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Luke 24:44-53 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 24. RESURRECTION APPEARANCES
Jesus’ appearance to the “eleven gathered together, and those who were with them” (v. 33) is his third resurrection appearance in Luke’s Gospel. In this Gospel, the women found the empty tomb, but did not see Jesus (vv. 1-12). Jesus appeared to Peter (v. 34). Luke gives no details regarding that encounter, but details the encounter of Jesus with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv. 13-35). There are a number of parallels between that account and the account of Jesus’ appearance to the gathered disciples:
• Jesus appears to disciples who do not recognize him (v. 16) or who believe that they are seeing a ghost (v. 37).
• Jesus rebukes the disciples for their failure to believe (vv. 25, 38).
• Jesus breaks bread for the disciples (v. 30) or eats in their presence (v. 43).
• Jesus interprets scripture for the edification of the disciples (vv. 27, 44-47).
• The disciples hearts burn with them as Jesus teaches them (v. 32) or they respond with joy (v. 41).
LUKE 24:44-49. HE OPENED THEIR MINDS
44He said to them, “This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be (Greek: dei—it is necessary—a divine necessity) fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses (Greek: martures—from marturia—from which we get our word “martyr”) of these things. 49Behold, I send (Greek: apostello) forth the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power (Greek: dunamin) from on high.”
“He said to them” (v. 44a). “He” is Jesus. “Them” is the “eleven gathered together, and those who were with them” (v. 33).
“This is what I told you, while I was still with you” (v. 44a). Jesus first demonstrated the physical reality of his resurrected body by inviting the disciples to look at him and to touch him and also by eating food in their presence. We have the sense that they watch in stunned silence. Now Jesus takes the next step in the revelatory process, first reminding the disciples of what he said to them earlier—and then helping them to understand the scriptures—scriptures that speak of the Messiah suffering and rising from the dead on the third day (v. 46)—scriptures that say that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 47).
Luke does not specify which of the earlier words of Jesus he now brings to the disciples attention, but they must surely include his passion predictions (9:22; 18:31-33). Both of these predict Jesus’ suffering and death at the hands of the Jewish leaders as well as his resurrection on the third day. Jesus specifies that his death and resurrection will take place in Jerusalem and that they are in accord with the writings of the prophets (18:31).
Luke does not tell us which scriptures Jesus opens their minds to understand. There is no single Old Testament scripture that incorporates all the three major themes of verses 46-47—three themes that will form the core of the church’s kerygma:
(1) the suffering and death of the Messiah,
(2) his resurrection on the third day, and
(3) the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness to all nations.
There are, however, a number of Old Testament scriptures that address particular elements. Luke alludes to or quotes a number of these in Luke-Acts (see Bock, 387-389 and Evans, 358-360):
• Isaiah 53:7-8 says, “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth. He was taken away by oppression and judgment; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people?” Luke tells us that it was these verses that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading. Philip used these verses to proclaim the good news about Jesus to him (Acts 8:32-35).
• Psalm 16:10 says, “For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption”. Luke quotes this verse in Acts 2:27; 13:35.
• Hosea 6:2 says, “After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him”. This may be the verse to which Jesus refers in Luke 24:46.
• In Luke 11:29-32, Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah. In Matthew’s version Jesus says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
• Isaiah 49:6 says “I will also give you for a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth”. Luke quotes this verse in Luke 2:32; Acts 1:8; 13:47.
• Joel 2:32 says, “It will happen that whoever will call on the name of Yahweh shall be saved,” which Luke quotes in Acts 2:21.
• Other Old Testament scriptures that Jesus might have used to open the disciples’ minds include Psalms 22; 31:5; 69; 110:1; 118:22-26 and Isaiah 11:10.
“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 47). The proclamation to all nations is to begin from Jerusalem (v. 47), but it will not be limited to Jerusalem. The disciples are to be Jesus’ witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Prior to Jesus, the Jews had assumed a centripetal model, with the world being drawn toward a central point, Jerusalem. After Jesus, the model reverses. The church begins its work in Jerusalem, but Jesus pushes it outward toward the nations of the world rather than pulling it inward, as before.
Note the sequence: Jerusalem is the center. Judea is the province in which Jerusalem is located. Samaria is the adjoining province. And, finally, all the world will learn of Jesus and the salvation he came to offer.
The initial proclamation will take place on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem with Peter’s sermon (Acts 2), which will emphasize the three great themes of verses 46-47:
• The suffering and death of the Messiah (Acts 2:23, 36)
• His resurrection on the third day (Acts 2:24, 31-36)
• The proclamation of repentance and forgiveness to all nations (Acts 2:17, 21, 38-39).
“You are witnesses (Greek: martures—from marturia—a witness, one who bears testimony) of these things” (v. 48). A witness (marturion) is a person who has seen something and can testify to the facts of the case.That was the case with these disciples, who had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They could testify to having seen Jesus after his resurrection (vv. 36-49). They could also testify to seeing him ascend into heaven (vv. 50-53).
Now these disciples will testify to what they have seen, and some will be killed as a consequence.
We have not seen the risen Christ with our own eyes, but we have experienced him in our lives. Our responsibility is to testify to what we have seen.
Over time, fewer and fewer Christians saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. However, they told the story, often at the cost of their own lives. As a result, this word marturion came to mean martyr—those who were killed because of their Christian witness.
“I send forth the promise of my Father on you” (v. 49a)—literally, “I am sending you what my Father promised.” We might expect the Father to send the gift, but instead Jesus sends it himself, acting as the Father’s mediator.
The Greek word apostello (send forth) is of particular interest because of its relationship to apostolos (apostle). The apostles were those who were sent forth.
But here Jesus uses the word apostello to speak of sending forth, not the apostles, but the fulfillment of God’s promise.
“the promise of my Father” (v. 49a). Jesus does not reveal here what the Father has promised. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s sequel to this Gospel, Jesus repeats this promise (Acts 1:5) and reveals that the gift is the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Luke further records Peter’s Pentecost Day sermon, in which Peter quotes the prophet Joel, “It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17; see Joel 2:28). Peter assures his listeners that they have seen this prophecy fulfilled in the sound of a violent wind, the tongues of fire, and the glossolalia that they observed that day (Acts 2:1-13, 16)—manifestations of the Spirit.
LUKE 24:50-53. I SEND FORTH THE PROMISE OF MY FATHER ON YOU
50He led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51It happened, while he blessed them, that he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven. 52They worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.
“He led them out as far as Bethany” (v. 50a). Bethany is located about two miles (3 km.) east of Jerusalem. It is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—and was where Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead (John 12:1-8).
“But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power (Greek: dunamin—the word from which we get our word “dynamite”) from on high” (v. 49b). In v. 50, Jesus will lead the disciples to Bethany, which is about two miles from Jerusalem. However, when Jesus tells them to stay in the city, he is speaking of Jerusalem, as Luke makes clear in Acts 1:4.
The purpose of their waiting is to be “clothed with power from on high,” a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is leaving the disciples with a great responsibility, and they are not ready yet to tackle it. Earlier, Jesus sent out the disciples with “power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases” and told them to “preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick” (9:1-2). Now they are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations (24:47). Only after they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit will they be able to do that effectively. Even after receiving the gift, they will struggle with the “to all nations” component of their commission. Not until Peter’s rooftop vision and his encounter with Cornelius (Acts 10) and his report to the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11) will the church really open its arms to Gentiles.
“lifted up his hands, and blessed them” (v. 50b). This is a priestly benediction. Jesus imparts a blessing to his disciples as he prepares for his departure, following the model of Jacob’s blessing of his sons before his death (Genesis 49) and Moses’ blessing of the Israelites before his death (Deuteronomy 33).
“he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven” (v. 51b). Jesus’ ascension follows a familiar Old Testament model:
• Genesis 5:24 tells of Enoch, who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him”—an ascension-like account.
• 2 Kings 2 tells of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven within view of his disciple, Elisha. What is especially significant about that story is Elisha’s request to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (v. 9), a request that God granted, resulting in Elisha performing great miracles.
Jesus’ mission on earth is complete until his Second Coming. However, he is not abandoning his disciples (including future disciples). He is resuming his rightful place in the heavenly realms, where the Father will exalt him and give “him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Jesus’ ascension is therefore not only a prelude to the coming of the Holy Spirit, but also repositions him to dispense heavenly blessings to his disciples.
Luke and Mark are the only Gospels to give an account of the ascension, and Mark’s account is part of his longer ending, which was probably added later. Matthew’s Gospel closes with Jesus giving the Great Commission without mentioning the ascension (Matthew 28:16-20). John’s Gospel has a lengthy farewell section, but does not give an account of the ascension.
Luke, however, gives two accounts—a brief account of the ascension here and a lengthier account in Acts 1:6-11. There are significant differences between the two accounts:
• Most significantly, Luke’s Gospel appears to have Jesus ascending on Easter evening, while his Acts of the Apostles has Jesus appearing to the disciples for a forty-day period after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). However, there is nothing in the Gospel account that specifically says that the ascension takes place on Easter. Most likely, Luke simply touches briefly on the ascension in his Gospel and expands the story in Acts.
• Luke 24:50 locates the ascension at Bethany, while Acts 1:12 says that the disciples, following the ascension, returned to Jerusalem from “the mount called Olivet.” However, that hardly qualifies as a discrepancy, because Bethany is on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.
“They worshiped him” (v. 52a). In the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (also written by Luke), only God is worshiped—not idols, not people. The fact that these disciples worship Jesus signifies that they “have, at last, recognized Jesus for who he is” (Green, 862). Only a few verses earlier, they were frightened, thinking Jesus to be a ghost (v. 37). How quickly they move from fear to worship once Jesus shows them clearly who he is, what he expects of them, and how he will empower their ministry.
“and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (v. 52b). Only a few verses earlier, they were frightened, thinking Jesus to be a ghost (v. 37). How quickly they move from fear to joy once Jesus shows them clearly who he is, what he expects of them, and how he will empower their ministry.
“and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” (v. 53). This Gospel began with the appearance of an angel to Zechariah in the temple announcing the birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25) and told of Simeon’s joy and Anna’s praise at the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple (2:22-38). “Thus the Gospel ends as it has begun with God’s people praising and blessing him in the temple” (Stein, 623).
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.
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