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Luke 13:31-35 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 13:31-35. JESUS’ JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Luke earlier introduced Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem with the words, “It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). This journey will continue until Jesus reaches Jerusalem at 19:28. Our Gospel lesson for this week shows Jesus in the midst of that journey—doing his work—unafraid of danger—confident of the outcome—and yet saddened by the response of Jerusalem.
LUKE 13:31-33. THE THIRD DAY
31On that same day, some Pharisees came, saying to him, “Get out (Greek: poreuou) of here, and go away, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go (Greek: poreuthentes) and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I complete my mission (Greek: teleioumai). 33Nevertheless I must (Greek: dei—it is necessary—implies God’s will) go on my way (Greek: poreuesthai) today and tomorrow and the next day, for it can’t be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem.'”
“On that same day, some Pharisees came” (v. 31a) links this text to that which precedes it—a passage where some asked, “Lord, are they few who are saved?” (v. 23) and Jesus responded, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter in, and will not be able” (vv. 23-24). He warned, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets, in the Kingdom of God, and yourselves being thrown outside. They will come from the east, west, north, and south, and will sit down in the Kingdom of God. Behold, there are some who are last who will be first, and there are some who are first who will be last” (vv. 28-30). This is a warning of judgment in which Jesus says that many in Israel will be excluded from the kingdom while many Gentiles will be included.
“Get out (poreuou – “go”) of here, and go away, for Herod wants to kill you” (v. 31b). This is Herod Antipas, the tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee and one of the sons of Herod the Great. The father tried to kill Jesus in his infancy (Matthew 2:16-18). Now these Pharisees are warning Jesus that the son (Antipas) also wants to kill him.
The question is whether the Pharisees are honestly trying to warn Jesus or are simply trying to frighten him so that he will reduce his public profile.
• Some scholars feel that these are hostile Pharisees intent on driving Jesus underground (Johnson, 221). They note that Luke has reported that Pharisees are hostile to Jesus and “lying in wait for him, and seeking to catch him in something he might say” (11:53). Also, Herod has expressed an interest, not in killing Jesus, but in seeing him (9:9).
• Others think that the Pharisees are trying to pressure Jesus to move from Galilee, where Antipas rules, to Judea, where the Pharisees have great influence. In other words, they are trying to bring Jesus more directly under their control (Hendriksen, 709).
• However, most scholars (Craddock, Preaching, 147; Fitzmyer, 1030; Green, 534-535; Stein, 382; Wright, 397) feel that these Pharisees are conveying an honest warning. They note that Herod has demonstrated his evil character by killing John the Baptist (9:9).
In Luke’s writings, Pharisees are not always Jesus’ opponents:
• On several occasions, Jesus ate at the home of Pharisees (7:36; 11:37; 14:1). We must note, however, that these Pharisees find Jesus’ lack of orthodoxy troubling.
• Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple who will take responsibility for Jesus’ proper burial, is a member of the council (23:50), and is probably a Pharisee.
• Gamaliel, a Pharisee, will persuade the council not to kill the apostles because of the possibility that their work might be of God (Acts 5:34-39).
• Luke reports Pharisees among the early believers (Acts 15:5).
• The Apostle Paul, speaking to Pharisees, will say, ” Men and brothers, I am (note the present tense) a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6).
However, our understanding of this passage does not depend on whether it is Herod, the Pharisees, or both who pose a danger to Jesus. Presumably Jesus knows the danger, but is undeterred. He will neither flee from Herod nor allow the Pharisees to dissuade him. He has work to do—“today and tomorrow, and the third day I complete my mission” (v. 32). He is following the Father’s agenda, and will not allow fear of Herod or the Pharisees to deter him.
“Go (poreuthentes) and tell that fox” (v. 32a). In rabbinical literature, fox is often a term of contempt (Gilmour, 249).
“and the third day” (v. 32b). Luke frequently uses this phrase, “on the third day,” to refer to Jesus’ resurrection (9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40), and surely anticipates that the reader will hear resurrection overtones in this verse.
“I complete my mission” (teleioumai – from teleioo) (v. 32b). This phrase can be translated variously—”I will be finished”—”I shall reach my goal”—”I will be brought to an end.” This is the word that Jesus will use on the cross when he says “It is finished” (John 19:30). This combination of “the third day” and teleioumai clearly points toward the cross.
“Nevertheless I must (Greek: dei) go on my way (poreuesthai – “go”) today and tomorrow and the next day” (v. 33a). The Greek dei implies God’s will. This use of dei as divine imperative is a familiar motif in Luke (2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 17:25; 19:5; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44) and Acts (1:22; 5:29; 9:16; 26:23), and establishes the necessity of the work that Jesus has come to accomplish. Jesus will not be the victim of random violence, but is participating in the will of God. His work is essential—necessary—he must do it.
Variants of the Greek verb poreuomai (which means go) appear three times in succession in verses 31-33. The Pharisees advise Jesus to go away (v. 31); Jesus tells them to “Go and tell that fox” (v. 32); and Jesus says that “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it can’t be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem” (v. 33). Jesus will not be deterred from his mission.
“for it can’t be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem” (v. 33b). When the time was near for Jesus to face the cross, “he (had) intently set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51), where he would die.
Jerusalem is the Holy City, the home of the temple and the sacrificial rituals conducted in accord with Torah law. However, as the center of Godly worship, Jerusalem is also at the center of a cosmic struggle. Jerusalem had killed the prophets Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20-23) and Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21)—and had tried to kill Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:4-6). One of Jesus’ three temptations took place on the pinnacle of the temple (4:9-12), and he will pronounce judgment on the city that had killed the prophets (vv. 34-35). The chief priests, scribes, and religious leaders of Jerusalem will seek to kill Jesus (19:47-48), and eventually will succeed (22:66ff).
LUKE 13:34-35. JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM
34“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you refused! 35Behold, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” Jesus will further lament Jerusalem’s fate in 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:27-31.
The repetition of a name often signifies painful grief or great frustration: “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! I wish I had died for you, Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)—“Martha, Martha” (10:41)—“Simon, Simon” (22:31). Here it is a cry of grief reflecting the broken heart of one who could save the beloved, but is prevented by the beloved’s recalcitrance. It is Jesus’ grief, but it is also God’s grief resulting from a long and frustrating history with Jerusalem. It is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s grief as he delivered God’s word of judgment against this same holy city. When Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem, he will weep over it “because you didn’t know the time of your visitation”(19:41-44).
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” Note the irony! Jerusalem is the Holy City—the City of David—the prototype for the City of God. Jerusalem is the site of temple worship and the object of Jewish pilgrimage. Nevertheless Jesus calls it, “that kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her!” Perhaps the devil sees the power of worship and pilgrimage and has concentrated his forces to defeat them.
The principle continues to the present day. The tempter often concentrates his forces at the point of our greatest strength. Great temptation is often a sign that we have come close enough to God that Satan has chosen to target us. In such moments, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is instructive. It tells us that God’s love is undiminished. It tells us that God is rooting for us. It tells us that God’s help is available to us. It tells us that we have only to avail ourselves of God’s help to escape tragedy. It also tells us that God gives us freedom to choose between good and evil, and with the freedom comes accountability. Jerusalem will die for killing prophets—including the prophet Jesus.
Perhaps we can best imagine Jesus’ broken heart by imagining our son or daughter going astray. If we have not seen our children go astray, we have at least seen them make bad decisions. We want desperately to protect them from harm, but realize that we cannot stop them from making mistakes. We can offer them shelter, but we cannot force them to accept it. At some point, they must stretch their wings and try to fly. We ache when they stumble. Our hearts break when they fall.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets” (v. 34a). While this refers to the people of Jerusalem proper, it also refers more broadly to Israel as well. We have only a few details regarding the martyrdom of Old Testament prophets, but there is no doubt that prophets suffered serious opposition and some were killed (2 Chronicles 24:20-22; Jeremiah 26:20-23; 38:4-6; Amos 7:10-17). Luke will record the martyrdom of the Stephen (Acts 7:54-60).
“How often I wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her own brood under her wings” (v. 34b). The Psalmist prays, “I will dwell in your tent forever. I will take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:4). Jesus assures Jerusalem that he longs to give them this protective care. The tragedy is that they are not willing to receive it.
“Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (v. 35a). In 587 B.C., God abandoned Jerusalem to destruction by Babylonia. Many of Jerusalem’s inhabitants were killed, and the rest were driven into exile. Eventually, a small remnant was allowed to return. Over time, they rebuilt the city. The exile constituted both a judgment and a cleansing.
Now Jesus says that Jerusalem will once again be left to its own devices. Having rejected God’s ways and God’s son, it will face danger without God’s help.
Later, following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he will weep over Jerusalem and say, “If you, even you, had known today the things which belong to your peace! But now, they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you, when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, surround you, hem you in on every side, and will dash you and your children within you to the ground. They will not leave in you one stone on another, because you didn’t know the time of your visitation” (19:41-44).
On the way to the cross, he will also say to women wailing along his pathway, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to tell the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and tell the hills, ‘Cover us'” (23:28-30).
By the time that Luke writes this Gospel, Jerusalem will lie in ruins. In 68 A.D., in response to a Jewish revolt, Vespasian will lay siege to Jerusalem. When Vespasian is named emperor, he will turn the task over to his son, Titus, who will break through Jewish defenses and destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D., killing or enslaving the city’s inhabitants. Later, following a second revolt in 132-135 A.D., Hadrian will plow under the rubble and erect a Roman city on the site—a city from which Jews will be banned (Myers, 571).
“I tell you, you will not see me, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'” (v. 35b). The quotation is from Psalm 118:26. At Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we will hear these words again, but it will not be Jerusalem but Jesus’ disciples who say, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (19:37-38).
The primary emphasis here, however, is not Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday but his parousia (Second Coming).
LUKE 13:31-35. QUESTIONS FOR CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANS
This passage raises questions for us:
Are we willing to receive shelter under the wings of the Almighty? We cherish shelter when the chips are down—when our world is coming unglued—when our wild oats start bearing fruit. At times like that, we kneel and pray for help. In more usual times, we go where we want to go and do what we want to do—and resent suggestions that we should do otherwise. We will do well to remember that Satan is always watching—hoping to catch us far from base so that he can tag us before we can reach safety.
Are we willing to persist in the face of adversity? Jesus faced danger from Herod and religious leaders, but did not allow that to stop him. Christians in China, India, Vietnam, and a host of Islamic nations face persecution today, and we admire their persistent faith. Most of us face lesser, more subtle dangers. While nobody is likely to beat or imprison us because of our faith, they are likely to criticize our witness—or threaten our standing in our profession or community—or label us as intolerant (the greatest of sins in a Politically Correct world). Are we willing to persist in our witness in the face of such threats?
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV) (New York: Doubleday, 1985)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Harrison, Roland K., “Fox,” in Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Two: E-J – Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982)
Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Lindberg, Paul H., Lectionary Bible Studies: The Year of Luke, Lent-Easter (Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress, 1978)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word : Luke 9:21—18:34, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Rohr, Richard, The Good News According to Luke (NY: Crossroad, 1997)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
Wright, Stephen Z, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
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