles (see Matt 16:1-4) and to gain a kingdom through any way but the cross (see Matt 16:21-23; John 6:15).
Ministry in Galilee (p. 24)
Soon after returning to Galilee, Jesus visited his home town of Nazareth. Being a genuine God-fearing Israelite, he went on the Sabbath to join with other Jews in worshipping God at the synagogue. In keeping with the synagogue custom of standing to read and sitting to preach, Jesus stood and read Isaiah 61:1-2, then sat down and explained how the passage applied to him. He was the Messiah who brought God’s salvation to a world oppressed by sin (Luke 4:16-21).
The people were surprised that the one they previously knew only as the carpenter’s son could preach so well. But before they would accept him as the Messiah, they wanted him to do miracles in Nazareth as he had done in other places. Jesus refused. He knew they did not believe in him but were interested only in seeing some spectacular performance (Luke 4:22-23).
Jesus quoted a proverb to show that God’s messengers are often not appreciated by those among whom they live, but are welcomed by people elsewhere. He gave two illustrations from the Old Testament. Elijah was unpopular in Israel but was welcomed by a woman in Phoenicia. Elisha was rejected by Israelites, but was sought by a soldier from Syria. When Israelites rejected God’s servants, God sent his blessings to people of other countries (Luke 4:24-27; cf. 1 Kings 17:9-16; 2 Kings 5:1-14). The lesson for the people of Jesus’ home town was that if they did not want God’s blessing, it would be sent to others, even to the despised Gentiles, and they would receive it.
The people of Nazareth understood what Jesus was saying and burst into anger. Their actions showed that Jesus had read the condition of their hearts correctly, for instead of believing they tried to murder him. But Jesus escaped unharmed (Luke 4:28-30).
While in Capernaum Jesus preached in the local synagogue. People noticed that his teaching was very much different from that of the Jewish religious teachers. Instead of arguing about small points of the law he taught the truth of God plainly. All who heard had no doubt that this was God’s message taught with his authority (Mark 1:21-22).
On this occasion, however, Jesus’ teaching was violently opposed by evil satanic powers that had taken control of a man in the audience. Such demons opposed Jesus throughout his ministry, but they were never victorious over him. News of Jesus’ authority over evil spirits spread quickly throughout northern Palestine (Mark 1:23-28).
Further examples of the ministry of Jesus show the presence and power of the kingdom of God in healing those afflicted by Satan (Matt 4:23-25; Mark 1:29-34). On one occasion when Jesus was staying in Capernaum, he went outside the town to find a quiet place to pray to his Father. Peter thought he was losing valuable opportunities, as the town was full of people looking for him. Jesus replied that no matter how many needy people were in Capernaum, he could not stay there all the time. He had to work and preach in other towns as well (Mark 1:35-39).
From the hills of Nazareth the story moves to the fishing villages of Capernaum and Bethsaida on the northern shore of Lake Galilee. The fishermen brothers Peter and Andrew had already met Jesus and accepted him as the Messiah. So too, it seems, had another pair of fishermen brothers, James and John. Jesus now asked the four men to take the further step of leaving their occupations so that they could become his followers in the task of bringing people into the kingdom God (Mark 1:16-20).
Peter learnt more of what lay ahead when, after a day on which they had caught no fish, Jesus told him to let down the nets again. Peter obeyed, with the result that he caught so many fish the nets almost broke (Luke 5:1-7). The incident impressed upon Peter that Jesus was indeed Lord, and in humble submission he fell at the feet of Jesus and confessed his sinfulness (Luke 5:8-11). Note: The Sea (or Lake) of Galilee, the Sea (or Lake) of Gennesaret, and the Sea (or Lake) of Tiberias were three names for the same place.
People with leprosy and other skin diseases were considered unclean and a danger to public health. They were outcasts from society (Lev 13:45-46). If they were healed they had to offer sacrifices to symbolize their cleansing and express their thanks (Lev 14:1-20).
On the first recorded occasion when Jesus healed a leper, he did what anyone else would normally avoid doing; he touched the man. He then told the man to present himself to the priest (whose duty was to examine him and confirm that he had been healed; Lev 14:3) and to offer the sacrifices required by the law. He also told the man, clearly and firmly, not to broadcast what had happened, as he did not want to attract people who were curious to see a miracle-worker but had no sense of spiritual need (Mark 1:40-44).
The man disobeyed and as a result Jesus’ work was hindered. So many people came to see him that he was unable to teach in the towns as he wished. He continued to help the needy, but the pressures upon him caused him all the more to seek his Father’s will through prayer (Mark 1:45; Luke 5:16).
This story shows the first signs of organized Jewish opposition to Jesus. A group of religious leaders from Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee came, with evil motives, to find out for themselves what Jesus was doing and saying (Luke 5:17).
Some friends of a paralyzed man were so sure Jesus could heal him that they allowed no obstacle to stop them from bringing the man to him. In his response Jesus did more than heal the man. He went to the root of all suffering in a fallen world, sin, and on the basis of the faith that had been displayed, he announced forgiveness of the man’s sins. The Jewish leaders saw that Jesus was claiming to be God, for only God can forgive sins. Either Jesus was God or he was a blasphemer (Luke 5:18-21).
Jesus left his critics in no doubt of the meaning of his words and actions. A person can just as easily say ‘You are forgiven’ as say ‘You are healed’, but whereas the first statement cannot be proved by external evidence, the second statement can. If, therefore, Jesus’ claim to heal the man’s disease could be proved true, his claim to forgive the man’s sins must also be accepted as true. When the man, in response to Jesus’ words, stood up and walked, the onlookers had clear proof that Jesus was all that he claimed to be (Luke 5:22-26).
The next person to join Jesus’ group of chosen disciples was the tax collector Matthew, also known as Levi (Matt 9:9; Mark 2:13-14). Matthew took Jesus home for a meal and invited his fellow tax collectors and other friends to come and meet his new master. Jews despised tax collectors as being unpatriotic, dishonest and irreligious. The Pharisees despised Jesus when they saw him eating with them (Matt 9:10-11; Luke 5:27-30).
Jesus replied that if tax collectors were as bad as the Pharisees claimed, then tax collectors were just the sort of people who needed his help. God was pleased with Jesus’ action in showing mercy to outcasts. He was not pleased with the sacrifices of those who thought they were superior to others (Matt 9:12-13; Luke 5:31-32).
Both John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees were slow to realize that Jesus’ coming had brought in a new era. Their traditional ceremonies and fastings were now of no use. The coming of Jesus may be compared to the coming of a bridegroom to his wedding feast. In a time of such joy no one thinks of fasting, and therefore Jesus’ disciples did not fast while he was with them. But Jesus would be taken away from them and killed, and then they would fast because of their great sorrow. Their sorrow, however, would be turned into joy, because Jesus would rise from death victoriously (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35).
Jesus reminded his hearers that, now that he had come, they should not expect to continue the old traditions of the Jewish religion. He had not come to repair, improve or update Judaism. Judaism was useless, worn out, finished. Jesus brought something that was entirely new. Judaism was like an old worn out coat that could not be mended; it was like a brittle old wineskin that could not stand the pressure of new wine (Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-38). Yet the Pharisees preferred their old worn out religion (Luke 5:39).
When the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for picking a few pieces of corn to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus defended his disciples by referring to two examples from the Old Testament. First, when David and his men were very hungry and urgently needed food, they were rightly allowed to eat the holy bread of the tabernacle, which normally only priests were allowed to eat (Matt 12:1-4; cf. 1 Sam 21:1-6). Second, even the Levitical priests worked on the Sabbath, for they had to prepare and offer the sacrifices (Matt 12:5; cf. Num 28:9-10).
These two examples show that in a case of necessity the legal requirement of the law may be overruled. Life is more important than ritual. To exercise mercy is more important than to offer sacrifices. Jesus is more important than the temple. People are more important than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given for people’s benefit, not for their discomfort; and since Jesus is the messianic Son of man, he has authority to decide how the Sabbath can best be used (Matt 12:6-8; Mark 2:27-28).
If an animal fell into a pit on the Sabbath day, the Jews would not hesitate to rescue it the same day. Yet they criticized Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. Although no list of rules sets out all that a person should or should not do to keep the Sabbath holy, it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. To save life is better than to kill, and in this case Jesus was helping to save life. The Pharisees, by contrast, were looking for ways to kill him (Matt 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6).
Jesus left his critics and went on to his work elsewhere. Matthew saw this as a further stage in the fulfilment of the prophecy that God’s chosen servant, who had now appeared in the person of Jesus, would take the gospel to all people. This servant never tried to make a show of greatness, never hurt those who sorrowed, and never turned away from those of even the weakest faith (Matt 12:15-21; cf. Isa 42:1-4).
The more Jesus’ work grew, the more people came seeking him; and the more deeply saddened he became as he saw the confused and helpless spiritual condition of the Jewish people. There were plenty of opportunities for worthwhile work but there were few workers, and Jesus asked his followers to pray that God would supply the right workers to meet the need (Matt 9:35-38; Mark 3:7-12).
So urgent was the need that Jesus decided to appoint twelve helpers immediately. He therefore spent the night in prayer and in the morning announced his choice. The twelve were to be known as apostles (from the Greek word apostello, meaning ‘to send’), as Jesus was to send them out in the service of the kingdom. To begin with he would keep them with him for their spiritual training, then he would send them out equipped with his messianic authority to heal those afflicted by Satan and urge people to enter the kingdom of God. The era of the Messiah had arrived. As twelve tribes had formed the basis of the old people of God, so twelve apostles would be the basis of the new (Matt 10:1; Mark 3:13-15; Luke 6:12-13). The following list includes alternative names by which some of the apostles were known.
- Simon Peter, or Cephas – Matt 10:2; John 1:42
- Andrew, brother of Peter – Matt 10:2; John 1:40
- James, son of Zebedee – Mark 3:17; Luke 8:51
- John, brother of James – Mark 3:17; John 21:20
- Philip – Matt 10:3; John 6:5
- Bartholemew, or Nathanael – Matt 10:3; John 21:2
- Thomas, the Twin (Didymus) – Matt 10:3; John 21:2
- Matthew, or Levi – Matt 10:3; Luke 5:27
- James, son of Alphaeus – Matt 10:3; Acts 1:13
- Thaddaeus, or Lebbaeus, or Judas the son of James – Matt 10:3; Luke 6:16
- Simon the Zealot, the Patriot, or the Cananaean – Matt 10:4; Luke 6:15
- Judas Iscariot – Matt 10:4; Luke 22:48
When people enter Jesus’ kingdom they enter a new life. They come under the rule of Jesus and, as his disciples, listen to his teaching and put it into practice. Their behaviour is not governed by a set of rules such as the law of Moses, but by the character of Jesus, who wants to reproduce that character in them. The collection of Jesus’ teachings commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount deals with the attitudes, behaviour and responsibilities of those who have come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The section opens with a series of short two-line statements commonly known as Beatitudes (from the Latin word for ‘blessed’). In present-day English ‘blessed’ is probably not as good a translation as ‘happy’ (GNB). Jesus is not making a formal declaration of divine favour, but announcing the true happiness of those who live according to the life of the kingdom. For example, those who humbly acknowledge that they need God’s help in everything will enjoy God’s kingdom, for it was made for such people. In that kingdom there is no room for those who are proudly self-sufficient (Matt 5:1-3).
Those who sorrow because of the power of sin in the world will have their sorrow turned to joy when they see sin finally destroyed. God will remove the arrogant from the earth and give it as a dwelling place to the truly humble. The people who in the end will be fully satisfied are not those who selfishly pursue their own ambitions, but those who long to do what God wants and to see his will done in the world around them (Matt 5:4-6).
When people realize the greatness of God’s mercy to them, they will be more merciful to others. In return they will receive yet more mercy from God. If, with a pure heart, they try to please God and not themselves, they will be fittingly rewarded with a vision of God himself (Matt 5:7-8). God’s children reflect the true character of their Father when they help those who have quarrelled to become friends again. They prove themselves to be worthy citizens of God’s kingdom when they stand for him against wrongdoing, even though they may suffer as a result (Matt 5:9-10). When persecuted for Christ’s sake they rejoice, knowing that they are thereby united with God’s true people of former days (Matt 5:11-12).
In contrast to those who put God’s interests first, some people direct all their efforts towards making life better for themselves. They may have much success at accumulating wealth, building a comfortable life and gaining popularity, but that is all the success they will ever have. The future will bring them disappointment, sorrow and eternal loss (Luke 6:20-26).
After his explanation concerning right and wrong attitudes to the law, Jesus gives a number of examples. He introduces these examples with statements such as ‘You have heard that it was said in the past’. This is not the same as ‘It is written’. Jesus is not quoting from the Old Testament but from the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. He is not contradicting the law but the interpretations of the law that the scribes taught. In so doing he explains the real meaning of the law and the necessity for more than mere legal obedience. He is not writing a new law, but showing his people that they must have a new attitude. The Jewish religious leaders used the law to govern outward actions, but Jesus wants to control the heart.
In his first example Jesus shows that to refrain from murder is not enough. The spirit of anger and revenge that leads to murder must be removed from the heart (Matt 5:21-22). Besides controlling their anger, disciples of Jesus should try to make peace with those who are angry with them. Even in worldly affairs an offender would be wise to reach agreement with his opponent quickly. Otherwise he may find himself in worse circumstances by receiving an unfavourable judgment in court (Matt 5:23-26).
Like murder, adultery is the final fruit of wrong thoughts and uncontrolled feelings. The eye sees, the mind desires and the body acts. Therefore, the eye, as well as the rest of the body, must be brought under control, whatever the cost. Temptation must be cut at the source (Matt 5:27-30).
Another common sin that resulted from a misunderstanding of the law was divorce. In a time of widespread social disorder, Moses had introduced a law to prevent easy divorce and protect innocent partners (Deut 24:1-4). Certain teachers then twisted the meaning of Moses’ law to allow easy divorce. Jesus rejected such use of the law and referred them back to God’s original standard (Matt 5:31-32).
Many Jews considered that if, in swearing an oath, they did not use God’s name, they were not bound by that oath. If they swore ‘by heaven’, ‘by earth’, ‘by Jerusalem’ or ‘by the head’ and then broke their oath, they felt no guilt, because such oaths did not use the name of God. Jesus says they should not need to swear oaths at all. Everything they say should be true, honest and straightforward (Matt 5:33-37).
When Moses laid down a law code for civil governments, he established the principle that the punishment had to fit the crime. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a scratch for a scratch’ meant that there had to be a heavy punishment for a major offence, and a light punishment for a minor offence (Exod 21:23-25). But once again people took a legal regulation of civil government and twisted it to suit their purposes. They now felt free to take personal revenge on anyone who did them wrong. Jesus shows that his followers must not demand their rights every time they are wronged, but show loving forgiveness (attitudes that also were taught in the law of Moses; Exod 23:4-5; Lev 19:17-18). The spirit that rules in their hearts must not be the same as that which rules in the code of legal justice (Matt 5:38-42).
The saying that encouraged Jews to hate their enemies did not come from the law of Moses, as the above Old Testament references clearly show. It came from the traditions of the scribes. God’s people must love their enemies. They are doing nothing exceptional if they love only those who are friends, for even the ungodly do that. The Christians’ example is found in God, who gives rain and food to those who love him and those who hate him. He makes no distinctions, and as Christians follow his example, their character will become increasingly like his (Matt 5:43-48).
People who continually find fault with others only invite judgment upon themselves, both from their fellows and from God. In pointing to the faults in others, they attract attention to themselves. They too have faults, and though they themselves may be unaware of them, other people see them very clearly (Matt 7:1-5).
Nevertheless, there is a kind of judgment that is necessary. Those who present the gospel must be able to judge the difference between people who genuinely want to know about God and people who only want to mock and abuse. A person does not give good meat to filthy dogs, nor does he give pearls to pigs (Matt 7:6).
The followers of Jesus must learn to make proper judgments if they are to help others. As teachers they are examples, and God will reward them according to the example they give, whether for good or for bad. They must remember that they cannot lead the blind if they themselves are blind. In particular, they must not lead others astray by faultfinding (Luke 6:37-42).
There are two ways of life. One is the easy way of pleasing self, which most choose and which leads to destruction. The other is the narrow way of denying self for Jesus’ sake, which leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).
One reason why many do not follow the narrow way is that they are deceived by those who teach their own views on how people can find meaning in life. Their teaching at first sounds reasonable, but in the end it proves to be destructive. The teachers appear to be as harmless as sheep, but actually they are as dangerous as wolves. A bad tree produces bad fruit, and wrong teaching produces wrong behaviour (Matt 7:15-20).
Another reason why people do not follow the narrow way is that they deceive themselves. They think that because they attach themselves to Jesus’ followers they will enter Jesus’ kingdom. They may even preach in Jesus’ name, but if they have never had a personal experience of God through faith and repentance, they too will go to the place of destruction (Matt 7:21-23). If people hear Jesus’ teaching but do not act upon it, they are deceiving themselves and heading for disaster. They are like a person who builds a house that looks solid but has no foundation, and so is destroyed when the storm of testing comes (Matt 7:24-27).
The difference between Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of the scribes was obvious to all. The scribes referred to respected teachers of the past for their authority, but Jesus spoke on his own authority. The scribes could only repeat the regulations of Judaism, but Jesus interpreted the law with an authority that came from God (Matt 7:28-29).
Back in Capernaum, a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal one of his servants who was dying. However, he did not expect Jesus to come to his house. Being an army officer, he operated in a system of authority where he needed only to give a command and it was carried out. He believed that Jesus carried the authority of God, and he needed only to say the word and the servant would be healed (Matt 8:5-9; Luke 7:1-8).
Jesus saw that this Roman had more faith than the Jews. He used the incident to warn the Jews that many of them would be left out of God’s kingdom, but Gentiles from countries far and near would, because of their faith, be included (Matt 8:10-13; Luke 7:9-10).
In another northern town, Nain, Jesus raised a widow’s son to life. It seems that in this case he acted not because of any request, but solely because of the pity he felt for the woman. With her husband and her only son dead, she was faced with hardship and poverty for the rest of her life. Jesus therefore stopped the funeral procession and gave her son back to her (Luke 7:11-17).
Shut up in prison, John the Baptist received only irregular and possibly inaccurate reports of Jesus’ ministry. These reports must have caused him to wonder whether Jesus really was the Messiah he foretold. Jesus sent back the message that he was carrying out a ministry of relief to the oppressed, which was the sort of ministry foretold of the Messiah in the Old Testament (Matt 11:1-5; cf. Isa 35:5-6; 61:1). Many were disappointed that Jesus did not bring the political victories they expected of the Messiah, but Jesus promised a special blessing to those who understood his ministry and did not lose heart (Matt 11:6).
To prevent anyone from speaking ill of John because of his questioning, Jesus pointed out what a great man he was. John was not weak in character, uncertain of himself or easily swayed by the opinions of others. Nor did he seek comfort or prestige. He was a prophet, and like many of the prophets he endured a life of hardship (Matt 11:7-10).
John was the last and greatest figure of the era before the Messiah, but because he belonged to that era he was less blessed than the humblest believer who enters the Messiah’s kingdom. Although some opposed the kingdom violently, others spared no effort to enter it (Matt 11:11-12). In preparing the way for the kingdom and introducing the Messiah, John was the ‘Elijah’ of whom the prophet Malachi spoke (Matt 11:13-15; cf. Mal 4:5).
Those who believed and obeyed the preaching of John were pleased to hear Jesus’ commendation of him. But the religious leaders, who hated John, were angry (Luke 7:29-30).
Jesus likened the people of his day to a lot of quarrelling children playing in the streets. They could not agree to play a lively wedding game, nor could they agree to play a slower funeral game. Nothing satisfied them. The Jews acted like those children. They criticized John because he followed strict rules about food and drink and lived like a hermit in the desert; they criticized Jesus because he had no such rules about food and drink and mixed with the most disreputable people in society. But God had a purpose in sending John and Jesus with their separate missions, and his wisdom was proved in the changed lives of those who accepted their messages (Matt 11:16-19).
Like most Pharisees, Simon no doubt kept the laws of holiness and thought that God was more pleased with him than with socially despised people such as tax collectors and prostitutes. He was therefore surprised that Jesus allowed a prostitute to wash his feet. In Simon’s view this showed that Jesus did not have divine knowledge, otherwise he would know the sort of person the woman was and would not allow her to touch him (Luke 7:36-39).
Jesus knew Simon’s thoughts, so told a story to contrast Simon’s attitude with the woman’s (Luke 7:40-43). Simon had never come to Jesus in search of forgiveness, because he had never felt the need. Consequently, he had no reason to feel any love or gratitude towards Jesus. The woman, however, had apparently heard Jesus’ message of forgiveness and, being sorry for her sins, trusted in his forgiving love. She then showed her love and gratitude in the most meaningful way she new (Luke 7:44-50).
To visit all the towns of Galilee was a huge task. Jesus and his disciples were helped in this work by a group of women who went with them to look after their daily needs (Luke 8:1-3). Crowds of people came to see Jesus wherever he went, and were often a hindrance to the progress of the gospel. It seems that one reason Jesus began to teach extensively in parables was to separate those who were genuinely interested from those who were merely curious (Matt 13:1-3a; Mark 4:1-2).
The parable of the sower draws its lessons from the four different kinds of soil rather than from the work of the sower. The preacher puts the message of the kingdom into people’s hearts as a farmer puts seed into the ground. But people’s hearts vary just as the soil in different places varies. Some people hear the message but do not understand it because they are not interested. Others show early interest but soon give up because they have no deep spiritual concern. Others are too worried about the affairs of everyday life. Only a few respond to the message in faith, but when they do their lives are changed and a spiritual harvest results (Matt 13:3b-9,18-23; Mark 4:3-9,13-20).
Parables may provide a pictorial way to teach truth, but they are more than just illustrations. Their purpose is to make the hearers think about the teaching. Those who gladly receive Jesus’ teaching will find the parables full of meaning. As a result their ability to understand God’s truth will increase. But those who have no genuine interest in Jesus’ teaching will see no meaning in the parables at all. Worse still, their spiritual blindness will become darker, and their stubborn hearts more hardened. Because their wills are opposed to Jesus, their minds cannot appreciate his teaching, and consequently their sins remain unforgiven (Matt 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12).
Although the teaching of parables may cause the idly curious to lose interest in Jesus, the basic purpose of a parable is to enlighten, not to darken. A parable is like a lamp, which is put on a stand to give light, not hidden under a bowl or under a bed. The more thought people give to their master’s teaching, the more enlightenment and blessing they will receive in return. But if they are lazy and give no thought to the teaching, their ability to appreciate spiritual truth will decrease, until eventually it is completely gone (Mark 4:21-25).
Returning to the picture of the sower, Jesus shows that good seed will always produce healthy plants and good fruit if given the opportunity. The farmer sows the seed, but he must wait for the soil to react with the seed and make it grow. Likewise the messenger of the gospel must have patient faith in God as the message does its work in people’s hearts (Mark 4:26-29).
The children of Mary and Joseph born after Jesus were James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and at least two daughters (cf. Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). At first they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but thought he was suffering from some sort of religious madness (Mark 3:20-21; cf. John 7:3-5). Jesus must have been saddened to see such an attitude in his brothers and sisters, but he knew that more important than natural relationships were spiritual relationships. All who obey God are related to him and to one another in the vast family of God (Mark 3:31-35).
A well known feature of Lake Galilee was that fierce storms blew up quickly. Jesus had suggested that the group sail across the lake, but the disciples expressed disappointment with him when a storm arose and he did nothing to help. Instead he was sleeping in the back of the boat, perhaps an indication of his tiredness from constant work (Mark 4:35-38).
The disciples still did not understand fully the divine power of Jesus, and he rebuked them for their lack of faith. When a word from him was sufficient to calm the wild forces of nature, they were struck with a mixture of wonder and fear. The sovereign Lord of creation was among them (Mark 4:39-41; cf. Ps. 89:9).
Another place that Jesus visited was the district to the east and south of the Lake of Galilee known as Gadara. The people were mainly Gentiles and were known as Gadarenes (sometimes as Gerasenes, after the chief town of the district, or even Gergesenes, after another local town) (Matt 8:28; Mark 5:1). Jesus was met there by a man whose body had been cruelly taken over by demons. To release the man from his torment, Jesus commanded the demons to come out of him. The demons knew that Jesus was the Son of God and that one day he would judge them, but they were angry that he came to interfere with them before the appointed time (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:2-8).
Jesus commanded the man to tell him his name, so that the man might see how great a power of evil had possessed him. The demons saw that judgment was upon them, and begged Jesus not to send them immediately to the place where evil spirits are punished (Mark 5:9-10; Luke 8:30-31).
The demons preferred to remain in the bodies of living things than go to the place of punishment. Therefore, if they were not allowed to remain in the man’s body, they would rather enter the bodies of animals, even pigs. Jesus gave them their request, but they met their judgment nevertheless, for the pigs went mad and drowned in the sea. By sending the demons into the pigs, Jesus gave dramatic visible proof of his power over demons, and at the same time he showed to all what a vast number of demons had possessed the man (Mark 5:11-13).
To Jesus the life of one person was more important than the lives of two thousand pigs. The local villagers were more concerned about their farms and, fearful of what might happen if Jesus remained in the district any longer, begged him to leave (Mark 5:14-17). Jesus left, leaving the man to spread the good news of the Saviour throughout the area. Since these people were Gentiles, there was no need for the man to keep quiet about the miracle. Gentiles were not likely to use Jesus’ messiahship for political purposes (Mark 5:18-20; cf. Matt 8:4, 9:30, 12:16; John 6:14-15).
Back in the Jewish regions, a synagogue elder named Jairus asked Jesus to come and heal his seriously ill daughter. Seeing that the man had faith, Jesus set off for his house (Mark 5:21-24). On the way they were interrupted by a sick woman who believed that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (Mark 5:25-29). Jesus knew that someone was seeking his help in this way, and did not want the person to be left with any superstitious ideas. He therefore searched for the woman so that she might show her faith openly and be healed completely (Mark 5:30-34).
Jairus’ faith was tested when he heard that while Jesus was healing the woman, his daughter had died. Jesus responded by working a greater miracle than Jairus expected, for he brought the girl back to life. He allowed only five people to see the miracle, and he told them not to tell others what they had seen. He did not want people flocking to him for the wrong reasons (Mark 5:35-43).
Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to preach the good news that the kingdom of the Messiah had come. The miraculous powers of the Messiah were given to them also, so that the knowledge of his love and mercy might spread more quickly throughout the land (Luke 9:1-2).
There would be no time during Jesus’ lifetime to spread the gospel worldwide, so the apostles had to concentrate on Israel. After Jesus’ death and resurrection they could then take the gospel to the countries beyond (Matt 10:5-8; cf. 28:19-20). They were to take with them only the bare necessities for daily needs, so as not to be hindered in their travels. Also they were not to waste time preaching to people who refused to listen, when others in nearby areas had not even heard (Matt 10:9-15; Luke 9:3-6).
Although they preached good news and did good works, the apostles could expect persecution. If brought to trial, whether before Jewish leaders or government officials, they would have the help of God’s Spirit in giving them the right words to say (Matt 10:16-20). They would meet opposition from friends and relatives, but they were to press on urgently in their mission. They would not even cover the whole of Palestine within the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt 10:21-23).
As servants of Jesus, the apostles could expect the same sort of opposition as their master received (Matt 10:24-25), but they were not to fear to teach publicly the things Jesus had taught them privately (Matt 10:26-27). They were to maintain a reverent obedience to God, knowing that as their heavenly Father he would watch over them. He never forsakes those who are faithful to him (Matt 10:28-33).
The followers of Jesus must not expect ease and comfort. They must put loyalty to Jesus before all other loyalties, and this may result in conflict and division, even within their own families. They must be prepared for hardship, persecution and possibly death, but in the end they will not be the losers. In sacrificing the life of self-pleasing in order to please their Lord, they will find life in its truest sense (Matt 10:34-39). All who welcome Jesus’ messengers into their homes are really welcoming Jesus who sent them, and God the Father who sent him. Help given to Jesus’ messengers will be rewarded as if given to Jesus himself (Matt 10:40-42).
By this time John the Baptist had been executed. When Herod heard the news of Jesus’ miracles, he feared that Jesus was really John come back to life and that supernatural powers were working in him (Matt 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16).
Having mentioned John’s death, the writers go back to record the events that led up to it. Herod had imprisoned John because John had accused him of adultery in marrying Herodias, wife of Herod’s brother, Philip (Mark 6:17-18; cf. Matt 4:12; 11:2). Herod both respected and feared John, as he knew that John was a godly man and that his accusations were true. But no amount of discussion with John could persuade Herod to conquer his passions and give up Herodias (Mark 6:19-20).
John’s place of imprisonment was apparently the dungeon of Herod’s palace. Although this gave Herod the opportunity to speak to him often, it also made it easier for Herodias when an opportunity arose for her to get rid of him. She hated John for his interference, and was quick to act when she saw the chance to have him executed (Mark 6:21-29).
When the apostles returned from their first tour around the country areas, they met Jesus in Galilee and tried to have a quiet time alone with him (Mark 6:30-32; John 6:1). Jesus also was in need of a rest, but he was filled with pity when he saw the crowds of people flocking to him in their need. They appeared to him as a flock of spiritually starved sheep that had no food because there was no shepherd to feed them (Mark 6:33-34; John 6:2-4).
The apostles were soon reminded that Jesus alone could satisfy the spiritual needs of the people. Without him the apostles were not able to satisfy even the people’s physical needs. With five small loaves and two fish, Jesus miraculously fed a huge crowd, reminding the apostles that the miracles they had done on their missionary tour had resulted solely from Jesus’ power working in them (Mark 6:35-44; John 6:5-13). But to many of the people, the miracle was a sign that Jesus was the promised great prophet. Like Moses, he had miraculously fed God’s people in the wilderness (John 6:14; see Exod 16:1-36; Deut 18:15; 1 Cor 10:1-5).
Jesus and the apostles travelled up to Caesarea Philippi, in the far north of Palestine. While there, Jesus asked the apostles who they believed him to be. Peter, probably speaking for the group, replied that he was the promised Messiah, the Son of God (Matt 16:13-16).
Delighted at this insight, Jesus told the group (through words addressed to their spokesman Peter) that they would be the foundation on which he would build his church, and no power would be able to conquer it (Matt 16:17-18; cf. Eph 2:20). By preaching the gospel they would open the kingdom to all who wished to enter. They would carry Jesus’ authority with them, so that the things they did on earth in his name would be confirmed in heaven (Matt 16:19; cf. Acts 2:32; 3:6,16,19). But that was still in the future. For the present they were to support him in his ministry, but they were not to proclaim his messiahship openly till the appointed time had come (Matt 16:20).
Jesus then made it clear that in order to fulfil his messianic ministry, he had to suffer, die and rise again. Peter’s objection to this showed that the apostles still did not understand the true nature of the Messiah’s work. The suggestion that Jesus should turn back from the cross was yet another temptation by Satan. It was an attempt to persuade him to gain his kingdom by some way other than death, and so cause him to fail in the very thing he came to do (Matt 16:21-23; cf. 4:8-10).
Immediately after telling his disciples of his coming suffering and death, Jesus told them they had to be prepared for similar treatment. The disciples of Jesus are those who have given their lives to Jesus, and they will be obedient to their master even if it leads to hardship, persecution and death. They will no longer rule their own lives, but will deny themselves personal desires in order to please Jesus. In sacrificing the life that puts self first, they will find the only true life. On the other hand those who live for themselves may gain what they want in the present world, but they will lose the only life of lasting value, eternal life (Matt 16:24-27).
Jesus promised his disciples that those who accompanied him in his ministry would, in their present lifetime, see something of the triumph of the Son of man’s glorious kingdom. This was possibly a reference to the victorious expansion of the church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Matt 16:28; Mark 9:1).
Jesus’ transfiguration took place on a high mountain, possibly Mount Hermon, which was not far from Caesarea Philippi. The event was a revelation of Christ’s glory and was witnessed by only three chosen apostles. In coming into the world as a human being, Jesus had laid his divine glory aside, but now it reappeared briefly through a human body. It gave an indication of the glory he would receive after he had finished the work he came to do (Matt 17:1-2; Luke 9:28-29).
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus during his transfiguration, possibly to symbolize that the law and the prophets found their fulfilment in him. He was the one to whom the entire Old Testament pointed. They talked with Jesus about his coming death, confirming what Jesus had recently told the apostles. The Messiah had to die before he could enter his glory (Matt 17:3; Luke 9:30-31).
The apostles were confused about what was happening, but the Father’s voice from heaven told them that it was an expression of his satisfaction with the entire ministry of Jesus. By combining words from one of David’s psalms with words from one of Isaiah’s servant songs, God declared that the kingly Messiah would lay down his life as the suffering servant. This Messiah was also God’s prophet, and people were to listen to his message (Matt 17:4-5; Luke 9:32-35; cf. Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1; Deut 18:15,18; Acts 3:22).
When the transfiguration was over and Jesus’ appearance returned to normal, he again told the apostles that they were not yet to reveal what they had learnt (Matt 17:6-9; Luke 9:36). The vision of Elijah prompted the apostles to ask if Elijah would come before the Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why had Elijah not come? Jesus replied that John the Baptist was the promised Elijah, but just as people rejected the Messiah’s forerunner so would they reject the Messiah (Matt 17:10-13).
While the faith of the three apostles on the mountain was being strengthened, the faith of the other nine on the plain below was failing. They were unable to cure a boy who suffered from sudden fits that made him uncontrollable (Mark 9:14-18). After the heavenly experiences on the mountain, Jesus felt the frustration of work in a world that was full of human failure (Mark 9:19). Nevertheless, he did not despise the uncertain faith that the boy’s father expressed, and he quickly healed the boy (Mark 9:20-27).
The reason for the disciples’ failure was their lack of faith. What they needed was not a large amount of faith but the right kind of faith. They needed a faith that relied completely upon the unlimited capacity of the all-powerful God and that expressed itself through sincere prayer (Matt 17:20-21; Mark 9:28-29).
Despite Jesus’ statement to his disciples that he was heading towards humiliating suffering and death (Matt 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:44-45), they were arguing among themselves about who would have the important places in his kingdom. Jesus rebuked them, explaining that the way to spiritual greatness is through choosing the lowest place and serving others. To enter the kingdom of God, people must humbly accept that they have no more status than a child. Receiving Christ is not concerned with prestige as in the case of those who receive an earthly king. It is as humble an act as receiving a small child (Matt 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48).
If people want to be disciples of Jesus, they should not despise those who appear weak and insignificant. Indeed, they should take severe action against themselves to remove from their lives anything that might cause them to follow their own desires instead of submitting to Jesus. Wrong desires prevent people from receiving Jesus and lead only to hell (Matt 18:6-9; Mark 9:42-48). God will test and cleanse the disciples, but if they want to be useful for him in leading people to Jesus, they must cease their quarrelling and make sure that they themselves are pure in heart (Mark 9:49-50).
Jesus’ disciples should have a loving concern for the weak, the helpless and the lost. They should not want any to miss out on his salvation (Matt 18:10-14). They must love others, and not act like those who tried to stop a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he did not belong to Jesus’ apostolic group. The man feared God, and God used him to deliver people from the power of evil. He was not an enemy of Jesus, and the apostles were not to despise him or hinder him in his work. If people do acts of kindness to others, and do them with the right motives, God will reward them no matter how insignificant those acts may appear to be (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50).
The Journey to Jerusalem (p. 58)
Jesus left Galilee and headed for Jerusalem. He knew that Jerusalem was the place where his work would finish, but first he had much to do in Samaria, Judea and certain areas east of Jordan.
The Samaritans had for centuries been enemies of the Jews, and hated the Jews’ passing through their territory on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus wanted to be friendly with them but they did not want his friendship (Luke 9:51-53). In return James and John wanted God to destroy the Samaritans. Their request showed that they still knew little of the immeasurable love that Jesus had for rebellious sinners (Luke 9:54-56).
Three men came to Jesus saying they wanted to be disciples, but they did not realize the sacrifices they would have to make in following Jesus. The first man was told to think seriously about his professed intentions, because following Jesus would bring with it physical hardship and discomfort (Luke 9:57-58). The second was warned that responsibilities towards Jesus must come before ordinary worldly responsibilities. The spiritually dead, whose interests are only in this life, can look after the everyday matters of life; the disciples of Jesus have to attend to the more important business of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:59-60). The third man was warned that Jesus’ disciples must give themselves to him completely. There is no place for those whose real interests are elsewhere (Luke 9:61-62).
Earlier Jesus had sent twelve apostles into the northern areas because the work was more than he could do by himself in the short time available. Now, for a similar reason, he sent a much larger number into the southern regions through which he was travelling (Luke 10:1-2). The instructions Jesus gave to the seventy were similar to those he had given to the twelve (Luke 10:3-12).
Being reminded of the earlier mission in the north, Luke records Jesus’ announcement of judgment on certain northern citizens who would not believe (Luke 10:13-16). Luke goes on immediately to record the success of the seventy, though many months probably passed before they returned. Jesus saw this success as a triumph over Satan and a guarantee of his ultimate destruction. But the servants of God should always remember that their greatest cause for praise is not what they have done for God, but what God has done for them (Luke 10:17-20).
Because Jesus is the Son of God, his power in the lives of his humblest disciples gives them a knowledge of things of which the wise in this world know nothing. Through Jesus, believers have a knowledge of God the Father (Luke 10:21-22). Godly people of former ages wanted to know things that have now been revealed to Jesus’ disciples, but they were unable to, because in those days the Messiah had not yet come (Luke 10:23-24).
A Jewish teacher of the law came to Jesus to test him with a question about eternal life. His question showed that he thought of eternal life as something to be obtained by some special act. Jesus’ reply showed that obtaining eternal life is inseparably linked with the way people live their daily lives. If they do not put God before all things and their neighbour before themselves, they can have no assurance of eternal life (Luke 10:25-28).
The teacher was disappointed with this answer and, in an attempt to excuse his own failings, asked how anyone could know who was or was not his neighbour (Luke 10:29). In reply Jesus told a story in which a traveller was beaten, robbed, and left to die. Two Jews, one a priest and the other a Levite, deliberately passed him by, but a Samaritan stopped and helped him (Luke 10:30-35). Jesus then forced the questioner to answer his own question. The example that he had to follow was not that of the religious purists, but that of the despised foreigner. If a person loves his neighbour as himself, he will act kindly towards anyone that he happens to meet, even enemies (Luke 10:36-37).
There must have been much tension in Jesus’ heart as he steadily moved closer to the climax of his work. But with his disciples in need of his teaching and people everywhere in need of his help, he had little time for relaxation. Therefore, to get away from the crowd, he stopped for some quiet fellowship at the house of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38). (Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, lived in the village of Bethany, just outside Jerusalem; John 11:1,18.)
Martha busied herself preparing a large meal, determined to provide the best possible hospitality for their distinguished guest. Jesus did not want a lavish meal, especially when it was prepared in such a complaining spirit as Martha showed. A simple meal was sufficient, as he was looking only for some quiet fellowship with his friends. Mary understood this, and as a result she benefited from the Lord’s instructive conversation (Luke 10:39-42).
If the followers of Jesus give help to the needy with the aim of winning people’s praise, their giving is of no value in God’s sight. They will have their reward in the praise they seek, but will miss out on any reward from God. They should keep matters of giving secret from even their closest friends (Matt 6:1-4).
Prayer also is a private matter. Believers do not need to make a show of prayerful zeal, as if their heavenly Father needs long and impressive prayers to rouse him to action. He is not like the lifeless idols of the heathen, but is a loving Father who understands his children’s needs (Matt 6:5-8).
In encouraging believers to pray confidently, Jesus provides a model for them to follow. Although they can speak to God with the freedom of children speaking to a father, they should do so reverently, remembering that he is holy. An expression of worship ensures that his glory comes before their needs (Matt 6:9). Believers should pray for God’s rule in their lives and in the lives of others, whether as individuals or among people in general. Their prayers may concern great things such as the completion of God’s eternal plan, or small things such as the provision of daily needs (Matt 6:10-11). They should confess their sins, remembering that God will forgive them only if they forgive others. They should also ask for God’s control in the affairs of life, so that difficulties they meet will not cause them to fall into sin (Matt 6:12-15).
If at any time believers accompany their prayers with fasting, they should not try to impress others by making themselves look sad. Their fasting will be of no value in God’s sight if they use it to win people’s praise. When they fast they should act and dress normally (Matt 6:16-18).
Jesus gave two illustrations to show his followers that they can put their requests to God confidently. Even a tired and uncooperative neighbour can be persuaded by a person’s persistence into giving him what he needs. How much more will God, who is a loving Father, supply all the needs of his children (Luke 11:5-10). Christians do not have to beg from a God who is unwilling to give. They go to God as children go to their father, confident that he will not disappoint them or give them less than they ask (Matt 7:7-12; Luke 11:11-13).
On one occasion when Jesus cast out demons, the Pharisees accused him of doing it by the power of Satan, the prince of demons (Matt 12:22-24; Luke 11:14-16). Jesus replied that if the prince of demons used his own power to cast out demons, he would be creating civil war in his own kingdom. He would be destroying himself. The only way a strong man can be defeated is if a stronger man overpowers him. In casting out demons Jesus showed that he was stronger than Satan. His reign, which would result in the destruction of Satan, had begun (Matt 12:25-29; Luke 11:17-22).
God could forgive the doubts and misunderstandings people had about Jesus, but he would not forgive their defiant rejection of the clear evidence that all Jesus’ works were good and that they originated in God. Those who called God’s Spirit Satan, who called good evil, had put themselves in a position where they had no way of acknowledging God’s goodness. Therefore, they had no way of receiving his forgiveness (Matt 12:30-32).
The good works that Jesus did were evidence of his goodness, just as good fruit is evidence of a good tree. Likewise the evil works of the Pharisees were evidence of their evil hearts, and this evidence will be used against them in the day of judgment (Matt 12:33-37).
Again the Pharisees asked Jesus to perform a miracle as a sign that he was the Messiah, and again Jesus refused. The only sign would be his resurrection from the dead, which would be the Father’s unmistakable confirmation that Jesus was his Son. By their rejection of Jesus, they were guaranteeing that in the judgment day they would be in a far worse position than the heathen. The queen of the Gentile kingdom of Sheba recognized Solomon’s wisdom, and the people of the heathen city of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, but the Jews of Jesus’ time stubbornly refused to accept him as the Messiah (Matt 12:38-42; Luke 11:29-32).
Jesus gave an illustration to show that people could not remain neutral. If they were not wholeheartedly committed to him, in the end they would be against him. They would be like a person who benefits temporarily by being cleansed of demons, but because he does nothing positive to fill his life with better things, he becomes possessed by even worse demons. The people of Jesus’ time benefited temporarily from his gracious ministry, but if they did not positively turn from their sin and accept him as the God-sent Saviour, they would in the end be under a more severe condemnation than they were originally (Matt 12:43-45; Luke 11:23-28).
If people allowed God’s light to shine into their hearts, it would drive out the darkness and enable them to take this light to others. But if they rejected the light, the darkness within them would become even darker (Luke 11:33-36).
The Pharisees thought that religion consisted of keeping ceremonial laws. Yet their hearts were full of wicked plans to advance themselves while at the same time they oppressed others. They took great care in washing their hands and cleaning cups and plates, but made no effort to clean the evil out of their hearts (Luke 11:37-41).
In calculating the amount of their offerings to God, the Pharisees were very strict in measuring exactly one tenth of their garden produce, even counting the seeds and stalks. But this was of no value if they did not practise love, mercy and justice towards their fellows (Luke 11:42). They were proud and vain, always looking for people’s praise, but in God’s sight they were as unclean as graves full of decaying bodies. And just as graves spread their uncleanness to people who touched them, so the Pharisees spread their uncleanness to all who came in contact with them (Luke 11:43-44).
The scribes felt insulted when they heard Jesus speak against the Pharisees like this, because they were the professional teachers who laid down the laws that the Pharisees followed. Jesus saw this as all the more reason to condemn them, because they burdened others with laws that they were unable to keep themselves (Luke 11:45-46). They honoured dead prophets with lavish tombs, but persecuted living prophets who brought them God’s message. Some they killed, as their ancestors had done in Old Testament times. They shared in the violence of their ancestors, and would suffer accordingly (Luke 11:47-51).
Because the scribes’ detailed interpretations of Scripture were difficult to understand, they had, in effect, shut people off from God’s Word. They were skilful in twisting the meaning of words, and used this ability constantly to try to trick Jesus into saying something whereby they could find fault with him (Luke 11:52-54).
In spite of all that Jesus had done, the Pharisees and Sadducees still demanded he produce a special sign to satisfy them. Jesus refused. They could look at the sky and work out what the weather would be like, but when they looked at Jesus’ miracles they refused to believe what the miracles told them, namely, that Jesus was the Son of God. The only sign Jesus would give them would be his resurrection. Jonah came back to life after three days of apparent death, but Jesus would come back to life after three days of actual death. By this unmistakable sign the Father would prove to all that Jesus is his Son (Matt 16:1-4; Luke 12:54-56).
Sin is compared to yeast, or leaven, in that it affects everything it touches. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and Herod were evil influences that spread through Israel as yeast spreads through a lump of dough. Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the yeast-like effect of these people. His probable meaning was that they were not to be influenced by the wrong teaching and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees or the ungodly ways of people like Herod (Matt 16:5-6; Mark 8:14-15; Luke 12:1).
The apostles missed the meaning of Jesus’ illustration. They thought he wanted some bread (but not bread baked with certain types of yeast) and were worried that they did not have any. This showed that although they had twice seen him miraculously feed a large crowd, they still lacked the faith to believe he could provide for them. In addition they lacked spiritual understanding, and saw the meaning of Jesus’ illustration only after he explained it to them (Matt 16:7-12; Mark 8:16-21; Luke 12:2-3).
Some teaching that Jesus gave to the twelve apostles is repeated in other parts of the Gospels. This may have been given to the followers of Jesus in general, particularly those instructions and warnings that concerned putting loyalty to Jesus before the desire for personal safety (Luke 12:4-12).
On one occasion when a crowd was listening to such teaching from Jesus, there was one person who showed no understanding of what Jesus was saying. Contrary to Jesus’ teaching, personal safety and security were his main concern. He wanted Jesus to force his brother to give him a bigger share of an inheritance they had received. Jesus was not a rabbi who settled disputes about the law; he was a teacher from God and he was concerned about people’s greed (Luke 12:13-15). He therefore told the story of a rich but foolish farmer who thought only of his prosperity, security and comfort. Suddenly the farmer died. Not only was his wealth of no further use, but it had prevented him from obtaining true heavenly riches (Luke 12:16-21).
People who come into the kingdom of God should not view the material things of earthly life as others view them. They should put God’s interests first and be generous in giving to others. Those who set their hearts on material things are being disloyal to God, and guarantee bitter disappointment for themselves in the end (Matt 6:19-21).
To illustrate the results of right and wrong attitudes to material things, Jesus referred to a local belief about the results of good and bad eyesight. People believed that eyes were like windows that allowed light to enter the body and keep it in good health. Healthy eyes meant a healthy body (light); diseased eyes meant a diseased body (darkness). A healthy view of material things will result in a healthy spiritual life; but an unhealthy view will mean that the natural spiritual darkness already in the heart will become even darker (Matt 6:22-23). A person can be a slave of only one master at a time. If people devote their attention to increasing their prosperity and comfort, they can no longer claim to be loyal to God (Matt 6:24).
Others, however, get into bondage to material things not because they are greedy, but because they worry too much about having enough money to look after themselves. They should realize that if God gives life, he can also give what is necessary to maintain life (Matt 6:25-27). If he cares for lesser things such as birds, flowers and grass, he can certainly care for his people. Believers should not be anxious concerning their material needs. Those who do not know God might be anxious, but believers should trust in God and put the interests of his kingdom first. They are under his rule and they should trust that as day to day difficulties arise, he will provide the answer (Matt 6:28-34).
The followers of Jesus must always be ready for whatever circumstances they meet. They are likened to household servants waiting for their master to return home after a feast. Whether the master arrives home earlier or later than expected, he will be pleased if the servants are ready and waiting for him. Though they have merely done their duty, he may give them an unexpected reward by serving them a meal (Luke 12:35-38).
Another illustration of readiness concerns a householder who secures his house against burglary. Since he does not know when a burglar is likely to break in, he keeps the house secure constantly (Luke 12:39). Jesus used both illustrations to remind his followers to be ready always for ‘the coming of the Son of man’, whether in the coming crisis in Jerusalem or in the final crisis at the end of the age (Luke 12:40).
When Peter asked if the parable applied only to the apostles or to people in general, Jesus gave no direct answer but told another parable (Luke 12:41). The master of a household appointed one of his servants to the position of manager over all the other servants while he went away on a trip. He gave the manager-servant instructions concerning the running of the household, but when the master was away longer than expected, the man thought he could do as he liked. Suddenly the master returned and, on discovering what had happened, dealt severely with the manager-servant (Luke 12:42-46). All the servants guilty of wrongdoing were punished, but the one who had more detailed knowledge of his master’s will was punished more severely. Everyone is accountable to God, but God expects more of those who know more (Luke 12:47-48).
Jesus gave one more warning about the need to be prepared for the crisis ahead. He felt a mounting tension as he saw that the cross would mean fiery judgment for some, a baptism of suffering for himself, and conflict for those who are opposed by hostile relatives because of their loyalty to him (Luke 12:49-53).
Two recent tragedies were fresh in the minds of the Jewish people. One was caused by Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, when he killed a number of Galilean Jews while they were offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. The other was caused by the collapse of a tower that killed a number of Jerusalem citizens. Some Jews thought that because the victims of these tragedies met such terrible deaths, they must have been worse sinners than others. Jesus pointed out that this was not so. In fact, the rest of the Jews would suffer a far worse fate if they did not repent and accept the Messiah (Luke 13:1-5).
Israel had been unfaithful and worthless to God, like a fig tree that never produced fruit. God had been patient, but now he was giving the nation one last chance to repent and accept the Messiah. If the people persisted in their stubbornness, judgment would fall upon them (Luke 13:6-9).
While Jesus was preaching in a Sabbath day service in the synagogue, he saw a woman in the audience who was obviously distressed because of a crippling disease. In his mercy he healed her (Luke 13:10-13). The ruler of the synagogue was angry because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and told the people not to come for healing on the Sabbath in future. Jesus showed up the hypocrisy of the man, and those who supported him, by reminding them that they fed their cattle on the Sabbath. Surely, then, he could heal a crippled woman (Luke 13:14-17).
In another parable, two types of seed produce two types of plants in the same field. The plants, wheat and weeds, are not separated while they are growing, but are left till harvest time. Then the wheat is put into the farmer’s barn but the weeds are destroyed (Matt 13:24-30).
As with the parable of the sower, Jesus gave his disciples an interpretation (Matt 13:34-36; cf. v. 10,16-18). In the present world those who are in the kingdom of God live alongside those who are not. This was contrary to popular Jewish thinking, which expected the kingdom to come in one mighty act that would destroy all enemies and set up God’s universal rule of righteousness and peace. Jesus points out that his kingdom is in the world already, but it will have its climax at the end of world history. When that time comes the wicked will be destroyed but the righteous will share in the kingdom’s triumph (Matt 13:37-43).
The parable of the mustard seed foretells the expansion of the kingdom, as seen in the remarkable growth of the church. From small beginnings it grows to a vast community that covers the entire earth (Matt 13:31-32). A similar truth is illustrated by the parable of the yeast (or leaven). As a small amount of yeast spreads through a lump of dough, so will the apparently small kingdom of Jesus spread through the world (Matt 13:33).
As Jesus moved through the towns of the Jordan Valley, he stressed that people should believe in him without delay, because they would not have the opportunity to hear from him again. Many were concerned with theoretical questions about who would or would not be saved. Jesus explained that people individually should first be sure of their own salvation, because on the judgment day many who thought they were in God’s kingdom would find themselves left outside (Luke 13:22-24).
Some Jews boasted that they would enter the kingdom of God because they were descendants of Abraham; others, because they had eaten with Jesus or heard him preach in their towns. All alike would find themselves condemned to hell if they did not turn from their sins. Their places in the kingdom would be taken by the Gentiles, whom they despised (Luke 13:25-30).
Certain Pharisees tried to frighten Jesus with a threat from Herod, through whose territory Jesus was travelling. Jesus knew that Herod wanted him out of the way, but he replied that he would continue his work until he finished it in Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-33). The city that Jesus loved, in finally rejecting him, would guarantee its own punishment. The nation was spiritually desolate, and once the Romans had finished with it (in AD 70), it would be physically desolate. There would be no blessing for the Jews until they repented and acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah (Luke 13:34-35).
When Jesus visited the house of a prominent Pharisee on the Sabbath day, his critics were waiting to see if he would heal a sick man who was there. When Jesus asked them if healing on the Sabbath was lawful, they refused to answer. Jesus again pointed out the hypocrisy of those who would care for animals on the Sabbath but not for people (Luke 14:1-6).
As mealtime approached, Jesus noticed some guests choosing the places of honour at the table. He warned that those who seek status or prestige are in danger of being humiliated. God exalts only those who willingly take the lowest place (Luke 14:7-11). Jesus had a similar warning for the host. His reason for doing good should not be to win favour with people who can be of use to him. Rather he should do good out of genuine love, not expecting anything in return (Luke 14:12-14).
One of the guests, hearing Jesus’ illustrations about feasting, tried to impress him with a comment concerning the coming great feast in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15). In reply Jesus told a parable designed to make the man, and the other guests, realize that many who thought themselves assured of a place in the kingdom were going to miss out.
Jesus likened the kingdom to a feast to which many were invited, but for various reasons they all refused. This was how most of the Jews treated Jesus’ invitation. They felt they were good enough already and did not need to repent (Luke 14:16-20). Consequently, the religiously respectable people were left out of the kingdom, but outcasts such as beggars, tax collectors and prostitutes were included. Even Gentiles from far off places accepted the invitation that the Jews refused (Luke 14:21-24).
The crowds that followed Jesus thought he was on the way to a throne. Jesus told them he was on the way to a cross. If they wanted to follow him they had to understand what his kingdom was like and what his followers could expect. They had to love him above everything else, and had to be prepared for self-sacrifice and even death (Luke 14:25-27).
Like a farmer building a tower or a king going to war, the person wanting to be a disciple of Jesus had first to consider what it would cost and what it would involve (Luke 14:28-32). If people were not prepared to give everything for the sake of Jesus, their lives could be of no use to him. They would be as useless as salt that had no saltiness (Luke 14:33-35).
Jesus told these three short stories to answer the scribes and Pharisees, who had complained that he mixed with tax collectors and other low class people. The more respectable Jews considered such people unworthy of God’s blessings. They were angry that Jesus showed interest in them and that many of them responded to his message (Luke 15:1-2).
The stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin show that God does more than welcome sinners; he actually goes looking for them. And when they repent, he rejoices. The Pharisees, however, did not consider themselves sinners. Therefore, they could not repent and so they brought no pleasure to God (Luke 15:3-10).
In the story of the lost son there is again a contrast between those who considered they had done everything right and needed no repentance (the elder brother) and those who were obviously sinners but who knew it (the younger brother) (Luke 15:11-19). There is also a contrast between the pardoning love of God (the father who welcomes the rebel home) and the cold and merciless attitude of the Pharisees (the older brother who was angry because of the welcome the rebel received) (Luke 15:20-30).
Because the Pharisees knew God’s law, they had an advantage over the tax collectors, but because they were self-righteous they never saw themselves as ‘dead’ or ‘lost’. They therefore never came to God in repentance. As a result they were left out of the kingdom, but sinners entered it (Luke 15:31-32).
This story was told not to the Pharisees but to the disciples of Jesus. It concerned a shrewd businessman whom the owner of a business appointed as manager. In this business, dealings were made by exchange of goods rather than payment of money, a practice that enabled the manager to cheat the owner. When the owner found out, he decided to dismiss him (Luke 16:1-2).
The manager then thought of a plan to ensure help from his business friends after his dismissal, as he did not want to become a beggar or a labourer. He therefore reduced the amounts that his business friends owed, so that they could pay their debts quickly. More importantly, they would feel obliged to return some favour to the manager after he had lost his job. The owner, being something of a scoundrel himself, appreciated such cunning (Luke 16:3-8).
Such, said Jesus, is the way of the world. If Christians had the diligence and foresight in spiritual matters that others have in worldly matters, they would be better people and enjoy a more lasting reward. If they used their material possessions to help others, they would gain true friends now and lasting prosperity in the life to come (Luke 16:9).
God’s people should realize that they are answerable to him for the way they use their goods and money. In God’s sight they are not owners of these things but managers. If they are generous in using what God has entrusted to them, God will reward them with permanent riches. If they are selfish, there will be no reward (Luke 16:10-12). They have become slaves to money and therefore they are disloyal to God (Luke 16:13).
The Pharisees considered wealth to be a reward for keeping the law, and they sneered at Jesus’ teaching. Jesus replied that God was not impressed with their show of righteousness, for he saw their pride-filled hearts. They did not realize that the old era of the law had passed and the kingdom announced by John had arrived. The only ones who understand the real meaning of the law are those in the kingdom. The godly are therefore zealous to enter it (Luke 16:14-17).
Again the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into saying something that would give them grounds to accuse him of error. This time they chose the subject of divorce, where different viewpoints among Jewish teachers often caused arguments. Jesus referred them back to God’s original standard, which was that a man and a woman live together, independent of parents, in a permanent union (Matt 19:1-6). Moses set out laws to limit divorce and introduce some order into a very disorderly community. He permitted divorce not because he approved of it, but because people had created problems through their disobedience. Under normal circumstances divorce should not be allowed at all, though there may be an exception in the case of adultery (Matt 19:7-9; cf. 5:31-32).
The disciples thought that if a man had to be bound to his wife in such a way, maybe it would be safer not to marry. Jesus replied that marriage was the normal pattern for adult life, though not necessarily the pattern for everyone. Some may choose not to marry, possibly because of physical defects or possibly because they want to serve God without the hindrances that may be created by family responsibilities (Matt 19:10-12).
To illustrate the truth he had just been teaching, Jesus told the story of an unnamed rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man pictured those who lived to please themselves and felt no need of God; the beggar pictured those who were helpless and depended entirely upon God’s mercy. In their existence after death, the beggar sat beside Abraham in the heavenly feast, resting his body, as it were, against Abraham, but the rich man was in great pain in hades, awaiting final punishment (Luke 16:19-24).
The rich man had been so concerned with building his wealth and enjoying it that he had forgotten God and no longer noticed the needs of others. After death he saw where his selfishness had led him, but by then it was too late to change. His determination to live for himself was his own decision, and that decision excluded him from heaven (Luke 16:25-26).
Being concerned about his brothers who were still alive, the rich man wanted Lazarus to go and warn them. But even the miracle of someone rising from death would not cause such people to give up their selfish ways. They had the message of salvation in the Scriptures, but if they rejected that, nothing else could save them (Luke 16:27-31).
Whether in relation to money (as illustrated in the previous stories) or any other matter likely to cause temptation, Jesus’ followers must not cause young believers to sin (Luke 17:1-2). They must try to correct those who do wrong to them, but at the same time forgive them, no matter how many times the offence is repeated (Luke 17:3-4). Concerning faith, they should remember that God is not concerned with how much they have, but with whether they have truly placed it in him (Luke 17:5-6).
Those who serve Jesus should not feel proud of themselves, as if their master has an obligation to give them a special reward. Their good works are their duty, and no matter how hard they work, they still owe God more (Luke 17:7-10).
Many become so used to receiving God’s blessings that they forget to thank him in return. Others, who have not previously known God, may display true gratitude the first time they become aware of God’s goodness to them. This was demonstrated on an occasion when Jesus healed ten lepers. He then sent them to the priest as the Jewish law required, but none of the Jews in the group returned to give him thanks. The only one who thanked him was a foreigner (Luke 17:11-19).
The Pharisees were looking for visible signs so that they could work out when the Messiah’s kingdom would begin. Jesus told them that since he was the Messiah and was living among them, the Messiah’s kingdom had already begun (Luke 17:20-21; cf. Matt 16:1-4).
Turning to his disciples, Jesus added that one day he would be taken from them. In their longing for him to return they were not to be led astray by rumours and false prophecies. His coming would be visible and unmistakable (Luke 17:22-25).
As in the days of Noah and of Lot, people will be carrying out their everyday duties when the divine judgment will suddenly fall (Luke 17:26-30). It will then be too late for people to do anything to save themselves. There will be an irreversible separation between those who have lived for themselves and those who have put God’s interests first (Luke 17:31-36). God’s great intervention in human affairs will affect people worldwide. Wherever there is sin, there the divine judgment will fall (Luke 17:37).
Because there may be an apparent delay before his return, Jesus told a parable to encourage his disciples. They may suffer injustice from opponents of the gospel, but they must persevere in prayer, confident that God will hear them (Luke 18:1). If an ungodly judge will give a just judgment to a helpless widow solely to be rid of her ceaseless pleading, how much more will the holy God answer the cries of his persecuted people. The world may be unbelieving, but the disciples of Jesus must maintain their faith to the end (Luke 18:2-8).
In the second story Jesus rebuked those law-abiding people who thought their behaviour made them and their prayers acceptable with God. The Pharisee recounted his good deeds, and expected God to be pleased with him. He despised the tax collector, and was sure that God did too (Luke 18:9-12). But the tax collector made no attempt to impress God. He simply confessed himself a sinner and asked God for mercy. God accepted the man who humbly repented, but rejected the one who boasted of his virtue (Luke 18:13-14).
Many people thought that they could gain entrance into the kingdom of God through their own efforts. Jesus referred to the children gathered around him to illustrate that this was not so (Mark 10:13-14). People must realize that in relation to entering his kingdom they are as helpless and dependent as children. There is no room in his kingdom for those who hold high opinions of themselves, or who think they will gain eternal life through their wisdom or good works (Mark 10:15-16).
A wealthy young man came to Jesus and asked what special deeds he should do to gain eternal life. Jesus responded that there was no need to ask him, because God had already told him in the Ten Commandments what he should do (Matt 19:16-19). The man boasted that he had kept most of the commandments, but Jesus saw that at least he had failed in the last, which said ‘Do not covet’. While people around him were suffering from hunger and poverty, he was building up wealth. His desire for comfort and prosperity prevented him from giving himself to God, and so prevented him from receiving eternal life. If he wanted eternal life, he would have to get rid of the things that stood in its way (Matt 19:20-22).
Wealth makes people independent of others, and for this reason the rich often find it difficult to acknowledge that they are not independent of God. Their wealth makes them no better in God’s sight than anyone else. As a result few of the rich enter the kingdom of God. Actually, no one at all could enter that kingdom apart from the work of God. By his grace he accepts those who humble themselves before him (Matt 19:23-26).
Nevertheless, those who make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus will find that what they receive in eternity is incomparably greater than anything they may have lost in the present world. They may have to sacrifice wealth, status, family or friends, but in the age to come they will reign with Christ (Matt 19:27-30).
As Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem, he again spoke of his coming death and resurrection, but again his disciples misunderstood. They were still thinking mainly of an earthly kingdom of political power (Matt 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34).
James and John therefore came to Jesus with a request that they might have the top positions in the kingdom (Matt 20:20-21; Mark 10:35-37). Jesus, by using the words ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’ as symbols of his suffering and death, showed them that he had to suffer and die before he could enjoy the triumph and glory of his kingdom. They still did not understand, and boldly stated that they were prepared to suffer with him. Jesus replied that they would indeed suffer for his sake (cf. Acts 12:2; Rev 1:9), but their position in the kingdom was dependent on the Father alone. And he showed no favouritism (Matt 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-40).
In wanting to be ahead of the other apostles, James and John probably had Peter particularly in mind, but all the other apostles were angry when they discovered what had happened. Jesus then repeated and expanded teaching he had given earlier about the difference between worldly and spiritual greatness (cf. Mark 9:33-35). In the kingdoms of the world people compete with each other to achieve power, but in the kingdom of God true greatness comes from humble and willing service. The perfect example is Jesus himself, who at that time was about to lay down his life so that people in bondage to sin might be set free (Matt 20:24-28; Mark 10:41-45).
It seems that Jesus healed several blind beggars as he passed through Jericho (Matt 20:29-30; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35). The men were determined to attract the attention of Jesus and called out loudly, addressing him by his messianic title, son of David. Jesus called the men to him, and although he clearly saw their need, he asked them what they wanted. He wanted them to declare their faith boldly, and thereby strengthen it. In response to their expression of faith, Jesus healed them (Matt 20:31-34; Mark 10:47-52).
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of Jericho and was wealthy. He wanted to see Jesus, and Jesus wanted to talk to him. So Jesus went to his house, much to the disapproval of the local citizens (Luke 19:1-7).
The outcome of Jesus’ visit was that Zacchaeus repented and believed in Jesus. To show that his repentance was genuine, Zacchaeus repaid (with generous interest) those he had cheated and gave freely even to those he had not cheated (Luke 19:8). Being a tax collector, he was despised by his fellow Jews as one not worthy to be called a ‘son of Abraham’. But that was no reason for him to be cut off from salvation. On the contrary, sinners such as this were the people that Jesus came to save. And once Zacchaeus was saved, he was a true ‘son of Abraham’, a genuine believer (Luke 19:9-10).
As Jesus drew nearer to Jerusalem, those with him became excited, thinking he was about to establish a world-conquering kingdom. Jesus corrected their misunderstanding by telling them a parable (Luke 19:11). He was like a man who was entitled to a kingdom, but who had first to go to the seat of power in a distant country to have his kingdom confirmed, after which he would return to claim it. Before he left for the distant country, he gave an equal amount of money to each of ten trusted servants, who were to use it to promote their master’s interests during his absence. The meaning was that Jesus would soon leave the world, but he gave to each of his servants the task of living for him in such a way that his kingdom would continue to grow (Luke 19:12-13).
The citizens in the parable did not want the new king, and in like manner the Jews did not want Jesus (Luke 19:14). But the loyal servants (the followers of Jesus) continued to work for their master. When he returned he examined their work and rewarded each according to his diligence. If the servant used his master’s money profitably he was rewarded; if he was lazy he suffered loss. The master did not expect all the servants to be equally successful, but he accepted no excuses for laziness (Luke 19:15-25).
For the followers of Jesus the lesson is that those who work diligently find that their ability increases, and so they are given more responsibility. Those who are lazy find that they lose whatever ability they have, and cannot be trusted with any further responsibility (Luke 19:26). For those who reject Jesus the lesson is that they will suffer a terrible judgment (Luke 19:27).
Ministry in Jerusalem (p. 105)
The time had now come for Jesus to challenge his opponents openly by a clear public demonstration that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest him, but when told of his whereabouts they feared to take action. They were unsure of the extent of Jesus’ popular support (cf. John 11:57; 12:9-11).
To make sure that nothing stopped him from making a bold public entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had made a secret arrangement with some unnamed villagers who would provide the donkey that he would ride. By using a pre-arranged password, two of his disciples collected the donkey and brought it to him (Matt 21:1-3; Luke 19:28-34).
As the messianic king, the son of David, Jesus then entered his royal city of Zion. He came not riding a horse as a conquering warlord, but sitting on a donkey as a king of peace, as the Scriptures foretold (see Zech 9:9). People who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, along with local residents, welcomed him as the Messiah. They may not have understood the nature of his messiahship, but they were enthusiastic in their acceptance of him (Matt 21:4-11; Luke 19:35-38; John 12:12-16. (The word ‘Hosanna’, meaning ‘Save us, O Lord’, came from two Hebrew words found in Psalm 118, where Israel’s victorious king was welcomed with the words, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’; Ps 118:25-26. By New Testament times the two expressions, used together, had become a declaration of praise to God for the promised Messiah.)
The Pharisees were annoyed at the welcome Jesus received and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to silence the people (Luke 19:39-40). As the news of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus spread, more and more people flocked to see him. The thing the Pharisees most feared was happening before their eyes (John 12:17-19).
Jesus, however, was not deceived by this enthusiastic welcome. He knew that when people properly understood the nature of his messiahship, they would turn against him. The nation as a whole would reject him, and in the judgment to follow, Jerusalem would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44). The significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not political but spiritual, and therefore he went not to the palace but to the temple. He took note of what was happening there, then returned with his disciples to Bethany, where they spent the night (Mark 11:11).
At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus had cleansed the temple (see John 2:13-25), but old practices had returned. Now that he had come to his messianic city he cleansed it again. By his action he showed God’s judgment on those who had forgotten the real purpose of religious exercises and used them chiefly to make money (Matt 21:12-13).
God was more pleased with Jesus’ action in healing the blind and the crippled than with all the religious activity of the Jews. Even the children saw the worth of Jesus’ action and shouted their praises accordingly. The temple authorities were angered at such behaviour by the children in the temple, but Jesus responded that the children clearly saw what the religious leaders could not, namely, that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt 21:14-16). Again, at the end of the day Jesus returned to Bethany (Matt 21:17).
When Jesus returned to the temple, the Jewish religious leaders came to trap him with a question. They hoped to find something in his answer that would enable them to bring a charge, civil or religious, against him. They asked him by what authority he acted the way he did, particularly in overthrowing the established practices of the Jewish temple (Matt 21:23).
Instead of answering directly, Jesus adjusted the question and turned it back on the religious leaders, so that they were the ones who found difficulty in answering. In doing this, Jesus was not trying to avoid telling the truth, but trying to make them see the truth. If they gave him a correct answer to his question, they would have the answer to their own question. Jesus’ question concerned the authority of John the Baptist. If they acknowledged that John was sent by God, they were acknowledging that Jesus also was sent by God, because John’s message was to announce the arrival of Jesus as God’s chosen Messiah. If they denied that John was sent by God, they could expect trouble from the crowds, because many people still held John in high esteem (Matt 21:24-27).
When the leaders would not answer, Jesus told a story to rebuke them once more for their refusal to repent. He likened sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes to a son who at first disobeyed his father but later changed his mind. The sinners repented of their wrongdoing and so entered God’s kingdom. He likened the Pharisees to another son, who pretended to be obedient but, in fact, did not obey. The Pharisees claimed to be obedient to God, but they refused to obey John’s call to repentance (Matt 21:28-32).
This parable pictures Israel as a vineyard, God as the owner of the vineyard, and the Jewish religious leaders as the tenants who looked after it. Just as the tenants beat and killed the servants whom the owner sent to them, so Israel’s leaders persecuted and killed God’s messengers, from Old Testament prophets to John the Baptist. Now they were about to reject God’s Son himself (Matt 21:33-39). By rejecting him the Jews were bringing punishment on themselves. God would take away the privileges from Israel and give them to the Gentiles (Matt 21:40-41).
Another picture illustrated this truth. Jesus was likened to the cornerstone of a building, which in ancient buildings was the stone upon which the structure depended. In rejecting Jesus, the Jews were like builders who threw away the cornerstone. God now took this rejected stone and used it in the construction of a new building, the Christian church. This new community would be mainly Gentile, and all of it built around and built into Jesus Christ (Matt 21:42-43). People’s attitude to Jesus determined their destiny, and those who rejected him guaranteed their own destruction. The leaders of the Jews knew he was talking about them and wanted to arrest him, but they were not sure how the crowd would react (Matt 21:44-46).
The Herodians were a group of Jews who, unlike most Jews, were favourable to the rule of the Herods and therefore (indirectly) to the rule of Rome. Normally, they had little in common with the Pharisees, but the two groups were willing to cooperate in an attempt to trap Jesus. They asked him was it lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Rome (Matt 22:15-17; Luke 20:19-22).
If Jesus replied ‘Yes’, the Pharisees would accuse him before the Jewish people of being a traitor. If he answered ‘No’, the Herodians would accuse him before the Roman authorities of treason. Jesus replied that duty to God and duty to civil authorities are not in opposition. People owe to each a debt for the services and benefits they receive. They should give to civil authorities that which is due to them, and give to God all that they owe him (Matt 22:18-22; Luke 20:23-26).
Next a group of Sadducees came to Jesus with a question. According to the law of Moses, if a man died childless, his brother was to have a temporary marital relationship with the widow for the purpose of producing an heir (Deut 25:5-6). The question put by the Sadducees concerned an unlikely situation where a widow would meet seven husbands, all brothers, in the resurrection. Since Sadducees did not believe in any form of life after death, their question was intended to make fun of Jesus and the doctrine of the resurrection (Luke 20:27-33).
Jesus told the Sadducees that their question was without meaning, because Israel’s laws applied only to life in the present physical world. Life in the age to come is not a continuation of present earthly life, but is a different kind of life altogether (Luke 20:34-36; cf. 1 Cor 15:35-44).
To show that life after death was a fact they could not deny, Jesus quoted from the book of Exodus (which, being part of the Pentateuch, was one of the few parts of the Scriptures that the Sadducees read). Long after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died, the Scriptures spoke of God as having a living personal relationship with them. They must therefore still be living, even though their bodies are dead and buried (Luke 20:37-38; cf. Exod 3:6). Some of the scribes (probably Pharisees) were impressed with Jesus’ answer and were pleased to see the Sadducees silenced (Luke 20:39-40).
Some of the questions that Jesus’ opponents put to him were unimportant, even senseless. He now put to them the really important question: what was their view of the Messiah? Jews understood the Messiah to be the son (descendant) of David, but thought of him almost solely as a political figure who would rule Israel in a golden age. Jesus wanted to show that this view was inadequate. The Messiah was far more than the son of David (Matt 22:41-42).
Jesus referred his hearers to Psalm 110, a psalm that Jews of his time regarded as messianic. The psalm had been written a thousand years earlier, to be sung by the temple singers in praise of King David after he conquered Jerusalem and established his throne there. But the person who wrote the words was David himself; and, as Jesus pointed out, they were written under the inspiration of the Spirit in praise of the Messiah. This means that the opening words of the psalm, where the temple singers expressed homage to David by calling him ‘my Lord’, were the same words by which David expressed homage to the Messiah. The Messiah, who everyone knew was David’s descendant, was also David’s Lord. The Messiah was not only an earthly figure but also a divine figure (Matt 22:43-45; cf. Acts 2:34-36).
The people understood, at least to some extent, the meaning of Jesus’ words and dared not try to trick him with any more questions. He was telling them, yet again, that his work was not to revive and expand the old earthly kingdom of Israel, but to establish an entirely different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of God (Matt 22:46).
Instead of teaching only the law of Moses, the scribes and Pharisees added countless laws of their own. Instead of making the people’s load lighter, they made it heavier. People could profit from listening to the scribes’ teaching of Moses’ law, but they were not to copy the scribes’ behaviour (Matt 23:1-4). Jesus gave two specific reasons for his condemnation of the scribes. First, they wanted to make a display of their religious devotion so that they might win praise from others. Second, they paid strict attention to small details of law-keeping but they ignored the law’s real meaning. Jesus gave a list of examples.
Phylacteries were small leather boxes containing finely written portions of the law that people strapped on their foreheads and arms. Tassels were decorations sewn on the fringes of their clothes to remind them to keep God’s law. The scribes made their phylacteries and tassels extra large to impress people with their devotion to the law (Matt 23:5; cf. Num 15:38-39; Deut 11:18).
In public meetings the scribes tried to get the most important seats, and they loved the feeling of status when their students greeted them respectfully in public. Jesus rebuked them with the reminder that the only true teacher, father and master was God, and he would humble those who tried to make themselves great (Matt 23:6-12; Mark 12:38-39). They made themselves appear religious with their long prayers, yet they heartlessly took advantage of the poor (Mark 12:40).
Besides not believing in Jesus themselves, the scribes stopped others from believing. If they succeeded in converting a Gentile to Judaism, they usually turned the person into such an extremist that he was more worthy of God’s punishment than they were (Matt 23:13-15).
Jews were careful in swearing oaths, so that they could have an excuse if they broke their oath. If they swore by certain things they felt obliged to keep their oath, but if they swore by others they felt no guilt if they ignored their oath. Jesus repeated teaching given earlier that all oaths were binding, no matter what people swore by, and God the supreme judge would hold them responsible (Matt 23:16-22).
Jesus also repeated some of the accusations he had made elsewhere against the Pharisees and scribes. They concentrated on minor details of their own law but ignored the important teachings of God’s law. Their efforts to appear religious were an attempt to hide their inner corruption (Matt 23:23-28). Like their ancestors, they would not be satisfied until they had killed all God’s messengers. They would even kill the Messiah himself. Therefore, all God’s judgment against his murderous people, including that which he had withheld from former generations, would fall on them. They would live to see their city destroyed and their national life brought to an end (Matt 23:29-36).
In rejecting the Messiah who had come among them, the Jews were rejecting their only hope. They would not experience God’s blessing till they turned and welcomed Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour (Matt 23:37-39).
In one of the courts of the temple were large containers into which people dropped their gifts of money. The containers were in an open place, and onlookers could easily see how much people put in. Also, those who gave a lot could easily attract attention to themselves. Jesus noticed that some of the rich gave generously, but a poor widow gave an amount so small that it was almost of no value in the local market place (Mark 12:41-42).
Jesus, however, was more concerned with how people gave than the amount they gave. He considered that the widow gave more than anyone else, because he measured the gift not by its commercial value but by the degree of sacrifice of the giver. A heart of true devotion, not money, was the valuable thing in his kingdom (Mark 12:43-44).
Through his parables and other teachings, Jesus had spoken a number of times of his going away and his return in glory, which would bring in the climax of the age, the triumph of his kingdom and final judgment. His disciples apparently connected these events with the predicted destruction of Jerusalem. Therefore, when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, his disciples immediately connected this with the return of the Messiah and the end of the age. They asked him what significant events would occur before these final great events (Matt 24:1-3; Luke 21:5-7).
In reply Jesus told them that the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple was not necessarily connected with the return of the Messiah or the end of the age. They were not to believe rumours they might hear from time to time that the Messiah had returned, for there would always be false prophets who tried to attract a following for themselves. Nor were they to think that all wars, famines, earthquakes or plagues were sure signs that the end was near (Matt 24:4-8; Luke 21:8-11).
The end would not come till the gospel had spread throughout the world, and this goal would be reached only after much opposition. God’s servants would be persecuted by enemies and betrayed by friends; many would be killed. Only by love and unfailing faith in God would the survivors be able to endure their trials. Even if their sufferings resulted in death, God would preserve them for his heavenly kingdom (Matt 24:9-14; Luke 21:12-19).
Although the people of Jesus’ day would not see the final events of the world’s history, many of them would certainly see a foreshadowing of those events; for they would live to witness the horror of the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem.
On seeing the awful sight of Rome’s armies approaching the city, people would flee to the hills, without even waiting to collect their belongings. They would find escape particularly difficult if the attack came in winter (when weather conditions would slow them down), or on the Sabbath (when religious regulations would restrict them). Women and children especially would suffer. The enemy’s savage attack would be more terrible and destructive than anything they had known. In fact, if God did not stop the butchery, no one would be left alive. The people would be massacred, the temple burnt and the city destroyed. The event would be a repeat of the atrocities of Antiochus Epiphanes, only many times worse – an ‘awful horror’ (GNB), a ‘desolating sacrilege’ (RSV), an ‘abomination that causes desolation’ (NIV) (Matt 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24; cf. Dan 9:27; 11:31).
During the time these troubles were building up, false prophets would try to draw Jesus’ disciples into their group. With clever tricks and comforting words they would assure them that the Messiah had returned and was hiding in some safe place, waiting to lead his people to victory. The disciples of Jesus were not to believe such rumours. Jesus’ return would be as sudden, as open, and as startling as a flash of lightning. When God’s great intervention eventually occurred, it would be plain for all to see (Matt 24:23-28).
Jesus did not return at the fall of Jerusalem, nor immediately after. It seems, then, that his prophecy still awaits its greater fulfilment. If that is so, there could be a repeat of conditions such as those during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but on a wider scale and with greater intensity. The powers of nature on earth and in space will be thrown into confusion, nations will be in turmoil, and people everywhere will be filled with fear. The present age will come to an end as Jesus returns in power and glory to save his own and judge his enemies (Matt 24:29-31; Luke 21:25-28).
Just as the first leaves on a fig tree indicate that summer is coming, so when the disciples see the false messiahs, the persecution and the approach of the Roman armies, they will know that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation is upon them. People of Jesus’ day would see the fulfilment of these things in their own lifetime (Matt 24:32-35; Luke 21:29-33).
As for the day when the Son of man will return in the glory of his kingdom, no one knows when that will be except the Father (Matt 24:36; cf. Dan 7:13-14). People will be carrying on their daily business, ignoring God’s warnings just as people did in the days of Noah. But just as the flood was God’s means of judgment on those people, so Jesus’ return will bring judgment on sinners and salvation to his people (Matt 24:37-41).
Jesus’ coming will be as unexpected as that of a thief who breaks into a house while the owner is asleep (Matt 24:42-44). The disciples of Jesus must therefore be prepared for his return at all times. They must not settle down to a life of self-pleasing but live faithfully for him (Matt 24:45-51).
The suffering and death of Jesus (p. 117)
The Passover was only two days away, and Jesus knew its significance in relation to his coming death. Israelites kept the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread as an annual week-long festival in commemoration of ancient Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. God ‘passed over’ those houses where a lamb had been sacrificed in the place of those under judgment (Exod 12:1-13). The people then escaped from bondage. For the next week they ate bread made without leaven, because they had to cook it in haste as they travelled (Exod 12:14-20,39). The time for a greater deliverance had now arrived. Jesus would die as the true Passover lamb, to bear the penalty of sin and release sinners from its bondage (Matt 26:1-2; cf. 1 Cor 5:7).
People in Jerusalem were excited as the festival approached. The chief priests therefore planned to wait until it was finished before arresting Jesus, as they did not want to be responsible for a riot (Matt 26:3-5). But when Judas came to them and offered to betray Jesus to them, their task was made easier. Judas could advise them of Jesus’ movements, so that they could arrest him quietly without the people knowing (Matt 26:14-16).
Between the account of the Jews’ plotting and Judas’ treachery, Matthew and Mark have inserted the account of an anointing of Jesus at Bethany. This may have been the anointing recorded earlier by John, and could have been put into the story at this point to contrast the loving devotion of a true believer with the violence and treachery of others. If the three accounts refer to the same occasion, Simon the leper must have been the owner of the house where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Possibly he was their father (Matt 26:6-13).
Normally the Jews killed the sacrificial lamb on the afternoon of Passover day, and ate it together in a meal that night (cf. Exod 12:6,8). Jesus knew he was to die as the sacrificial lamb on Passover day, and therefore he prepared the meal a day earlier. He would eat the meal with his disciples the evening before Passover, but probably without a lamb, since he himself was to be the lamb.
Knowing that the Jews were looking for him to arrest him, Jesus secretly made careful arrangements for the feast. No one knew where it would be held except two unnamed disciples, who were apparently unknown even to the twelve apostles. This arrangement prevented Judas from giving any advance information to the Jewish leaders (Mark 14:12-15). Two of the apostles met the two unnamed disciples, and between them they prepared the place for the Passover (the ‘upper room’) and the food and drink for the meal (Mark 14:16).
By the time of Jesus, the Jewish Passover had developed into a set form with a number of added procedures. Among the additions was a cup of wine, for which the head of the household offered a prayer of thanks (or blessing; cf. 1 Cor 10:16). He filled this cup and passed it among the participants, both before and after the eating of unleavened bread. The participants also sang a collection of psalms known as the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). They sang two of the psalms before eating the lamb, the other psalms after. Some of these features are evident in the Gospels’ account of the Passover meal that Jesus had with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. It is sometimes called the Last Supper, and was the occasion on which Jesus instituted the communion meal later known as the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-26).
Jesus took some of the bread and wine on the table, gave thanks, and distributed it among his disciples as symbols of his body and blood to be offered in sacrifice. His blood sealed God’s covenant, that unconditional promise of forgiveness and eternal life to all who receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Israelites kept the Passover in remembrance of God’s gracious work in saving them through the Passover lamb; the disciples of the Lord Jesus keep the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the one through whose death they are saved from sin and given eternal life (Matt 26:26-27; Luke 22:17-20; cf. Jer 31:31-34).
When Jesus returns, they will no longer need to remember him with bread and wine. Jesus and his people will be together in his triumphant kingdom, sharing the joy of the great messianic feast (Matt 26:28-29; Luke 22:14-16).
During the meal in the upper room, Jesus had much to say to his disciples. This is represented by the teaching recorded in John Chapters 14-16, to which is added a prayer of Jesus in Chapter 17. At the end of the meal they left the room for the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30).
The apostles were surprised when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him, for they did not suspect treachery among them. Perhaps they thought that one of them might unintentionally betray him through speaking carelessly. But Judas knew what Jesus meant (Matt 26:20-22; John 13:21-25). When Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it in the dish and gave it to Judas, he was giving Judas a special honour. It was as if Jesus was making a last appeal to him. But Judas’ heart was set on doing evil. Jesus knew Judas’ intentions, but the apostles still did not suspect him of being a traitor (Matt 26:23-25; John 13:26-30).
Judas’ departure from the room made the death of Jesus certain, though for Jesus that death would be not a misfortune but a glorious triumph. His death would bring glory to God by displaying his immeasurable love for sinful men and women. It would also bring grief to his disciples as they saw their master taken from them. But they were to show no bitterness in their grief; rather, a forgiving love, by which others would see that they were indeed disciples of Jesus (John 13:31-35).
Despite all that Jesus had shown and taught his disciples about humility, and in spite of the death he was about to die for them, they were still arguing about who was the greatest among them. Jesus reminded them again of the different standards in the earthly and heavenly kingdoms. He had given them an example in the way he lived among them, showing that true greatness lay in serving others (Luke 22:24-27). They had stood by him in all his trials, and he wanted them to maintain their loyalty through the time of his suffering and death. Their reward would be to share his rule in the triumphant kingdom (Luke 22:28-30).
Jesus knew, however, that they would all run away and leave him in his final hour. They would be like sheep who scatter in panic when the shepherd is killed. Peter boldly assured Jesus that though others might leave him, he would not. But Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Peter would deny him, but the experience would teach him lessons that would remove his self-assurance and give him a new strength in God. After Jesus rose from death and returned to the father, Peter would be the one through whom the group of disciples would learn to be confident and courageous (Matt 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38; cf. Acts 4:13-31; 5:17-32).
In figurative language Jesus then told them to prepare for the new life ahead. It would be much tougher than anything they had previously known or experienced; they would have difficulty just in preserving their lives (Luke 22:35-37). The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ words, but Jesus felt he had said enough on the matter for the time being, and he left them to think about it (Luke 22:38).
It must have been getting towards midnight by the time Jesus and his disciples reached the Garden of Gethsemane. Then, taking Peter, James and John with him, Jesus moved to a spot where they could be alone. He was filled with anguish and horror as he saw clearly what his death would mean. The three friends could do little to lessen his anguish except stay awake in sympathy with him. He had to battle against the temptation to avoid the suffering that lay ahead, but the battle was one he had to fight and win alone (Mark 14:32-34; Luke 22:39-40).
The ‘cup’ of suffering that caused Jesus such distress was not just physical suffering, great though that was. Above all it was the inner agony as the sinless one, God’s Son, took upon himself the sin of his human creatures and bore God’s wrath on their behalf (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9; 1 Peter 2:24). It was an experience no one else could know, for no one else had Jesus’ sinlessness or shared his relationship with the Father. Jesus had a real human will, and when he considered the ordeal that lay ahead, a conflict arose within him. As he fought against the temptation to avoid the cross, his agony of mind was so intense that he perspired what appeared to be blood. But he won the battle, and determined that he would willingly submit to whatever his Father would have him go through (Mark 14:35-36; Luke 22:41-44).
Perhaps the reason why the disciples were unable to stay awake was not simply that they were overtired, but that they were unable to withstand the satanic forces at work in the garden. Jesus saw their weakness and urged them to be alert and pray for strength, because they too were going to be put to the test. They would face the temptation to deny Jesus in order to save themselves (Mark 14:37-40; Luke 22:45-46).
Jesus, by contrast, would give himself without reservation, in order to save others. The decisive victory he won in the garden enabled him to meet his betrayal, trial and death with renewed courage and assurance (Mark 14:41-42).
In the strength of the victory won at Gethsemane, Jesus went to meet his enemies. Judas knew the garden, for Jesus had often met there with his apostles. In the middle of the night, Judas took a group of temple guards and Roman soldiers to seize Jesus. By working under the cover of darkness, he kept the operation hidden from any who were likely to be sympathizers with Jesus. But Jesus needed no supporters to defend him, and Judas needed no force to arrest him. The armed men who came with Judas fell to the ground when they met Jesus, but he surrendered himself to them. He requested only that they not harm his friends (Matt 26:47-50; Luke 22:47-48; John 18:2-9).
The apostles, however, wanted to fight. Jesus told them that if they practised violence they would suffer violence. Moreover, if Jesus wanted defenders he could draw upon supernatural forces (Matt 26:51-56a; Luke 22:49-5; John 18:10-11). A scuffle apparently broke out and the apostles all fled. The soldiers managed to grab a young man who had followed Jesus to the garden, but he escaped (Matt 26:56b; Mark 14:51-52).
From early Christian times the common belief has been that the young man of this story was Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. It appears that his family home was the house of the upper room (where Jesus had just come from) and that it became a common meeting place for the apostles in the early days of the church (see Mark 14:14-15; Acts 1:12-14; 2:1; 12:12).
Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas apparently lived in the same house. Annas had been the previous high priest and, though replaced by Caiaphas, was still well respected and influential. Jesus’ captors took him to Annas first, while Peter and John, who had followed at a distance, waited in the courtyard. By now it was well past midnight and into the early hours of the morning (John 18:12-18; Luke 22:54).
When Annas asked Jesus questions about his teaching, Jesus replied that it was known to all. He had no need to testify on his own behalf (contrary to Jewish law) when many other witnesses could be called in. After being ill-treated for giving an honest and unanswerable reply, he was sent to Caiaphas (John 18:19-24).
Caiaphas had called the Sanhedrin together, determined to condemn Jesus without delay, even though it was illegal for the Sanhedrin to meet at night to judge an offence that carried the death sentence. The Jewish leaders’ whole purpose was to get some statement from Jesus that they could use to charge him with blasphemy and so condemn him to death (Matt 26:57-63; Mark 14:53-61). They were soon satisfied when Jesus said he was the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of man, and he was on the way to receiving the glorious kingdom given him by God (Matt 26:64; Mark 14:62). With an outburst of violent abuse the Jewish leaders condemned him as worthy of death (Matt 26:65-68; Mark 14:63-65).
While Jesus was before Caiaphas and the other Jewish leaders inside the building, Peter sat in the courtyard, waiting anxiously. When a servant girl recognized him as a follower of Jesus, he denied any association with him (Matt 26:69-70; Luke 22:55-57). A little later another person recognized him and told the people standing by, but again he disowned Jesus, this time with an oath (Matt 26:71-72; Luke 22:58).
About an hour later some of the bystanders approached Peter again, convinced he was a follower of Jesus, but Peter’s denial was even stronger than before. The crowing of a cock indicated to all that daylight was approaching. It also reminded Peter of his folly in boasting that he could never fail. Just then Jesus happened to see Peter in the courtyard, and as their eyes met Peter was overcome with grief and went away weeping bitterly (Matt 26:73-75; cf. v. 31-35; Luke 22:59-62; cf. v. 31-34).
It had been a long night for Jesus – the Passover meal, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the disciples’ feet, the lengthy teaching in the upper room, the walk to Gethsemane, the agonizing time in the garden, the arrest, the walk back to the city, and the questioning and rough handling at the high priest’s house. It was now daybreak, which meant that a legal sentence could be passed. Jesus therefore was made to stand before the Sanhedrin for a brief repetition of the investigation just concluded (Matt 27:1; Luke 22:66-71). The Jewish leaders could then make a formal charge against him to present to the Roman authorities. In doing so, they had to convince the Roman governor that the accused person deserved execution (Matt 27:2).
Pilate, the governor of the area, usually lived in the provincial capital Caesarea, but he came to Jerusalem during Jewish festivals to help maintain order. His official residence and administration centre in Jerusalem was called the praetorium. The Jewish leaders, wanting to have Jesus dealt with and out of the way before the festival started, took him to Pilate early in the morning (Luke 23:1; John 18:28-29).
The Jews had charged Jesus with blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God, but when they took him to Pilate they twisted the charge. They emphasized not that he claimed to be God but that he claimed to be above Caesar. They suggested he was a political rebel trying to lead a messianic uprising that would overthrow Roman rule and set up an independent Jewish state (Luke 23:2). Pilate tried to dismiss the case, but the Jews would not drop their charges (John 18:30-32).
Jesus then gave Pilate the true picture. He explained that his kingdom was not concerned with political power, and had nothing to do with national uprisings. It was a spiritual kingdom and it was based on truth. Pilate did not grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ explanation, but he understood enough to be convinced that Jesus was not a political rebel. He suspected that the Jews had handed him over for judgment because they were jealous of his religious following (Matt 27:11-14,18; Luke 23:3-5; John 18:33-38).
When Pilate learnt that Jesus was from Galilee, which was not under his control, he tried to avoid the issue by sending Jesus to the Galilean governor Herod, who also was in Jerusalem for the festival (Luke 23:6-7). But Jesus refused to speak to Herod, and made no attempt to defend himself against the false accusations the Jewish leaders made against him. After mocking him cruelly, Herod sent him back to Pilate (Luke 23:8-12).
Although assured that Jesus was innocent, Pilate felt it wise to give the Jews some satisfaction; for by this time a crowd had gathered and he did not want a riot to break out. He therefore offered to punish Jesus by flogging, and consider the matter finished (Luke 23:13-16).
But the people yelled for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate did not want the situation to get out of control, so made another offer. He agreed to accept the Jews’ accusation of Jesus’ guilt, but he offered to give Jesus the special pardon reserved for one criminal each Passover season (Matt 27:15-18).
By this time the priests scattered throughout the crowd had the people under their power. They quickly spread the word that the prisoner they wanted released was not Jesus, but Barabbas, a rebel who had once taken a leading part in a local anti-Rome uprising (see Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19). Pilate, unaware of the influence of the priests in the crowd and thinking that Jesus had widespread support, agreed to allow the crowd to choose between the two, no doubt thinking they would choose Jesus. As he waited for them to make their choice, his wife sent him a warning not to condemn Jesus (Matt 27:19-20).
If supporters of Jesus were in the crowd, they were a minority. People in general were more likely to support a nationalist like Barabbas. Finally, they succeeded in having Barabbas released and Jesus condemned to be crucified. They accepted responsibility for this decision and called down God’s judgment upon them and their children if they were wrong (a judgment that possibly fell on them with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). Jesus was then taken and flogged as the first step towards crucifixion (Matt 27:21-26; Luke 23:18-25; John 18:39-40; 19:1).
While some soldiers were preparing for the execution, those in Pilate’s palace cruelly made fun of Jesus. They mocked him as ‘king’ by putting some old soldiers clothes on him for a royal robe and thorns on his head for a crown. They hit him over the head with a stick that was supposed to be his sceptre, and spat in his face and punched him as mock signs of homage (Matt 27:27-31; John 19:2-3).
Pilate showed this pitiful figure to the crowd, apparently hoping it might make them feel ashamed and change their minds; but it only increased their hatred (John 19:4-6). Pilate became more uneasy when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Maybe, thought Pilate, this man was one of the gods. He became even more anxious to set Jesus free when Jesus told him that God would hold him responsible for the way he used his authority. Pilate was guilty for condemning a man he knew was innocent, but Caiaphas and the other Jews who handed Jesus over to him were more guilty (John 19:7-11).
Again Pilate tried to release Jesus, but the Jews reminded him that he himself could be in danger if he released a person guilty of treason. This disturbed Pilate further, and after a final offer that the Jews rejected, he handed Jesus over to be crucified. The Jews’ declaration of loyalty to Caesar demonstrated their hypocrisy and confirmed their rejection of God (John 19:12-16).
As the prisoners set out for the place of execution, Jesus was made to carry his cross (John 19:17). He must have been weak from the brutal flogging, and when it appeared he was about to collapse, a passerby was forced to carry it for him. This man, Simon, was from northern Africa and had apparently come to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 23:26).
Among the crowd that followed Jesus were some women who wept and wailed at the dreadful sight. Jesus told them not to weep because of what they saw happening to him. One day they also would suffer. When the Romans later attacked Jerusalem, women now sad because they had no children would be better off than others, for they would not have to witness their children being slaughtered. If Rome crucified an innocent man such as Jesus, how brutal would they be in dealing with people guilty of open rebellion (Luke 23:27-31).
Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, was a hill beside a main road just outside Jerusalem. The procession arrived there about 9 a.m. (Matt 27:33; Mark 15:25). (It is difficult to calculate the exact times of all the incidents that took place on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. People in those days did not carry clocks, and the times given in the Gospels are only approximate. In some cases the writers may have estimated their times at different stages of the same event. Also, they may have used different methods of reckoning. Matthew, Mark and Luke usually count the hours from 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., but John seems to reckon differently.)
Great though Jesus’ suffering was, his agony of spirit was greater. He was bearing the burden of human sin, and thereby was conquering Satan and releasing people from the power of sin and death. He was determined to face death at its worst, fully conscious of what he was going through. Therefore, he refused the offer of drugged wine intended to deaden the pain and dull the mind (Matt 27:34).
Meanwhile, the four soldiers who carried out the crucifixion threw dice to decide how they would divide Jesus’ personal possessions. Above his head they attached a sign announcing the charge for which he was condemned, so that those who passed by could read it. As he hung there, Jesus had insults thrown at him by the common people, by members of the Sanhedrin (who came to see their sentence carried out), and by the two criminals crucified with him. All mocked with the same theme – he claimed to save others but he could not save himself. This was true, though not in the sense the mockers intended; for only by willingly sacrificing himself could he save guilty sinners (Matt 27:35-44; Luke 23:32-39; John 19:18-24). One of the criminals, realizing this, repented and experienced the saving power of Jesus that very day (Luke 23:40-43).
Jesus’ mother, Mary, had followed him to the cross and stayed by him during his ordeal. Among those who comforted her were John and three women: Mary’s sister Salome, who was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles James and John; another Mary, who was the wife of Clopas and the mother of James and Joses; and another Mary, who came from the town of Magdala in Galilee and was known as Mary Magdalene. These women had at first stood away from the cross, but later came and stood nearby (Matt 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49; John 19:25-27).
From the time the soldiers began the crucifixion to the time Jesus died was about six hours (cf Mark 15:25,33). During the last three hours (from noon to 3 p.m.) a strange darkness covered the land, as the wrath of God against sin fell upon Jesus. For this reason he was separated, for the only time, from the Father with whom he had enjoyed unbroken fellowship from all eternity. Sin separates from God, and in bearing the penalty of sin, Jesus experienced that desolation (Matt 27:45-49; Luke 23:44-45).
Nevertheless, at the very time he suffered such desolation, Jesus was in harmony with his Father’s will. He wanted his final words to his Father to be loud enough for all to hear, and therefore he asked for something to moisten his dry mouth. The words he spoke made known to all that he was placing his spirit in his Father’s hands. His final cry of triumph, ‘It is finished’, confirmed that even in his death he was still in control. No one took his life from him; he gave it up in a voluntary, unique act. He had completed the work that his Father sent him to do (Matt 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:28-30).
At the moment of Jesus’ death (about 3 p.m.) there was an earthquake in the Jerusalem area. In the temple the curtain that blocked entrance into the symbolic presence of God was torn in two. It was a striking demonstration that Jesus had brought the Jewish religious system to an end and opened the way for all into God’s presence. The earthquake also caused graves to break open, and certain believers of the old era were raised to life, indicating dramatically that Jesus’ death was the way to final triumph over death itself (Matt 27:51-53; cf. 1 Cor 15:20-26; Heb 2:14-15).
Another truth illustrated by the remarkable events connected with Jesus’ death was that he was the true Passover lamb. He died on the afternoon of Passover day, at the same time as the Jews back in Jerusalem were killing their lambs in preparation for the meal that night. And because he was the true Passover lamb, not a bone in his body was broken. Normally, the soldiers broke the victims’ legs to hasten their death, but they had no need to do this to Jesus, because he was already dead. Instead, one of the soldiers plunged his spear deep into Jesus’ body (John 19:31-37).
In contrast to the lack of feeling shown by most of the soldiers, the centurion in charge of the execution was filled with wonder at what he saw. He was convinced that Jesus was all he claimed to be (Matt 27:54; Luke 23:47).
Others also changed their attitudes to Jesus because of the events at Golgotha. Many who had come from Jerusalem as spectators returned in sorrow and fear, wondering what it all meant (Luke 23:48).
Two members of the Sanhedrin did not agree with the decision to crucify Jesus. They were Nicodemus (cf. John 3:1-12; 7:45-52) and Joseph, the latter being a man from the Judean town of Arimathea. Joseph, like many rich people, had built a fine tomb to be used one day for himself, but he sacrificed it so that Jesus could have an honourable burial. The two men took the body down from the cross late on the Friday afternoon (cf. Deut 21:22-23), and prepared it for burial by wrapping it in cloth with spices. They then laid it in Joseph’s tomb. The women who went to the tomb with Joseph and Nicodemus hurried home to prepare more spices and ointments before the Sabbath day of rest (Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).
At the request of the Jewish leaders, Pilate set a guard of Roman soldiers at the tomb to ensure that no one could remove Jesus’ body. In view of Jesus’ predictions of resurrection, the Jews wanted to make sure that the tomb was closed securely and sealed against any interference (Matt 27:62-66).
The resurrection of Jesus (p. 130)
It is not surprising that there are differences in the accounts of what people saw on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. The sight of the empty tomb and the heavenly messengers produced a mixture of reactions – excitement, joy, anxiety, fear, wonder. There was confusion as people rushed here and there to tell others. One writer records what he heard from some, another what he heard from others. But there is no variation in the basic facts: the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen. The following summary suggests the possible order of events.
- At the first sign of dawn two groups of women set out from separate places to take spices to anoint the body of Jesus. One group consisted of three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome the mother of the apostles James and John). The other group consisted of Joanna and some friends (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1,10).
- The group of three women arrived at the tomb first and found the stone rolled away. Mary Magdalene panicked and, without seeing the angel or hearing the voice, ran to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen (John 20:1-2). But the other Mary and Salome remained. They met one angel sitting on the stone outside the tomb, and another sitting inside the tomb. Upon hearing that Jesus had risen and desired to be reunited with his disciples in Galilee, they rushed off to the place where the apostles were gathered, eager to pass on the exciting news (Matt 28:2-7; Mark 16:4-8).
- Meanwhile the Roman guards fled the tomb and hurried across the city to tell the chief priests what had happened. These priests were the ones who had set the guard in the first place, and their purpose was to prevent Jesus’ followers from stealing the body. Now the same priests bribed the guards to spread the story that Jesus’ followers stole the body while the guards slept. The priests had earlier been worried that Jesus’ disciples might deceive people, but now they themselves were the deceivers (Matt 28:11-13; cf. 27:62-66). If Pilate heard the story of the guards sleeping on duty, the Jewish leaders promised to protect them by bribing Pilate (Matt 28:14-15).
- Back at the tomb, a few minutes after the first group of women had departed, Joanna and her friends arrived. They went inside, met two angels, heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection, and hurried off to tell the apostles (Luke 24:2-8).
- Soon after the women left the tomb, Peter and John arrived, went inside and saw the linen cloth lying neatly folded. They believed the evidence they saw that Jesus must have risen from the dead, but they left the tomb confused, not understanding the significance of the event (John 20:3-10; Luke 24:12).
- Mary Magdalene, who followed Peter and John back to the tomb, arrived after they had left. She remained there alone, weeping. Then she saw the two angels inside the tomb and, on turning round, saw a man whom she did not immediately recognize (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-15). When she discovered that the man was Jesus, she took hold of him as if not wanting to let him go. Jesus told her she had no need to cling to him in this way, as he was not ascending to heaven immediately (though he would within a few weeks). She should not become dependent on his physical presence, otherwise she would be disappointed again. She was to go and tell the apostles what he had told her (John 20:16-17).
- Shortly after appearing to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared to the other women of her group (the other Mary and Salome) as they were on their way to tell the apostles of their discovery (Matt 28:8-10).
- The two groups of women reached the house of the apostles about the same time, followed soon after by Mary Magdalene. They told the apostles of what they had seen at the tomb and of their separate meetings with the risen Jesus, but the apostles believed neither Mary nor the other women Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18). (All the events summarized in sections 1 to 8 above probably happened within the space of an hour or so.)
That afternoon Jesus joined two sorrowful disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, but they did not recognize him (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-16). When they started to explain their sadness, they expressed surprise that their unknown companion had not heard about the crucifixion of Jesus. Their understanding of Jesus’ mission was not very clear, for they had hoped he would bring national liberation to Israel; but they believed in him nevertheless, and they condemned the leaders of the Jews for crucifying him (Luke 24:17-21). Furthermore, they had heard first-hand reports from those who saw the empty tomb and heard the angels’ announcements of his resurrection (Luke 24:22-24).
Jesus then gave the two disciples a proper understanding of the Messiah and his mission, by referring them to the Scriptures. He showed that the Old Testament consistently pointed to a Saviour-Messiah who had to suffer before he could enter his glory. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought to completion the pattern that God had been working through the history of his people (Luke 24:25-27).
When almost at Emmaus, Jesus and the two disciples stopped for their evening meal. As Jesus gave thanks and broke the bread to begin the meal, the disciples suddenly recognized who he was. He immediately disappeared from their sight, such was the mysterious nature of his resurrection body (Luke 24:28-31). The two disciples were deeply stirred by his teaching and, without waiting to rest their weary bodies, hurried back the twelve kilometres to Jerusalem to tell the apostles and other disciples of their discovery. In the meantime Peter also had met the risen Jesus (Mark 16:13; Luke 24:32-35; cf. 1 Cor 15:5).
While the disciples were together discussing these miraculous appearances, Jesus suddenly appeared among them in the room, even though the doors were locked. This made them think they were seeing a ghost who could pass through walls, but Jesus calmed their fears by showing them his body of flesh and bones, complete with the scars of crucifixion. He also ate some fish, showing that his body had normal physical functions (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-20).
Jesus gave the group of disciples the teaching he had given the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:44-46). They were witnesses of his ministry, death and resurrection, and he entrusted to them the task of taking his message to all nations. Equipped by his Spirit, they would be his representatives in the world. This was a great responsibility, because as they preached the gospel, people would either believe it and be forgiven, or reject it and suffer judgment (Luke 24:47-49; John 20:21-23).
From Jesus’ resurrection to his ascension was about six weeks, and during that time he gave his disciples further teaching on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The overall content of that teaching is probably represented by the summary attached to the story of his first Sunday night appearance to the disciples. He showed them how his ministry on earth was the climax of God’s Old Testament purposes and the starting point for worldwide expansion through his followers. A clear understanding of God’s purposes, together with their own eye witness accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, would give them confidence in taking the gospel to others (see Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8).
When the time arrived for Jesus to leave his disciples and return to his Father, the disciples were no longer confused but confident. Again Jesus was to be taken from them, but this time instead of fleeing in fear and distress, they accompanied him to the place chosen for his departure. From near Bethany, the village on the slopes of Mount Olivet just outside Jerusalem, Jesus left his disciples, with the promise that one day he would return (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; cf. Acts 1:9-12).
The disciples returned to Jerusalem praising God, and a few days later received the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. They began their task of preaching the good news about Jesus and multitudes believed. Their risen Lord was working with them (Mark 16:20; Luke 24:52-53; cf. Acts 2:1-4,41-47; 4:10-12).
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