Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLuke 9
There is a definite break in this chapter (Luke 9:51), where Luke begins a large section of teachings and events not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament. Up to that point, he related a number of incidents reported in the other Gospels. These are: the Twelve sent forth (Luke 9:1-6), Herod's perplexity (Luke 9:7-9), feeding the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17), Peter's confession (Luke 9:18-27), the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), curing the epileptic boy (Luke 9:37-43), a prophecy of Jesus' being delivered up (Luke 9:44-45), on "Who's the greatest?" (Luke 9:46-48), the one who followed "not us" (Luke 9:49-50); and then follows material largely unique to Luke: the proposal to call down fire (Luke 9:51-55), and the story of three prospective followers of Jesus (Luke 9:56-62).
And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats. And into whatsoever house ye enter, there abide, and thence depart. And as many as receive you not, when ye depart from that city, shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went through the villages, preaching the Gospel, and healing everywhere.
SENDING FORTH OF THE TWELVE
Both Matthew and Mark record this preaching mission of the Twelve (Matthew 10:5ff; Mark 6:7ff); and despite the fact of Luke's narrative partially following Mark's order, it actually is unlike both the others, indicating the independence of the sacred authors. There is more than a mere possibility that Jesus sent forth the Twelve twice, this possibility resting upon the fact that Matthew records such a mission BEFORE the deputation of John the Baptist came to Jesus, and Luke recorded it substantially AFTER that event. It seems to this student that it is arbitrary to conclude that there was only one "sending forth" of the Twelve, and that this or that Gospel erred in the placement of it in the holy record. In keeping with Luke's style of relating TWO of many typical acts of Jesus, rather than merely one, it would not be exceptional if he did the same thing here. In the very nature of training Jesus gave the Twelve in preparation for their worldwide mission, a training that extended over a period of about four years, it appears that there easily could have been two, or even more, occasions when the Twelve were sent out to preach. See under 7:10. For a line-by-line comment on this event see my Commentary on John, at John chapter 10, and in my Commentary on Mark, under Mark 6:7ff.
Neither staff ...
Matthew stated that Jesus said, "Get you ... no staff'; (Matthew 10:10), that is, "Do not procure, or purchase one"; and Mark reported Jesus saying, "Take nothing ... save a staff only." The obvious meaning of all this taken together is, "Go as you are." As Ash noted, "Mark's account meant to take only the staff they had, whereas Luke's referred to taking another staff. The basic meaning in all three Gospels is `Go as you are'." F1 Such a variation as is evidenced here loses all significance when it is considered that Jesus might have said one thing on one occasion, and something else on another. Regarding the propensity of some to hunt a contradiction, the burden of proof must rest upon them, requiring that they should show how it was impossible for Jesus to have sent the Twelve forth more than one time, with the slight variation of his instructions (if they are variations) revealed in the sacred records.
Verses 7, 8, 9
Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done: and he was much perplexed, because that it was said by some, that John was risen from the dead; and by some that Elijah had appeared; and by others, that one of the prophets was risen again. And Herod said, John I beheaded; but who is this, about whom I hear such things? And he sought to see him.
THE PERPLEXITY OF HEROD ANTIPAS
Herod's guilty soul trembled at the messages reaching him with regard to the mighty teachings and deeds of Jesus, indicating the tremendous impact of Jesus' ministry upon the total population. Significantly, the popular answers of the people, with regard to Jesus' true identity, here formed a topic of conversation in the court of Herod, as well as being a matter of discussion in the sacred company of the Lord and his apostles (Luke 9:19). So great were the deeds of Jesus that the popular mind was required to seek a comparison only in the lives of the righteous dead, among the great names of Hebrew history. For additional comment on this passage see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 16:14, and my Commentary on Mark, Mark 6:15.
Verses 10, 11, 12
And the apostles, when they were returned, declared unto him what things they had done. And he took them, and withdrew apart to a city called Bethsaida. But the multitude perceiving it followed him: and he welcomed them, and spake to them of the kingdom of God, and them that had need of healing he cured. And the day began to wear away; and the twelve came, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages and country round about, and lodge, and get provisions: for we are here in a desert place.
THE FIVE THOUSAND WERE FED
This miracle, recorded in each of the four New Testament Gospels, has received line-by-line comment in Matthew, Mark, and John, in this series of commentaries, and a somewhat more brief account will be repeated here.
City called Bethsaida ... here in a desert place ...
The reference to Bethsaida is to the city nearest the grassy plain where the actual wonder took place, which is somewhat southwest of the city, and several miles distant, called Bethsaida-Julius. The audience and participants in this bounty from the Lord were Jews; and a later miracle of feeding the four thousand benefited a Gentile multitude. Thus, Christ revealed himself as the bread of life to both Jews and Gentiles. John's account gives more of the background. Long before the apostles had come to Jesus with the request to send the multitudes away, Jesus had tested Philip with a question of how the people were to be fed.
But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said unto him, We have no more than five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy food for all this people. For there were about five thousand men. And he said unto his disciples, Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each. And they did so, and made them all sit down. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake; and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they ate, and were all filled; and there was taken up that which remained over to them of broken pieces, twelve baskets.
Attempts to rationalize this miracle are futile. Four sacred evangelists have provided the historical records of an astounding wonder, and one that is rich with spiritual overtones. The power and Godhead of Jesus are dramatically affirmed by this event. That it actually happened is proved by the response of the multitude who wanted to make Jesus king (John's account) in a purely secular sense, of course, and with the evident purpose of using the Lord to supply an army of insurrection against Rome. That the multitude believed Jesus could have done such a thing could have resulted only from what they had seen him do, as related here. The wealth of detail, such as the reclining of the throng in companies of fifty, the pitifully small source of five loaves and two little fishes, and the twelve baskets of crumbs gathered up after the feast, the Lord's giving thanks, and the hard-heartedness of the Twelve, whose sympathies were in tune with the wishes of the crowd, and the Lord's sending them on ahead, despite threatening weather - there is no way to explain all this, except on the basis that it all actually happened, exactly as recorded in the New Testament. With the great passover throng which made up the multitude, and with the miracle having been wrought outdoors, and far from any inhabited place, there was simply no way that a thing like this could have been faked. Five thousand men, besides the women and children, had eaten all they wished, all the bounty coming out of that little lad's basket, passing through the hands of Jesus, and from him to the apostles and the multitudes. Time can never diminish the impact of such a sign; and it is no wonder that the apostle John made it one of only seven signs that he recorded, nor that everyone of the Gospel writers included it.
And it came to pass, as he was praying apart, the disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Who do the multitudes say that I am?
PETER'S CONFESSION OF CHRIST
Praying apart ...
These words indicate the secluded scene of this episode, more fully identified as the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13)
The multitudes ...
stresses the widespread, near universal interest of the people in the identity of one such as Jesus, who was demonstrating in the most emphatic manner his supernatural power. Luke alone recorded the detail that prayer was the purpose in our Lord's withdrawal to this unfrequented place.
And they answering said, John the Baptist; but others say Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again.
See under Luke 9:9. Significantly, the multitudes were no longer suggesting that Jesus was the Christ, due to the vicious and unrelenting campaign of the religious hierarchy against the Lord. At the very beginning of his ministry, John the Baptist had announced Jesus as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," and, at first, Jesus was widely hailed as the Messiah, as fully detailed in the early chapters of John.
However, having determined that Jesus was not the type of Messiah they wanted, the priestly leaders of the people exhausted their resources of cunning and deceit in an all-out campaign to convince the people that Jesus was not the Christ. Here is a summary of their charges:
They said Jesus was a glutton
They said he was a winebibber
They said he cast out demons by the
prince of demons (Matthew 9:34).
They called him Beelzebul
They called him a sinner (John 9:24).
They said he had a demon (John 7:20).
They said he violated the sabbath
They said he was a Samaritan
They referred to him as a deceiver
They accused him of friendship with
publicans and sinners (Luke 15:2).
They said that no prophet could come
out of Galilee (John 7:52).
They accused him of leading the
multitude astray (John 7:12).
They said that since Elijah had not
risen from the dead, it was impossible
for Jesus to be the Christ
They said he had an unclean spirit
They said, "He is beside himself'
They said he transgressed the
tradition of the elders (Matthew 15:2).
They said, "This man is not from God"
They said he forbade to give tribute
to Caesar (Luke 23:2).
They said that he made himself a king
They said he was an evildoer
They said that Jesus claimed he would
destroy the temple of God and build it
in three days (Matthew 26:61).
These evil slanders were a composite of lies, insinuations, misquotations, false interpretations of Scripture, racial slurs, outright falsehoods, garbled half-truths, and arrogant snobbery. This satanic campaign against Jesus was launched from the most impressive social platform in antiquity. The men who indulged in this malignant crusade against the Lord of Life were the exalted rulers of the people, led by the high priest of the chosen people. They were the learned, the wealthy, the well-favored, the intellectual aristocracy, the accepted interpreters of sacred law. Moreover, their crusade was pressed forward with all the cunning, deceit, and vituperation that could be mustered. The marvel of ages is that in the face of such a hellish blast of opposition the people still clung to the conviction that Jesus was someone sacred, no living person being worthy of comparison with him, and that he must be Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist risen from the dead!
Nor can it be any wonder that, in view of such vicious slanders, the conviction that Jesus was the Christ had been somewhat eroded in the popular mind. The evil campaign of the leaders of Israel had, in that degree, succeeded for the moment. Therefore, these judgments of the people, as to who Christ was, cannot be made the basis for denying the popular acclaim of Jesus as the Christ at the beginning of his ministry, as reported in John.
And he said unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God.
Thus, the Twelve had not been swayed by the savage denunciations of the people's priestly leaders. The apostle Peter, leading all the rest, firmly acknowledged him as the Christ of God. For full discussion of Peter, his primacy, his successor, the keys of the kingdom, the gates of Hades, and many other things suggested by this verse, see under the parallels in Matthew and Mark (my Commentary on Matthew and my Commentary on Mark).
But he charged them, and commanded them to tell this to no man.
Christ's reason for the charge of secrecy was twofold: (1) the apostles themselves could not at that time have understood the full implications of his Messiahship, and (2) a premature announcement of it could upset the divine timetable for Jesus' death.
Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.
Many things ...
This announcement of the Lord's Passion was given three times by Matthew, each in a different context, and disclosing, in the aggregate, a score of events and conditions categorically foretold by the Lord. Jesus repeatedly instructed the Twelve regarding the full details of his Passion and Resurrection. For a full summary of this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 20:17-19.
The third day be risen up ...
The conviction expressed throughout this series is that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, April 6, A.D. 30, and that he rose on the Sunday following, fulfilling to the letter the divine promise that he would be in the "heart of the earth" three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). This is the chronology of that fulfillment:
Buried at sunset (shortly before) on
In the grave THURSDAY night (one
In the grave FRIDAY (the first day).
In the grave FRIDAY NIGHT (second
In the grave SATURDAY (second day).
In the grave SATURDAY NIGHT (third
Rose from the dead SUNDAY morning (the
The above is spelled out, in order for it to be apparent that "third day" harmonizes completely with Matthew 12:40. The expression "third day" as frequently used in the Gospels should therefore be viewed as a qualifier of the "three days and three nights" of Matthew 12:40. Some have insisted that if Jesus actually meant "three days and three nights," he would have said "FULL three days and three nights"; but this would have required the resurrection to have been at sundown, corresponding to the time he was buried. It was indeed three full nights; but he rose "the third day." For dissertation on this subject, see my Commentary on Mark under the heading, "What Day Was Jesus Crucified?" following Mark 15:42.
Verses 23, 24
And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
This is the plan of salvation; and appropriately, it was addressed "to all." "Let him deny himself ..." means that one must renounce himself, pleading nothing that a mortal may either believe or do, as a proper ground of salvation, that ground being in Christ and "in him" only. No mortal may be saved as John Doe, or Joe Bloke, or in any other human identity. If men are ever saved, they must be saved "in Christ" (Romans 6:3), and "as Christ" (Galatians 2:20). This self-renunciation is the same thing for all Christians that the cross was for Jesus, namely, the submission to God's will, not one's own will. For extensive discussion of this, see my Commentary on Romans, Rom. 3:22-24, and also under my Commentary on John, John 12:25.
In this verse, Jesus made the cross central to his holy religion. Our Lord's death was an absolute requirement and precondition of human redemption. That an unfathomable mystery lies at the bottom of such a conception is freely admitted; but the fact of it cannot be denied in the light of the sacred Scriptures. But, if it was central for Jesus, it is central for his followers also, as the verse states. As long as the will of man opposes the will of the Lord, salvation for such a man remains impossible.
For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self?
They are indeed the poor who lose themselves in the vain pursuit of the world and worldly values. Oneself may be kept and preserved only through giving oneself unreservedly to Jesus. Whatever pride, glory, wealth, or power of the world may be enjoyed by a mortal, it is but for a moment. Then comes the final reckoning, the Great Assize, and the assignment of eternal destiny. How strange it is that many live as if this were not true.
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in his own glory, and the glory of the Father, and his holy angels.
Characteristic of the Gospels, these verses (Luke 9:23-27) are independent sayings of Jesus, gathered here into a single paragraph, as in Mark 8:34-9:1. See under those references in my Commentary on Mark. The warning in this verse is against being ashamed of Jesus and his words, there being no essential difference. One who is ashamed of Jesus' words is also ashamed of Jesus. Behold the pride and vanity of life, that mortal man, encompassed with weakness and infirmity, born to trouble as sparks fly upward, destined to strut and fret his brief hour upon life's stage, and then to descend into the rottenness of a grave - that such a creature should be ashamed of the Lord who died to redeem him from the curse of sin! No wonder his Creator will be ashamed of such a creature in the Great Day.
And, of course, this verse has overtones of the final judgment; but not so with the next one.
But I tell you of a truth, There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
This is a prophecy of the establishment of God's Kingdom on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ.
Some of them ...
Why did not Jesus say that "none" of them should taste death until they saw the kingdom? This was because both he himself and Judas Iscariot were to die before that Pentecost came. See fuller discussion of this in my Commentary on Mark, Mark 9:1. Also, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Heb. 12:28-29 with reference to date of the kingdom's establishment.
And it came to pass about eight days after these things, that he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up into the mountain to pray.
The transfiguration is viewed by some scholars as the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy in the preceding verse; but if that was what Jesus meant, he would have said, "NONE of you shall taste death, etc." As Bickersteth observed, "The solemnity of those words (Luke 9:27) forbids us to limit them to an event that would occur within eight days." F2
Peter, James and John ...
were in a special sense intimates of Jesus, being the only apostles permitted to view this wonder, the raising of Jairus' daughter, and the agony in Gethsemane.
Into the mountain to pray ...
Luke stressed the prayer life of the Lord, frequently explaining Jesus' withdrawal from the crowds as his seeking an opportunity for prayer and solitude (Luke 9:18).
And as he was praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling.
This was an objective occurrence, not a mere vision, or impression of some kind on the minds of the apostles who saw it. Long, long afterward, John would write, "And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
And as he was praying ...
Jesus here faced a great crisis in his life, issuing in his deliberate choice of the way of suffering for human salvation. As Geldenhuys noted, "Suffering was for Christ no unavoidable necessity, no matter of force, but of voluntary and willing obedience." F3 In view of all that occurred in this event, it seems that this heavenly experience was given to Jesus by the Father, as much for our Lord's encouragement as it was for the enlightment of the apostles.
And Behold, there talked with him two men, who were Moses and Elijah.
This is one of the most remarkable things in Scripture. The men mentioned here had been dead for centuries, but they appeared on this mountain and spoke with Jesus. This speaks volumes on the subject of immortality. The righteous dead have not perished; they are safe.
Significantly, these departed saints were very interested in the atoning death of Christ, as the next verse shows; and as Ryle put it, "The saints in glory take a deep interest in Christ's atoning death." F4 The reason for this, of course, was that their own eternal justification depended, finally, upon what Jesus would do.
Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Only Luke gives the subject matter of the conversation between the Lord and these Old Testament worthies, and the truly significant fact of Jesus' decease being a matter of his own accomplishment is revealed.
His decease ...
This could be rendered "departure" (English Revised Version (1885) margin) rather than "decease," leaving room for the discernment that Jesus, though suffering death, did not actually cease to be. For a full discussion of the seven centers of initiative in Jesus' death, see my Commentary on Romans, Rom. 3:25-26, under the title of "Who Crucified Christ?" Our Lord was the architect of his own crucifixion; and, although evil men were allowed a part in it, it was only his holy will that permitted it.
Moses and Elijah ...
were Old Testament representatives of the Law and the Prophets; and their appearance in this scene, where, in a sense, they laid their homage at the feet of Christ, is eloquent of the office of Christ the Prophet, Priest and King who was about to succeed to all the authority (and more) that pertained to God's representative in the old covenant.
Now Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
This is the evangelist Luke's categorical denial that it was any such thing as a dream, or vision, which the holy apostles saw. Childer's comment that "Peter, James and John slept through a part of the happenings," F5 is not correct. "When they were fully awake" has the alternate reading, "having remained awake" (English Revised Version (1885) margin); and Luke's clear intent is to affirm their remaining awake, despite the fact of their being sleepy.
And it came to pass, as they were parting from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah: not knowing what he said.
Not knowing what he said ...
Peter's ignorance was in supposing that his being on the mountain in company with Moses, Elijah and Jesus was in any manner better than being on the mountain with Jesus only. It is not Jesus AND someone else, or anything else, that blesses men; it is Jesus only. This blunder on Peter's part has the utility of stamping the whole event as factual, historical, and original. Had such a thing as this been invented later and erroneously incorporated into the sacred narrative, there is no way that such a glaring error of Peter would have been imagined.
And while he said these things, there came a cloud and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.
A cloud ...
As Dummelow said:
(This was) the visible glory, which
according to Jewish ideas, manifested
the divine presence. It is the same
as the pillar of cloud and fire in the
wilderness, the cloud that filled
Solomon's temple, and the visible
glory, which according to the rabbis,
rested upon the ark, and was called
the "Shechinah." F6
It was certainly no ordinary cloud, which explains the fear of the apostles.
And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.
The voice must be identified as that of the Father himself who spoke to Jesus three times during his ministry in the same audible manner as here, namely, at the baptism, during Jesus' prayer at the last public discourse (John 12:28), and here. That the voice was primarily for the benefit of the apostles appears in the use of the third person, and also in the content of the message.
Hear ye him ...
All divine commandments are restrictive; and this means, therefore, "Do not hear Moses; do not hear Elijah, etc." This element of the instruction was visually impressed upon them when, coming down from the mountain, they saw "Jesus only" (Matthew 17:8).
And when the voice came, Jesus was found alone. And they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of the things which they had seen.
When the voice came ...
may be rendered, "When the voice was past," thus associating the words "hear ye him" with the disappearance of Moses and Elijah, and having the necessary implication of "hear Jesus only."
And told no man ...
In this the apostles were obedient to the instructions of the Lord (Matthew 17:9), the same reasons why they were not to publish this, at that time, prevailing, as in the instance of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God (see under Luke 9:21).
Verses 37, 38
And it came to pass, on the next day, when they were coming down from the mountain, a great multitude met him. And behold, a man from the multitude cried, Teacher, I beseech thee to look upon my son; for he is mine only child.
THE CURE OF THE EPILEPTIC BOY
The notion that Luke "followed Mark" in this section is confounded by the fact that the teaching on the true Elijah (John the Baptist) who was to come is omitted, and by the much briefer account of this miracle. Clearly, the narratives are independent.
Verses 39, 40
And behold, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth, and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely. And I besought thy disciples to cast it out; and they could not.
The page headings in the English Revised Version (1885) title this wonder, "The Epileptic Boy," due to the resemblance this condition had to that disease. Mark used a word which means "lunatic," but the same thing is done there. The apostles were describing the symptoms, not the cause of the malady, the cause of it being clearly revealed as demon possession. Jesus not only rebuked the unclean spirit, which could not be understood as rebuking a disease; but the other synoptics recorded Jesus' revelation that the particular demon in that case was unusually malignant. "This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer" (Mark 9:29). Thus, whatever the symptoms, this was a case of demon possession.
They could not ...
The failure of the apostles, in this case, was due to some failure within themselves; for it is written that Jesus had given them authority "over all demons"; and what was requested of the nine apostles by the distraught father was clearly within their commission. It appears, however, that they had neglected prayer; and there could also have been on their part a kind of self-reliance apart from the power of God, feeling, perhaps, that "in themselves" personally resided the power to do such things. As a consequence, they were embarrassed by failure. How often have men of all generations failed through not yielding their will to that of the Lord and by not seeking his continual blessing through constant prayers and supplications.
And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and bear with you? bring hither thy son.
Jesus was displeased with the apostles' failure, also by the Pharisees' campaign of allegation that Elijah had not come, an objection he had just answered for Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:9-13); and also by the insinuation of the afflicted child's father that perhaps not even Jesus could heal his son (Mark 9:23). Satan had clearly made some headway, leading to the denunciation here by Jesus.
And as he was yet coming, the demon dashed him down, and tare him grievously. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
The multitude had elements of perversity in it; even the father was doubtful and uncertain that even Jesus could help; and moreover the sacred Twelve were helpless and embarrassed; but Jesus gloriously succeeded. Here is a prophecy of all time to eternity. Generations may rise and reject the Lord; unbelievers may wax bold and arrogant; and even the Lord's disciples may, through their own neglect of spiritual things, find themselves powerless to cope with life's problems; nevertheless Christ and his holy faith are always successful. "The gates of Hades" shall not prevail against his church.
And they were all astonished at the majesty of God.
They had seen only Jesus Christ, and this does not mean that the multitude hailed Jesus as God; but what it does mean is that Luke, the sacred author, recognized Christ as God, describing the glory they gave to Jesus, and identifying it as hailing the "majesty of God."
Verses 43b, 44, 45
But while all were marvelling at all the things which he did, he said unto his disciples, Let these words sink into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered up into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
THE PREDICTION OF HIS PASSION
This is another prediction of Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection. Matthew recorded Jesus' teachings on this subject three times (Matthew 16:21; 17:22, and 20:17), each time in a different context; and there is no profit in trying to link Luke's account here with this or that occasion mentioned by Matthew. Jesus repeatedly, over and over again, stressed the thought in view here. See under those references in my Commentary on John for a detailed study of Jesus' announcement of his Passion.
It was concealed from them ...
It was God's will that the apostles, while being so thoroughly briefed on all that would take place, should also fail to "get it," as we might say. This seems to be a hint here that they were providentially prevented from understanding it; but it is more likely that the very conception of human salvation as something which Almighty God alone could achieve, and that even he could not achieve it without the death of the Beloved on the cross - that such a colossal truth was utterly beyond the power of the natural man to understand it until after the fact. The concealment was not due to the design of God but to the limitations of men.
Verses 46, 47, 48
And there arose a reasoning among them, which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus saw the reasoning of their heart, he took a child, and set him by his side, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this little child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same is great.
WHO IS THE GREATEST?
This dispute about who was the greatest took place somewhere between the uplands of Caesarea Philippi where Peter confessed the Lord, and Capernaum. So little did the Twelve, at that time, understand what Jesus had been saying of the cross, as the only way of life, that they were occupied with the question of rank among themselves. If they had already reached Capernaum, which may have been true, the incident reported could have taken place in the home of Peter and Andrew where Jesus often stayed. This would give some plausibility to the very ancient tradition to the effect that the child Jesus took in his arms and set beside him was one of Peter's children. "Clement of Alexandria especially mentions that this apostle had children." F7
This passage, more than any other, has enlisted the service of the entire Christian world upon behalf of little children; and this is a most wonderful service. However, the passage goes beyond the physical care and provision for earth's children. As Spence noted, "The child stands as a type of the humble and childlike disciple." F8 As spelled out more fully in Matthew and Mark, Jesus was here making the humility of little children to be the badge of greatness in the kingdom of God. This is evident in his connecting them, as he did here, with himself, and himself with the Father, the lesson being that, just as Jesus had emptied himself, forsaking all earthly honors, and being found among men as a servant, in the same manner the truly great follower of Christ must exhibit the example of his Lord. This was squarely opposed to the jealous jockeying of the disciples over who would be the head man in the kingdom.
Verses 49, 50
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. But Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you.
THE MAN WHO DID NOT FOLLOW
A thing of considerable importance that comes to light here is the fact that the apostles were not continually in the company of Jesus, indicating that there may have been a number of occasions when the Lord had sent them out "on their own." The incident in view here would seem to have taken place upon an occasion of their absence from Christ different from the sending "forth" of Luke 9:2.
We forbade him ...
This was the true sectarian spirit! If he is not "with us," away with him! By Luke's record of such a blunder here, as well as by his recording the ignorant proposal of Peter in the transfiguration event, he forever refuted the notion that Luke "corrected" certain passages in Mark in order to show the apostles in a more favorable light. Such conceit is popular in the critical schools but utterly foreign to the word of the Lord.
He that is not against you is for you ...
is antithetical to another statement of Jesus, "he that is not with me is against me" (Luke 11:23), thus requiring us to understand that there are situations in which either premise is true. The one in view here condemns the savage type of sectarianism which demands that every good effort must be edited and controlled "by us"; whereas the second emphasizes the truth that whosoever has not taken a stand for Jesus is, in fact, against him. Both are fully true.
And it came to pass when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face: and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he were going to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? But he turned and rebuked them and they went to another village.
THE PROPOSAL TO CALL DOWN FIRE
With this paragraph, and continuing through the next ten chapters of this Gospel, Luke recorded a wealth of material, nearly all of which is found nowhere else; but the allegation that here is "a great interpolation" F9 is emphatically rejected. It is also untrue that in these chapters, "Jesus is always on the way but is no closer to Jerusalem at the last than at the first." F10 Only three times (here, in Luke 13:22,; 13:22, and 17:11) is our Lord's purpose of going to Jerusalem mentioned; and the commentators who call this section "Journeyings to Jerusalem" F11 are by no means accurate. See under Luke 17:11 for further comment on this.
This rather extended tour of Galilee filled up "the last six or seven months of our Lord's earth life," F12 from the October feast of the tabernacles (John 7:2), A.D. 29, to March 30, the week before Passover began on April 7, 30 A.D. It evidently was a careful visitation by Jesus of many villages not included on previous tours.
There was an excellent reason why Matthew, John and Peter's beloved Mark omitted practically all that is revealed in this section. As has already been commented upon:
The Lord was in the habit of
constantly sending out by themselves
small companies of his disciples as
missionaries in the neighboring
districts, thus accustoming his
followers, in view of his own
approaching death, to act and to think
It is extremely probable that Matthew, John and Peter (whose preaching was the real source of Mark) were absent from Jesus throughout a large part of this last six months. It was therefore quite natural that their respective Gospels should have detailed the teachings and wonders in which they have been present and eyewitnesses. God preserved this most valuable material, however, through the imprisonment of the apostle Paul for two whole years in Caesarea, during which time Luke the beloved physician had every favorable opportunity to interview hundreds of the persons who had seen and heard the things related. Unerringly, through the power of God's Spirit, Luke produced the glorious account which lies before us in this section. The presence in this section of certain linguistic evidence shows that some of these events were first narrated in the Aramaic language; F14 and, as that was the vernacular of that era, the conclusion is justified that Luke interviewed the people themselves with regard to what is here related, just as he implied in his preface. Traces of their dialect have been preserved by the sacred author.
Therefore, how fortunate are we that, through God's providence, we may study what Jesus said and did during that last, vital six months.
Set his face to go to Jerusalem ...
cannot mean that Jesus traveled in a straight line to that city, but rather that certain final things were being done before he should enter the capital and suffer for the sins of mankind.
James and John ...
Just why the other disciples were not mentioned here is not clear. Perhaps they did not agree with the proposal to call down fire on the village.
They did not receive him ...
Just why this particular Samaritan village should have behaved so differently from Sychar was due to the same Gentile conceit to which Paul addressed himself in Romans (Rom. 10-12). They hated Jerusalem and all it stood for and were ready to reject the Lord himself because of his intention of going there to die FOR THEM! How blind is hatred.
Wilt thou that we bid fire ...?
It is quite revealing that the apostles believed that they had such power; and, with Jesus' permission, of course they did. That permission, however, they did not have.
He rebuked them ...
The additions to this found in some ancient manuscripts and now relegated to the margin are nevertheless true to the meaning of the context. They read, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (English Revised Version (1885) margin).
And they went to another village ...
Isn't it wonderful that God does not retaliate against sinful men, repaying evil with evil? A village rejected the only begotten Son, but he only went on to another village. In all history, God has honored the freedom of the human will which he created; and all who ever lived are absolutely free to choose either good or evil, only with this limitation, that their choices determine their destiny.
Boanerges, "The Sons of Thunder," would have punished without mercy this wretched village of the Samaritans; but Jesus rebuked the very thought of doing such a thing.
There are countless places on earth today where Christ is openly dishonored, where evil is a principal employment of the vast majority, if not of all; and yet God still causes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust and flowers to bloom in the gardens of the depraved no less than in the yards of the righteous. How wonderful are the ways of God.
There is a principal of Christian missionary endeavor in evidence also. Finding a field difficult, or nearly impossible, the follower of Christ should try another location. If not received in one place, let him go to another. Jesus said, "When they persecute you in this city, flee into the next"; if one village does not receive the word, the next will.
And as they went on their way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
THREE PROSPECTIVE FOLLOWERS
Many a soul has felt the thrilling impulse to leave everything and follow the Lord; and if following Jesus continued to have the sharp romantic focus in the believer's heart, as in the case of this man, then there would be a great many more followers. However, much more is involved than an enthusiastic decision. Under the excitement of the moment, this man declared an unwavering faith; but, in a sense, he did not know what he was saying. He was a representative of the type seen in the parable of the sower, those receiving the seed on shallow soil, quick converts quickly lost.
And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head.
The thing Luke was emphasizing in this incident and in the whole section through Luke 19:44 "is the fact that our Lord had deliberately chosen the way to Jerusalem and the cross." F15 Appropriate to that purpose was the inclusion here at the beginning of three prospective followers and the tests they failed (presumably). The first prospect evidently thought that following Jesus would be some kind of settled occupation which could reward him with salary and endowment; but Jesus quickly pointed out that he himself was itinerant, having been refused lodging in a Samaritan village, having literally nowhere to lay his head, and without any of the secular emoluments with which earthly leaders rewarded their followers. Significantly, no more was heard of prospect number one.
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
This was prospect number two. He would follow the Lord, but of course, not during the lifetime of his father; after his father's death, and the estate had been settled, then he would be glad to follow. If his father was already dead, the man would have been occupied already with the funeral. Jesus' rejoinder stated the claim of highest priority for the affairs of his kingdom.
But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God.
Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 8:18-21) records the event of these first two prospects, the same being one of the few places that either of the other synoptics touches this section. Even here, Luke gave a fuller account; and it is doubtful that he had before him either Mark or Matthew. If other synoptics had been "sources" of Luke, there is every reason to believe he would have mentioned them in his preface.
Leave the dead to bury their own dead ...
There can be no higher priority than one's duty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Earthly rulers had long been accustomed to claiming of their subjects an allegiance that set aside all other duties; and the Lord, by such a statement as this, demanded for his own holy purposes an allegiance even greater and more binding than that given to generals and kings of the earth. A good example of such earthly demands of allegiance is the following battle call which marked the campaign of Donald Balloch in 1431.
Come every hill plaid and
True heart that wears one;
Come every steel blade and
Strong hand that bears one.
Leave untended the herd,
The flock without shelter;
Leave the corpse uninterred,
The bride at the altar.
Leave the deer, leave the steer,
Leave nets and barges:
Come with your fighting gear,
Broadswords and targes. F16
Jesus in this passage demanded such a priority for his holy kingdom, but with this monumental difference, that Jesus called men to life and eternal salvation, whereas earth's chieftains call men for shame and death.
The dead to bury the dead ...
has reference to those who are spiritually dead burying their own dead. Yet it is true even in these times that services for the literal dead have been made to conflict with spiritual duties. People who plan and conduct funerals in such a manner as to coincide with regularly scheduled worship services of the church out of respect to their convenience are in violation of the priorities mentioned here.
Verses 61, 62
And another also said, I will follow thee, Lord, but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
This was prospect number three; and what he requested might have seemed reasonable enough; but Jesus knew of the pressures the man would encounter at home and the persuasions that would thwart discipleship; and he promptly replied with the metaphor of a man plowing a straight furrow. This is an agricultural figure. Jesus was quite familiar with all of the little details that marked life in such a rural community as Nazareth, and some of his most wonderful teachings are founded upon such things. It was the divine genius of our Lord which saw in such things as sowing, reaping, casting fish nets, making bread, carving yokes, etc., the symbolism of eternal truths. Geldenhuys applied the metaphor thus:
One who plows must look before him so
as not to plow a crooked and bad
furrow. So also he who desires to be
a member of Christ's kingdom should
never allow other matters to distract
his attention. F17
It should be noted that Jesus himself honored the priorities which he here prescribed for others. He subordinated all earthly considerations, even the tender ties of his mother and brethren, to the all-important purpose of his mission of redemption.
This unit of teaching regarding the three prospects is found in part in Matthew, and thus it is plain that Luke in this great section did not deal exclusively with material unknown to the other writers of the Gospels. However, it is significant that Matthew's partial account of this unit places it in a different context. Luke's purpose of including it here appears to be that of making it somewhat of a preface to this section, stressing the high priorities of the kingdom. The theory that Luke and Matthew had a common prior source in "Q" is nothing but an imaginary device without foundation in reality. As Geldenhuys noted, "It has by no means been proved that such a written source as `Q' ever really existed." F18 It takes an agile imagination indeed to suppose that if Matthew had "Q" before him, he would have omitted the glorious material comprising the next nine or ten chapters of Luke.
Footnotes for Luke 9
1: Anthony Lee Ash, The Gospel according to Luke (Austin: Sweet Publishing Company, 1972) p. 152.
2: E. Biekersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16 (ii), p. 1.
3: Norvel Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 281.
4: J. C. Ryles, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 316.
5: Charles L. Childers, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), Vol. VI, p. 492.
6: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company 1937), p. 683.
7: H. D. M. Spence, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, Luke, p. 242.
8: Ibid., p. 243.
9: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., II, p. 7.
11: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., 244.
15: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 293.
16: Sir Walter Scott, "Pibroch of Doniul Dhu," in Complete Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1900), p. 427.
17: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 296.
18: Ibid., p. 292.
19: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 100.
20: Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates and Company, 1788), Vol. iii, pp. 641-644.
21: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 150.
22: James MacKnight, A Harmony of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), Vol. I, p. 499.
23: Richard Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 208.
24: William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), p. 111.
25: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 75.
26: J. S. Lamar, op. cit., p. 112.
27: John Wesley, One Volume Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), en loco.
28: E. J. Tinsley, The Gospel according to Luke (Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 70.
29: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 147.
30: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 138.
31: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 76.
32: Ibid., p. 78.
33: A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 258.
34: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 11.
35: Ibid., p. 12.
37: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 50.
38: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 35.
39: Merrill F. Unger, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 17.
40: Ibid., p. 18.
41: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 51.