Luke 22:14 – 23:56
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Luke 22:14 – 23:56 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 22:14-23. HE RECEIVED A CUP
14When the hour had come, he sat down with the twelve apostles. 15He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, 16for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
17He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves, 18for I tell you, I will not drink at all again from the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.” 20Likewise, he took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22The Son of Man indeed goes, as it has been determined, but woe to that man through whom he is betrayed!” 23They began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing.
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (v. 15). The Synoptics agree that this is a Passover observance (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-14; Luke 22:7, 15). The Gospel of John places the supper a day earlier (John 18:28; 19:31).
The Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their beginnings as the people of God. This Passover with Jesus’ disciples begins their deliverance from sin and the beginnings of the church as the new people of God.
“for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (v. 16). Some translations say “I will not eat it again,” but “no longer” is not found in the best manuscripts. There is some question about whether Jesus ate and drank at this Passover. Luke does not tell us. Jesus is looking forward to the messianic banquet in the kingdom of God.
“He received a cup” (v. 17a). Jesus starts with the cup rather than the bread. There are two cups (vv. 17, 20). Four cups are used in the traditional Passover observance, and the relationship of the two cups to the four cups is uncertain.
“Take this, and share it among yourselves” (v. 17b). The divided cup will unite Christ’s disciples.
“He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave to them” (v. 19a). These are the same four actions that Jesus took at the feeding of the five thousand (9:16) and the Emmaus meal (24:30), except that he blessed the bread in those two cases but gives thanks here.
“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me” (v. 19b). The present imperative Greek verb implies continuing action, such as “Keep doing this” or “Do this regularly.” The Passover reminds Israel of God’s intervention in its behalf (Exodus 12:14), and this supper will remind Jesus’ disciples of his intervention in their behalf.
“Likewise, he took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'” (v. 20). The other Synoptics say, “this is my blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). Luke’s language places the emphasis on covenant rather than blood, and is thus like 1 Corinthians 11:25 instead of the other Synoptics. Moses ratified the old covenant by pouring sacrificial blood on the altar and the people (Exodus 24:6-8). Jesus ratifies the new covenant by pouring out his own blood. At the first Passover, the people were saved by the blood of a lamb; at this Passover, we are saved by the blood of the Lamb.
“But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it has been determined, but woe to that man through whom he is betrayed” (vv. 21-22). Luke gives a spare account of the betrayal and does not mention the betrayer’s name. Jesus makes it clear that the betrayal is God’s plan, but that does not relieve the betrayer of responsibility for his actions.
“They began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing” (v. 23). In the other Synoptics, the disciples look to their own hearts, asking, “It isn’t me, is it, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19). Here they ask about each other.
LUKE 22:24-38. THERE AROSE ALSO A CONTENTION AMONG THEM
24There arose also a contention among them, which of them was considered to be greatest. 25He said to them, “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26But not so with you. But one who is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and one who is governing, as one who serves. 27For who is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Isn’t it he who sits at the table? But I am in the midst of you as one who serves.
28But you are those who have continued with me in my trials. 29I confer on you a kingdom, even as my Father conferred on me, 30that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
31The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat, 32but I prayed for you, that your faith wouldn’t fail. You, when once you have turned again, establish your brothers.” 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”
35He said to them, “When I sent you out without purse, and wallet, and shoes, did you lack anything?”
They said, “Nothing.” 36Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet. Whoever has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword. 37For I tell you that this which is written must still be fulfilled in me: ‘He was counted with transgressors.’ For that which concerns me has an end.” 38They said, “Lord, behold, here are two swords.”
He said to them, “That is enough.”
“There arose also a contention among them, which of them was considered to be greatest” (v. 24). Earlier, after Jesus told the disciples of his coming death, the disciples responded by arguing about which of them was greatest. Jesus set a child in their midst, and said, “whoever is least among you all, this one will be great” (9:46-48). The disciples seem not to have learned much from that earlier encounter.
Both Judas and Peter will betray Jesus. This argument among the disciples is another betrayal. Jesus has called them to a life of selfless servanthood, but they have continued in a life of personal ambition. However, we must also consider the possibility that, disturbed by Jesus’ talk of death, they are simply shifting the conversation to a less disturbing subject.
“The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘benefactors'” (v. 25). Power and dominance are Gentile games; there is no room for such games in the kingdom of God. Wealthy people become known as “benefactors” by giving large charitable donations, but their goal might be to enhance their reputations instead of helping others. If so, that is just another way to play the power and dominance game. The disciples, living under the Roman occupation, have experienced the oppression of a dominated people and understand the dark side of power and dominance.
“But not so with you. But one who is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and one who is governing, as one who serves. For who is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Isn’t it he who sits at the table? But I am in the midst of you as one who serves” (vv. 26-27). Jesus has revealed the kingdom of God, an upside-down world in which the first are last and the last are first (13:30). He has only recently pointed out a widow who gave two small coins at the temple treasury, saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them” (21:3). He has just finished serving them at table, a chore usually relegated to a servant or a woman. What more could he do to help them to understand the selfless servanthood to which he is calling them? He can do one more thing. He can die on a cross.
“But you are those who have continued with me in my trials” (v. 28). This is the disciples’ one true claim to greatness.
“I confer on you a kingdom, even as my Father conferred on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 29-30). We have a deep need for inclusion. How could Jesus demonstrate more clearly the key role that he has for the disciples than to include them at his table and to seat them on judgment thrones?
“Simon, Simon, behold” (v. 31a). Jesus has called this man Peter ever since he called him to discipleship, but here he calls him by his old name, Simon. The repetition reminds us of Jesus later call, “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4). It has a winsome sound.
“Satan asked to have you, (plural) that he might sift you (singular) as wheat, but I prayed for you (singular) that your faith wouldn’t fail. You, when once you have turned again, establish your brothers” (vv. 31b-32). Satan’s demand to sift the disciples is reminiscent of his demand to test Job (Job 1-2). Satan demands to test you (plural), but Jesus prays for you (singular)—for Peter. Jesus needs Peter to assume a leadership role that will strengthen the rest of the disciples. It would appear that Jesus’ prayer is not answered, because Peter will fail, as Jesus himself acknowledges in verse 34. However, Peter’s failure will be temporary, after which he will return to faith and strengthen his brothers. In the book of Acts, Peter becomes as strong as he now imagines himself to be. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” (v. 33), he claims. After the resurrection, he will do those things without wavering or flinching.
“When I sent you out without purse, and wallet, and shoes, did you lack anything?” (v. 35). On two occasions, Jesus sent the disciples on missions with instructions to carry no provisions, and they lacked for nothing. The first time, he sent the twelve (9:1-6). The second time, he sent the seventy (10:1-12).
“But now, whoever has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet” (v. 36a). The days ahead will be quite different from those earlier days when the disciples could count on hospitality. Now they must equip themselves thoroughly, because the world will reject them just as it will reject their Master.
“Whoever has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword” (v. 36b). The comment about the sword is hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), emphasizing the danger that they will face. No one would sell his cloak to buy a sword unless facing mortal danger.
“For I tell you that this which is written must still be fulfilled in me: ‘He was counted with transgressors.’ For that which concerns me has an end” (v. 37). The quotation is from Isaiah 53:12. Jesus will soon be charged with lawlessness and will be crucified between two lawless men.
“They said, ‘Lord, behold, here are two swords.’He said to them, ‘That is enough'” (v. 38). The disciples have not understood the symbolic nature of Jesus’ language about a sword, and they have failed to hear his call to servanthood. Jesus’ reply is exasperated and dismissive. Given the shortness of time, he cannot teach them what they have thus far refused to learn. Their weapons will soon number them among the lawless as one of the disciples wields his sword against a slave of the high priest (22:50).
LUKE 22:39-46. HE WENT TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
39He came out, and went, as his custom was, to the Mount of Olives. His disciples also followed him. 40When he was at the place, he said to them, “Pray that you don’t enter into temptation.” 41He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, 42saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”43An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. 44Being in agony (Greek: agonia) he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. 45When he rose up from his prayer, he came to the disciples, and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
“He came out, and went, as his custom was, to the Mount of Olives. His disciples also followed him” (v. 39). Luke includes all the disciples in this scene, unlike Matthew (26:37) and Mark (14:33), who include only Peter, James, and John. Luke previously used this phrase, “as his custom was,” to describe Jesus’ regular worship in the synagogue (4:16). In his life, Jesus combines the power of public worship (the synagogue) with private worship (prayer on the Mount of Olives), an excellent model for our own lives.
“Pray that you don’t enter into temptation” (v. 40). Jesus knows that Satan has demanded the opportunity to “sift” the disciples, and this is their opportunity to pray for help.
“He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed” (v. 41). The usual posture for prayer is standing (18:10-14). Perhaps by kneeling, Jesus is demonstrating his humility in the presence of God or his submission to God’s will.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (v. 42). This beautiful prayer encapsulates in one sentence both Jesus’ desire not to suffer and his submission to the Father. It is an important prayer for us to emulate. God sometimes responds to prayer by granting our petition as requested. In other cases, God permits a different outcome than requested, but transforms that outcome to something desirable. God often transforms our Good Fridays into Easters—but first allows us to suffer the Good Fridays. When we can honestly pray, “Thy will be done,” we open the door to the full exercise of God’s power and providence in our lives.
“An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in agony (Greek: agonia) he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground“ (vv. 43-44). Some of the earliest manuscripts omit these verses. Luke omits the angel at Jesus’ temptation (4:1-13; see also Matt 4:11; Mark 1:13), but adds it here.
When we use the word agony, we mean extreme suffering. Some translations use the word anguish, which is extreme emotional suffering. Neither agony or anguish conveys the full meaning of agonia, which refers to the mixture of excitement and anxiety that a person might experience in a sporting match or a battle. Jesus’ experience on the Mount of Olives is like that of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel (Genesis 32:24-32).
“When he rose up from his prayer, he came to the disciples, and found them sleeping because of grief” (v. 45). Matthew (26:40-45) and Mark (14:37-41) have Jesus finding the disciples asleep three times, but Luke only once. Luke also softens the disciples’ failure by adding the phrase, “because of grief.” Overwhelmed by circumstances that they can neither control nor understand, they fall asleep.
“Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (v. 46). Every parent knows the frustration that lies behind Jesus’ words to the disciples. He knows the hour is critical, told the disciples to prepare, and they failed. Now it is too late. He tells them again to pray, but will be interrupted by the arrival of the crowd.
LUKE 22:47-53. JUDAS CAME NEAR TO JESUS TO KISS HIM
47While he was still speaking, behold, a multitude, and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He came near to Jesus to kiss him. 48But Jesus said to him, “Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49When those who were around him saw what was about to happen, they said to him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50A certain one of them struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus answered, “Let me at least do this”—and he touched his ear, and healed him. 52Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders, who had come against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53When I was with you in the temple daily, you didn’t stretch out your hands against me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
“Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (v. 48). This betrayal is made even more treacherous by Judas’ gesture of friendship.
“When those who were around him saw what was about to happen, they said to him, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ A certain one of them struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear” (vv. 49-50). The disciples ask for guidance, but then one of them, without giving Jesus a chance to respond, strikes with his sword. It is easy, from our Monday-morning perspective, to criticize the disciples. However, in a tight spot, confused and afraid, they act like confused, fearful people act. We have to admire their loyalty to Jesus, whom they are trying to defend.
“But Jesus answered, ‘Let me at least do this’—and he touched his ear, and healed him” (v. 51). Jesus, of course, knows that God is in charge, and keeps his head amidst the confusion. He stops the violence and repairs the damage. Even now, Jesus is a healer.
We might wonder how the slave feels. A moment ago, he was Jesus’ enemy. Now Jesus heals him. Is he grateful? Is he surprised that Jesus would help his enemy? Is he convinced by this demonstration of Jesus’ healing power?
What about the disciples? If Jesus had not healed the slave, the authorities would likely have numbered them among the lawless and arrested them. Jesus’ attention to the slave’s injury allows the authorities to focus their full attention on Jesus, which gives the disciples an opportunity to escape.
“Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders, who had come against him, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you in the temple daily, you didn’t stretch out your hands against me'” (vv. 52-53a). Jesus draws attention to the fact that they did not act publicly because “they feared the people” (22:2) who would likely come to Jesus defense.
“But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (v. 53b). Luke told us that, after the temptation, the devil “departed from him (Jesus) until another time” (4:13). The opportune time has come. Not only is the night dark, but it would appear that the powers of darkness are in control.
LUKE 22:54-62. WOMAN, I DON’T KNOW HIM
54They seized him, and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed from a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard, and had sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56A certain servant girl saw him as he sat in the light, and looking intently at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57He denied Jesus, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him.” 58After a little while someone else saw him, and said, “You also are one of them!”
But Peter answered, “Man, I am not!” 59After about one hour passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Truly this man also was with him, for he is a Galilean!” 60But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned, and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the Lord’s word, how he said to him, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” 62He went out, and wept bitterly.
“They seized him, and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed from a distance” (v. 54). It would be easy to criticize Peter for following from a distance, but note that he is the only disciple who follows at all.
“When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard, and had sat down together, Peter sat among them. A certain servant girl saw him as he sat in the light, and looking intently at him, said, ‘This man also was with him.’ He denied Jesus, saying, ‘Woman, I don’t know him.’ After a little while someone else saw him, and said, ‘You also are one of them!’ But Peter answered, ‘Man, I am not!’ After about one hour passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, ‘Truly this man also was with him, for he is a Galilean!’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about'” (vv. 54-60a).
Peter betrays Jesus as surely as Judas, although he lacks Judas’ premeditation and evil intent. It would be easy to criticize Peter for his triple betrayal, but we must first examine ourselves to see how open we are about our faith when a friendship or a job is at stake. We think that we could go to our death without denying Jesus, but are we silent when expressing our faith would make us unpopular?
“Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.The Lord turned, and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the Lord’s word, how he said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.’ He went out, and wept bitterly” (vv. 60b-62). Peter’s redemption begins immediately as the cock crows and Jesus turns to look at Peter. Peter remembers that Jesus predicted this betrayal, and he weeps. Jesus’ glance has cut him to the heart, but that glance is the surgeon’s knife that restores health. Jesus prayed that Peter would turn back and strengthen his brothers (22:32), and this moment begins that turning. Peter is fully repentant, and will never again abandon Jesus in the face of danger.
LUKE 22:63-71. YOU SAY IT, BECAUSE I AM
63The men who held Jesus mocked him and beat him. 64Having blindfolded him, they struck him on the face and asked him, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck you?” 65They spoke many other things against him, insulting him.
66As soon as it was day, the assembly of the elders of the people was gathered together, both chief priests and scribes, and they led him away into their council, saying, 67“If you are the Christ, tell us.”
But he said to them, “If I tell you, you won’t believe, 68and if I ask, you will in no way answer me or let me go. 69From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70They all said, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He said to them, “You say it, because I am.” 71They said, “Why do we need any more witness? For we ourselves have heard from his own mouth!”
“Prophesy! Who is the one who struck you?” (v. 64). The irony is that Peter’s betrayal has just proven Jesus’ prophetic ability.
“If you are the Christ, tell us…. Are you then the Son of God?” (vv. 64, 70a). These are the right questions asked for the wrong reasons. Whether Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God is central to his identity, his mission, and his ministry. Their purpose in asking these questions, however, is to obtain evidence against Jesus. He refuses to play their game, and tells them directly that they are not open to belief. The rest of his answer alludes to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1.
“You say it, because I am” (ego eimi) (v. 70b). If he answered yes, Jesus would be guilty of blasphemy, chargeable under Jewish but not Roman law. Again, Jesus does not answer directly, but turns the question on his questioners.
Ego eimi is God’s name, as revealed in Exodus 3:14. Jesus uses irony to refer to himself as ego eimi.
“Why do we need any more witness? For we ourselves have heard from his own mouth” (v. 71). Heard what? Jesus has neither confirmed nor denied that he is the Messiah or the Son of God. But they have come to convict him, so that is what they do.
LUKE 23:1-12. THEY BROUGHT JESUS BEFORE PILATE
23:1The whole company of them rose up and brought him before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting the nation, forbidding paying taxes to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
He answered him, “So you say.” 4Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5But they insisted, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee even to this place.”
6But when Pilate heard Galilee mentioned, he asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he found out that he was in Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem during those days. 8Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad, for he had wanted to see him for a long time, because he had heard many things about him. He hoped to see some miracle done by him. 9He questioned him with many words, but he gave no answers. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him. 11Herod with his soldiers humiliated him and mocked him. Dressing him in luxurious clothing, they sent him back to Pilate. 12Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before that they were enemies with each other.
“The whole company of them rose up and brought him before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting the nation, forbidding paying taxes to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king'” (vv. 1-2).
The Jewish leaders have no authority to impose capital punishment, so they bring Jesus to Pilate, who has the authority. Since Jesus is not a Roman citizen, he has few rights. Pilate’s primary concerns are (1) maintenance of Roman rule (2) maintenance of peace and (3) punishment of criminal behavior.
Pilate would consider blasphemy or other religious infractions to be an internal problem for the Jews, and would not be inclined to take responsibility for resolving such problems. Therefore the Jewish leaders need to state charges that Pilate will take seriously—sedition, rebellion, and wrongfully assumption of authority. Luke has prepared us for the tax issue. The Jewish leaders earlier tried to trap Jesus by asking him about payment of taxes to the Romans, and Jesus answered, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (20:25).
“Pilate asked (Jesus), ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘So you say.’ Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’ But they insisted, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee even to this place'” (vv. 3-5).
This is surely an incomplete account. Pilate does not ask about taxes. He does not bring in witnesses. He accepts too easily Jesus’ answer to the question of kingship as a denial. There is surely more to the story than is being reported. Pilate pronounces Jesus not guilty, the first of three times that he will do so (vv. 4, 14, 22). The chief priests and crowd protest that Jesus stirs up the people, and mention that Jesus is from Galilee.
“But when Pilate heard Galilee mentioned, he asked if the man was a Galilean. When he found out that he was in Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem during those days” (vv. 6-7).
The mention of Galilee seems intended to show the geographic scope of Jesus’ activity, but it may also be intended to brand Jesus as a potential insurrectionist. The mention of Galilee has the unintended effect of giving Pilate an “out.” Galilee is Herod’s jurisdiction. By sending Jesus to Herod, Pilate: (1) gets rid of the problem and (2) shows Herod honor by recognizing his authority.
Herod “questioned him with many words, but he (Jesus) gave no answers” (v. 9). Christians have interpreted Jesus’ silence in light of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth” (see also Acts 8:32-35). Herod is offended by Jesus’ refusal to answer, however, and joins his soldiers in mocking Jesus. The note in v. 12 that Herod and Pilate become friends this day may be the result of Pilate referring the case to Herod and thereby acknowledging Herod’s authority.
LUKE 23:13-25. I FOUND NO BASIS FOR A CHARGE AGAINST HIM
13Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one that perverts the people, and see, I have examined him before you, and found no basis for a charge against this man concerning those things of which you accuse him.15Neither has Herod, for I sent you to him, and see, nothing worthy of death has been done by him. 16I will therefore chastise him and release him.”
17Now he had to release one prisoner to them at the feast. 18But they all cried out together, saying, “Away with this man! Release to us Barabbas!”— 19one who was thrown into prison for a certain revolt in the city, and for murder. 20Then Pilate spoke to them again, wanting to release Jesus, 21but they shouted, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!” 22He said to them the third time, “Why? What evil has this man done? I have found no capital crime in him. I will therefore chastise him and release him.” 23But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that he might be crucified. Their voices and the voices of the chief priests prevailed. 24Pilate decreed that what they asked for should be done. 25He released him who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus up to their will.
Luke does not explain why the people, who had always supported Jesus, now turn against him. Perhaps the Jewish leaders have assembled a group of compliant people. The irony is that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of perverting the people, but it is they who do so.
Herod dismisses Jesus, and Pilate treats this as an acquittal. He proclaims Jesus innocent; the second of three times that he will do so (vv. 4, 22). He proposes to flog Jesus, which is not justified if Jesus is innocent. Pilate is offering a half-loaf in the hope of satisfying the people without a crucifixion.
The best manuscripts omit verse 17.
“Away with this man! Release to us Barabbas” (v. 18). Barabbas’ name is interesting. Bar means son, and Abba means Father, so his name literally means “son of the father.” The people have two choices: (1) a true Son of the Father and (2) a false son of the father. They choose the false one, an insurrectionist (v. 19), thus rejecting peace and choosing violence. By the time that this Gospel was written, Jerusalem lay in ruins because the people had continued to support violent men.
“But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that he might be crucified. Their voices and the voices of the chief priests prevailed” (v. 23). Pilate has the right convictions but not the right courage. He is vulnerable. On two occasions he forced unpopular decisions on the people, and that led to civil disorder. Another such incident could cost him his job. He chooses the safe path by giving the people what they want.
LUKE 23:26-31. THEY GRABBED SIMON OF CYRENE
26When they led him away, they grabbed one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it after Jesus. 27A great multitude of the people followed him, including women who also mourned and lamented him. 28But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For 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.’ 30Then they will begin to tell the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and tell the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?”
“When they led him away, they grabbed one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it after Jesus” (v. 26). A Roman soldier can impress the citizen of an occupied country into service. Jesus is too weak from the flogging to carry his own cross, so a soldier taps Simon to carry it for him. Mark 15:21 describes Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus, who must be familiar to his readers. In Romans 16:13, Paul mentions Rufus, who may or may not be Simon’s son.
“A great multitude of the people followed him, including women who also mourned and lamented him” (v. 27). These women surely include the women who came with Jesus from Galilee (23:55)—who will soon watch the crucifixion from a distance (23:49)—and who will go to Jesus’ tomb to insure that his body has been laid out properly—and who will return to the tomb with burial spices and ointments to complete the preparations for burial (23:55-56).
“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'” (vv. 28-29). Jesus tells them to mourn for themselves, warning that as he faces terrible times now, they will face even more terrible times later. People in that culture prize children, but the days ahead will be so terrible that those without children will be considered fortunate, perhaps because they will not be burdened with the care of children and will not have to see their children suffer.
“Then they will begin to tell the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and tell the hills, ‘Cover us'” (v. 30). To cry to the mountain, “Fall on us,” is to wish for death.
“For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?” (v. 31). If the innocent (green wood) can suffer, what will happen to the guilty (dry wood) (see Ezekiel 20:47). Some years hence, Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans and most of its inhabitants killed. Jesus invites these women to mourn for Jerusalem.
LUKE 23:32-38. THEY CRUCIFIED JESUS THERE
32There were also others, two criminals, led with him to be put to death. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”Dividing his garments among them, they cast lots. 35The people stood watching. The rulers with them also scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming to him and offering him vinegar, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38An inscription was also written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
“When they came to the place that is called The Skull” (v. 33a). Luke does not use the word, Golgotha, but says that Jesus was crucified at a place called the Skull. We think of the crucifixion as taking place on a hilltop, but none of the Gospels mentions a hill. The Skull may be a hill, protruding from the landscape and resembling a human skull, but that is conjecture. In any event, its name brings forth gruesome images.
“they crucified (Jesus) there with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left” (v. 33b). The crucifixion is a degradation ritual—designed to strip a person of honor and to permit people to abuse him (Tannehill, 340). It is the ultimate punishment, reserved by Rome for the worst offenders.
Throughout his ministry Jesus identified with sinners, because he came to save sinners. Now he dies with a convicted criminal on either side.
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 34a). Some early manuscripts do not include this prayer, which the NRSV marks with brackets to acknowledge a question of authenticity. While scholars are divided, many believe the prayer to be authentic, because it fits so well in Luke-Acts.
• Jesus taught the disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who abuse them (6:27-28). Here he practices what he preaches.
• Jesus’ concern for the ignorance of those responsible for his death is much like his concern for the ignorance of the people of Jerusalem (19:41-44).
• In Acts 7:59, Luke records Stephen’s prayer, which is modeled on verse 34.
For whom is Jesus praying? Most likely his prayer includes not only the soldiers who are inflicting his wounds, but also Jewish leaders who instigated the crucifixion, the crowd that demanded it (23:18-25), and the disciples who (except for the women standing at a distance—verse 49) are nowhere to be found—perhaps even for Judas.
Jesus’ prayer does not mean that Israel will not pay a price for their evil deed. Jesus has already wept over Jerusalem (19:41-44) and has foretold the destruction of the temple (21:5-6) and Jerusalem (21:20-24)—but God is as willing to forgive as Jesus was to die.
“Dividing his garments among them, they cast lots“ (v. 34b). This is an allusion to Psalm 22:18, which says, “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Is this the fine robe that the soldiers mockingly placed on Jesus (v. 11)? Probably not, but we don’t know.
Stripping a prisoner of his clothing degrades him—emphasizes the totality of his shame before a public audience.
For these soldiers, it is another day, another dollar—business as usual—just another dirty job! It is, in fact, a day that will change the world, but the soldiers miss its import completely. Once they hoist a cross into place, they face a long, boring wait. Casting lots to see who will win Jesus’ clothing creates a momentary diversion.
Earlier, a woman with a hemorrhage touched the fringe of Jesus’ clothing and, in that instant, received healing. Where the woman saw power, however, the soldiers now see only a pile of dirty clothing worth, at best, a few coins. How often we focus on trivial things and miss the great things happening around us!
It is worth noting that other soldiers relate quite differently to Jesus in this Gospel. In chapter 7, the centurion’s faith exceeded anything that Jesus has found in Israel. At the conclusion of the crucifixion, another centurion will praise God and proclaim, “Certainly, this man was innocent” (v. 47).
Three groups taunt Jesus (vv. 35-39). “The rulers with them also scoffed (exemukterizon) at him.” “The soldiers also mocked (enepaixan) him.” “One of the criminals who was hanged insulted (eblasphemei) him.” In each case, their derision is tied to a salvation motif based on Jesus’ messiahship.If Jesus is messiah, his mission is salvation (1:69; 2:11, 30). How can he save the people if he cannot even save himself? The ironies, of course, are that:
• The salvation for which they are clamoring is temporal; the salvation which Jesus is effecting is eternal.
• The cross is the place where Jesus brings salvation into being.
• If he were to save himself, he would abort that salvation ministry.
• He prays for the salvation of those who are taunting him.
• He saves the repentant criminal.
The three taunts echo the earlier three temptations of Jesus (4:1-13). The devil said:
• “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (4:3).
• “If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours” (4:7).
• “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here” (4:9).
Now the leaders say, “Let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” (v. 35). The soldiers say, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). The criminal says, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!” (v. 39).
Each of these six challenges tempts Jesus to prove his messiahship. In each, Jesus is tempted to use his power for selfish purposes instead of servant purposes. In each, he holds fast to his mission and thereby defeats the tempter.
We, too, are tempted to question Jesus’ kingship. If Jesus is king, why does he permit evil? Oscar Cullmann in Christ and Time suggests that Christ’s Incarnation was like the Normandy invasion that set in motion forces that would lead to victory more than a year later. In the interim many battles would be fought and many soldiers would die. We, like the soldiers who lived in that interim, are living in the interim between the cross and Jesus’ final victory. We should not expect life to be easy (Holladay).
One of my professors compared Jesus’ victory over evil to the mortal wounding of a snake. The wound has sealed the snake’s fate, but the snake is still dangerous. Even though fatally wounded, it can still strike with deadly force. Jesus has mortally wounded Satan, but we should not imagine that Satan is powerless. We have only to read our newspaper to learn Satan’s still deadly power.
When the leaders scoffingly refer to Jesus as God’s “chosen one” (Greek: eklektos), they echo the language of Isaiah 42:1, “my chosen in whom my soul delights.” God also said at the Transfiguration, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (9:35). When the leaders refer to Jesus as God’s chosen one, they confess more than they intend.
These religious leaders reveal the thin veneer of their spirituality as they gloat at Jesus’ helplessness and misery.
“The soldiers also mocked him, coming to him and offering him vinegar, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (vv. 36-37—see also Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; John 19:29-30). The offer of vinegar “is reminiscent of Ps. 69:21, where the gift of vinegar to drink is noted as an insult” (Green, 821).
“An inscription was also written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS'” (v. 38). Such inscriptions are customary. By informing passersby of the nature of the criminal’s crime, Rome hopes to deter future crimes. While the inscription is intended as a statement of condemnation, here it expresses accurately in three languages who Jesus really is.
What happens to Jesus on the cross fulfills several prophecies:
• “All those who see me mock me. They insult me with their lips. They shake their heads” (Psalm 22:7).
• “They divide my garments among them. They cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:18).
• “They also gave me gall for my food. In my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).
LUKE 23:39-43. TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE
39One of the criminals who was hanged insulted him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!” 40But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Don’t you even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“If you are the Christ, save yourself and us! (v. 39b). “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). Both criminals ask to be saved:
• The first does so out of unbelief (v. 39), but the second does so out of faith (v. 42):
• The first acknowledges no wrong and criticizes Jesus. The second acknowledges his guilt and Jesus’ innocence.
• The first wants only to be freed from his cross so that he can resume life as he has known it. The second asks for Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom—a much more significant vision of salvation.
• The first received nothing, but the second received all that he asked.
“this man has done nothing wrong” (v. 41b). This is one of the several testimonies to Jesus’ innocence. Luke tells of similar testimony from Pilate (23:4, 14, 22) and Herod (23:15). At the conclusion of the crucifixion, the centurion in charge will testify, “Certainly this man was innocent” (23:47).
How does this condemned man conclude that Jesus has done nothing wrong? Has he been among the crowds that listened to Jesus teaching? Was he a secret disciple? The depth of his understanding suggests that God has chosen to reveal Jesus’ true identity to this criminal on a cross.
“Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). This is a remarkable statement considering the circumstances. This second criminal recognizes that Jesus’ crucifixion is not going to compromise what Jesus has come to do. The criminal doesn’t expect Jesus to save him from crucifixion, but he nevertheless anticipates that Jesus is due to inherit a kingdom, the precise nature of which he does not specify and presumably does not understand. In the next verse, Jesus will call his kingdom “Paradise,” but that goes far beyond what this criminal understands in this verse. The criminal’s appeal is that, when Jesus comes into his kingdom, he should remember this one who was crucified with him.
“Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). Jesus, as a king, has the power of pardon, and exercises it here. As so often in Luke’s Gospel, he shows concern for the poor, women, children, the outcast, and the Gentile (4:31-37; 5:12-32; 6:6-11, 20-26; 7:1-17, 36-50; 8:1-3, 26-56, etc.).
Does Jesus mean that today he is initiating a salvation that will become effective in the general resurrection—or does he mean that the criminal will wake up in heaven today? By “today” does he mean before sunset (the close of day in Israel)—or within 24 hours—or something broader? We know that Jesus will spend the next three days in the tomb or in “the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9), so it would not seem possible for him to meet the criminal in Paradise within the next 24 hours. We know only that this is a promise of salvation and that some sort of immediacy is involved.
LUKE 23:44-56. FATHER, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT
44It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 45The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” 48All the multitudes that came together to see this, when they saw the things that were done, returned home beating their breasts. 49All his acquaintances, and the women who followed with him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50Behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man 51(he had not consented to their counsel and deed), from Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who was also waiting for the Kingdom of God: 52this man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus’ body. 53He took it down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was cut in stone, where no one had ever been laid. 54It was the day of the Preparation, and the Sabbath was drawing near. 55The women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. 56They returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (vv. 44-45). Perhaps the darkness is a sign that the powers of darkness were being allowed to prevail for the moment. Perhaps it is a sign of God’s grief for a faithful son. Perhaps it is a warning to the people of Jerusalem.
The temple curtain separates people from the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God. Only the High Priest has access to the Holy of Holies, and he only once a year. The torn curtain symbolizes our free access to God as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice (see Hebrews 10:20; Ephesians 2:14-15).
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (v. 46—quoting from Psalm 31:5). Jesus’ final words in this Gospel are very different from those in Matthew and Mark where he asks why God has forsaken him.
Luke describes the response of four people or groups to Jesus’ death:
• The centurion responds by proclaiming Jesus’ innocence —“Certainly this was a righteous man”(v. 47).
• The crowds beat their breasts (v. 48).
• The women “stood at a distance, watching these things” (v. 49). The women witness Jesus’ death, and will also be the first witnesses of the resurrection (23:55—24:12; see also John 20:1-18).
• Joseph, “who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man…had not consented to their counsel and deed “ (v. 50-51) “this man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus’ body” (v. 52) so that he might give Jesus a proper burial. This is a courageous act, given the hostility of Joseph’s colleagues toward Jesus.
“He took it (Jesus’ body) down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was cut in stone, where no one had ever been laid” (v. 53). The Gospel of John also identifies this as “a new tomb in which no man had ever yet been laid” (John 19:41). The Gospel of Matthew identifies it as Joseph’s “own new tomb” (Matthew 27:60).
“The women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. They returned, and prepared spices and ointment” (vv. 55-56a). These women, devoted to Jesus even after his shameful death, are determined to honor him by preparing his body properly for burial. In the Gospel of Mark, they do this after the Sabbath is concluded (Mark 16:1).
Luke concludes by saying, “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (v 56b). The Sabbath, properly observed, is a healing time. Observing the Sabbath begins to move the people once again from darkness toward the light.
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)
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)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Scherer, Paul, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
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