Luke 19:28-24:53

The gospel of Luke now returns to the story of the gospel of Mark. Jesus tells his disciples what is to happen in Jerusalem, but they do not understand. Then near Jericho he heals a blind man, who follows him praising God. The author of the gospel of Luke adds a story about a tax collector in Jericho named Zacchaeus, who demonstrates what it means to repent by returning four times what he has unfairly taken from the people. Next Jesus tells the parable about a nobleman who gives money to his servants before going away and then returns to reward them. We quickly see that this is a slightly different version of the parable of talents in the gospel of Matthew. (Mt. 25:14-30) The moral is that "everyone who has will be given more, but whoever has nothing will forfeit even what he has." It is left to the listener to decide what this means.

Jesus sends disciples to get a colt and, as in the gospel of Mark, rides it into Jerusalem. When Pharisees appeal to him to restrain his disciples, who are praising his entrance to the city, Jesus replies, "If my disciples are silent the stones will shout aloud." (This conversation does not appear in the gospels of Mark and Matthew.) In the gospel of Luke, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem and says, "a time will come upon you, when your enemies will set up siege works against you" and will "bring you to the ground." If this gospel had been written before the time of Paul, we would see this as a prediction or prophecy. Here, however, it represents an interpretation of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 that has been written back into the ministry of Jesus.

Now the gospel of Luke follows the sequence of events in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus immediately cleanses the temple (rather than retiring for the night and doing so the next morning, as in the gospel of Mark). The gospel of Luke then relates the following teachings by Jesus in the temple: the question from the chief priests and scribes about his authority and his question in reply about the baptism of John, the parable of the vineyard in which the tenants kill the son who has come to collect the rent that is due, the dialogue about paying taxes to Caesar, the challenge from Sadducees about resurrection, and the teaching about the Lord not being David's son. All these teachings are also in the gospels of Mark and Matthew.

The dialogue between Jesus and some Pharisees about whether or not Jews should pay taxes to Caesar illustrates a problem that Christians faced in the Roman Empire. When Jesus asks the Pharisees to show him a coin, and they draw Roman money from their purses, he demonstrates that they have already made their choice. They are using Roman money with the likeness and inscription of Caesar. Jesus silences his critics with the shrewd saying, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." In this account Jesus makes the Pharisees look stupid and malevolent.

His answer, however, articulates the compromise that the Greek-speaking Jewish and Gentile Christians living in the Roman Empire have already made. Although the activities of Jesus led to a confrontation with the Roman governor of Palestine, these Greek-speaking Christians did not see their faith as bringing them into conflict with the officials of the Empire. This particular teaching, which is related first in the gospel of Mark and then incorporated into the gospels of Matthew and Luke, was helpful in verifying to the Roman authorities that Christians were not a threat to the political order.

In chapter 21 of the gospel of Luke, Jesus points to a poor widow putting money in the temple treasury and says she has given more than the rich because, "she has given all she had to live on." Then the author relates the teaching about the end that is found in chapter 13 of the gospel of Mark. The gospel of Luke replaces the reference to "the abomination of desolation" in Jerusalem, which is also in the gospel of Matthew, with words about the armies that will encircle the city. And the gospel of Luke adds that "Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by Gentiles until the day of the Gentiles has run its course." But the basic message is the same in all three gospels. Jesus warns the people of the coming day when the Son of Man will come on the clouds in judgment. He says that a tree is known by its fruit, tells them to watch and remain awake, and assures them that "the present generation will live to see it all."

The gospel of Luke omits the story of the woman pouring oil over the head of Jesus but has already for another reason told this story in a different form (the woman pouring oil on his feet). Satan enters into Judas, and Judas arranges with the chief priests for the arrest of Jesus. Jesus has Peter and John take care of the Passover preparations, and then he celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples. The author of the gospel of Luke uses this as an occasion to record more teachings by Jesus. The disciples argue about who is the greatest, and Jesus tells them "the greatest among you must bear himself like the youngest." Jesus entrusts to his disciples "the kingdom which my Father entrusted to me," and tells the disciples they will sit "as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel." Jesus also warns Simon (Peter) about temptation and predicts his betrayal.

In addition, Jesus revises his teaching about what the disciples are to bring on their travels. Although the disciples say they never wanted for anything, Jesus tells them: "whoever has a purse had better take it with him, and his pack too; and if he has no sword, let him sell his cloak to buy one." When they respond that they have two swords, Jesus says that is sufficient. This teaching is surprising and does not appear in any other gospel. Perhaps it reflects the practical difficulties facing apostles and preachers during the time the gospel of Luke was written. When traveling in the Roman Empire, the representatives of the church are urged to carry their own provisions and to be prepared to defend themselves. This is not a surprising teaching, given the experience of Paul and others. Yet, hardly anyone who reads the gospel of Luke notices it.

Jesus then goes to the Mount of Olives to pray with his disciples. The gospel of Luke adds to the account in the gospel of Mark that an angel comes to strengthen him and that his sweat "was like drops of blood falling to the ground." It omits the report that Jesus twice admonished Peter, James and John for not staying awake while he was praying and only relates that, when Jesus finds his disciples sleeping, he says, "Rise and pray that you may be spared the test."

When Judas enters with a crowd and comes to Jesus to embrace him, Jesus says, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" This statement does not appear in the accounts of this arrest in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Nor do they report that one of the disciples used a sword to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant or that Jesus told them to stop and healed the man's wound. Then Jesus is led away to the high priest's house, and while he is mocked and beaten there Peter stays by a fire outside and denies three times that he even knows Jesus.

In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus appears before the chief priests and scribes late at night, shortly after he is arrested. In the gospel of Luke, however, Jesus is beaten during the night but brought the next morning before the Council. When asked if he is the Messiah, Jesus does not say, "I am," as he does in the gospel of Mark. Rather, he says, "It is you who say I am," which is more like the account in the gospel of Matthew. When Jesus is brought to Pilate, who asks him if he is "the king of the Jews," Jesus replies in the same way as before. Pilate tells the chief priests and the crowd that he finds no case against Jesus, but when they accuse Jesus of stirring up trouble in Galilee Pilate refers Jesus to Herod, who has authority over Galilee.

Jesus is brought before Herod, who questions him, but when Jesus refuses to reply, Herod and his troops treat him with contempt, dress him in a purple robe, and send him back to Pilate. Then Pilate tells the chief priests and councilors who are pressing charges against Jesus that neither he nor Herod has found grounds to punish Jesus for subversion. When Pilate proposes to flog and release Jesus, the leaders and the crowd cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus and the release, instead, of Barabbas, who had been arrested for his part in an uprising and for murder. The gospel of Luke says, "Their shouts prevailed." Pilate releases Barabbas and gives "Jesus over to their will" to be crucified.

In the gospel of Mark the soldiers beat Jesus after Pilate decides his fate, but in the gospel of Luke the troops of Herod have already beaten Jesus and dressed him in a purple robe. (In the gospel of Luke Roman soldiers do not commit acts of brutality.) Therefore, after his sentence in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is immediately marched to his execution. Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service to carry his cross, as in the gospel accounts of Mark and Matthew, but the author of the gospel of Luke adds to the story that many women mourned and lamented over Jesus and that Jesus spoke to them about the coming time of judgment. The gospel author also reports that on the cross Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." This statement is not recorded by either the gospel of Mark or the gospel of Matthew.

Then the gospel relates a conversation between Jesus and the two criminals being crucified with him. One taunts him, as the crowd has, but the other defends Jesus, because he is innocent. This second criminal asks Jesus, "remember me when you come to your throne." And Jesus replies, "today you will be with me in Paradise." Then darkness covers the land, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, and Jesus cries out and says, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." The gospel reports that "the women who had accompanied him from Galilee" were witnesses to his death, and that a centurion, who saw what had happened, praised God exclaiming, "Certainly this man was innocent."

Although the basic story of the crucifixion is the same in the first three gospels, there are significant differences. Two of the gospels report that Jesus cleanses the temple the same day he enters Jerusalem, but one relates that he waits until the next morning. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was sent to Herod and was mocked and dressed up by his soldiers, rather than by the troops of Pilate. The crucifixion story in the gospel of Luke does not report that Jesus cried out on the cross the first line of Psalm 22, as he does in the gospel of Mark (in Aramaic) and in the gospel of Matthew (in Hebrew). Moreover, no other gospel confirms that Jesus spoke words of forgiveness before he died, either for those putting him to death or for a man being crucified with him. In addition, neither the gospel of Mark nor the gospel of Matthew record that Jesus died after saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Finally, only in the gospel of Luke does the centurion say, "this man was innocent."

Some of these differences may be reconciled as varying memories of a traumatic event, but it makes better sense to conclude that the authors writing the gospels not only have different materials but choose to present the story in different ways. The gospel of Luke emphasizes the innocence of Jesus. Herod and Pilate both find him innocent, one of the criminals being crucified with him says he is innocent, and the centurion also affirms that Jesus in innocent. This gospel was written to combat the claim that Jesus, or those preaching in his name in the life of the early church, have committed some sort of subversive crime against the state. When we read Acts we will see that not only is Jesus innocent, but Peter, Paul and the other apostles of the church are also innocent of the charges brought against them.

The gospel of Matthew emphasizes the guilt of those who accuse Jesus. Caiaphas is named, and he and the scribes and elders with him accuse Jesus of blasphemy and strike and spit on him. When Judas tries to repent of his crime, the chief priests and elders refuse to grant him forgiveness. Pilate washes his hands and says he is innocent of the death of Jesus, all the people exclaim that they and their children will accept the blame for his death. The gospel of Matthew judges all the Jews who reject Jesus and thus implicitly attacks the synagogues excluding Jews because of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

The gospel of Mark emphasizes the authority of Jesus. In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus does not directly answer questions about his identity. In the gospel of Mark, however, when the high priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus answers, "I am." All three gospels report that Jesus says the Son of Man will come on the clouds and sit at the right hand of God, but only the gospel of Mark puts on the lips of Jesus the claim that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Furthermore, in the gospel of Mark the disciples are not commissioned to represent the risen Christ. The gospel of Mark was written to settle all doubts in the early church about the authority of Jesus and to support the claim of those who, like Paul, were called by the risen Christ to be apostles.

As in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, the gospel of Luke reports that Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus, wraps it, and places it in a tomb. Then Mary Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James come to the tomb the morning after the sabbath and find that the stone is rolled away and the tomb empty. Suddenly, two men "in dazzling garments" appear to tell them that Jesus is risen. The women tell "the apostles," but the gospel reports that the apostles did "not believe them." (At the time of the resurrection the disciples were not yet apostles, but the author of the gospel is already anticipating their leadership in the life of the churches.)

Now the gospel of Luke relates that two of the followers of Jesus walking to a nearby town named Emmaus met Jesus but do not recognize him until, after explaining how the scriptures predicted the death and resurrection of Jesus, he blesses and breaks bread with them. When they come to Jerusalem to tell their story, they learn that "the Lord" has appeared to Simon (Peter). As the disciples discuss these amazing events, Jesus appears among them and invites them to touch his hands and feet to verify that he is not a ghost. Then he eats a piece of fish to prove that he is really alive. Jesus explains that scripture foretells the suffering, death and resurrection of the Messiah, "and declares that in his name repentance bringing the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem." The gospel of Luke then ends with the disciples in Jerusalem awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The ending of the gospel of Luke is very different from either the gospel of Mark or the gospel of Matthew. In the gospel of Mark, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb, find it empty, and are told by a young man dressed in a white robe that Jesus has risen and will meet his disciples in Galilee. In fear they flee and tell no one. In the gospel of Matthew, Mary of Magdala and "the other Mary" (who seems to be Mary the mother of James and Joseph), come to the tomb, experience an earthquake and see an angel roll away the stone from the tomb. The angel tells them that Jesus has risen and will meet his disciples in Galilee. The two women are filled with joy and run to tell the disciples. Jesus appears first to the women and then in Galilee to his disciples, where he commissions them to baptize in his name. In the gospel of Luke, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna find the tomb open, see two men in dazzling garments, hear from them that Jesus is risen, and tell the disciples who do not believe them. Then Jesus appears to followers on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, and finally to all the disciples, and he tells them to remain in Jerusalem until the gift of the Holy spirit comes upon them.

The resurrection stories in the first three gospels are strikingly different. Because the factual contradictions are obvious, it is hard to image that the early church intended each to be read as a literal report of the events that followed the crucifixion of Jesus. Each resurrection story is best understood as expressing a meaning or set of meanings. Although in the form of a narrative, each is a sermon written to strengthen the life of the early churches.

The gospel of Mark ends with an empty tomb and witnesses too frightened to tell anyone. The story tells us that Jesus is risen and that resurrection involves the body as well as the spirit (for the tomb is empty). As the story does not relate any appearance of Jesus to anyone and does not contain any kind of commission to the disciples, we are left wondering who is able and authorized to represent the risen Christ. The answer is not in the gospel, but in the life of the early church. The gospel of Mark points beyond its narrative to the apostle Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles.

The gospel of Matthew ends with angels, an earthquake, joyful witnesses, and resurrection appearances to the women who cared for him and his disciples. It affirms the leadership of the disciples and formally commissions them to minister and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because the risen Lord appears to his disciples in Galilee and sends them out to all nations, the focus of the end of the gospel story is not on Jerusalem but on the churches that are scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The gospel of Matthew does not reaffirm the authority of the church in Jerusalem, but instead affirms the authority of its presentation of the teachings of Jesus.

The gospel of Luke ends with an empty tomb and women witnesses, who lose their fear when they are told (and then remember) that the Son of Man had to be crucified in order to rise on the third day. Jesus not only appears in the flesh to the disciples but also to other followers, reaffirms this same teaching, and tells them their commissioning is soon to come. The resurrection story in the gospel of Luke prepares the reader for the Acts of the Apostles, the second volume by the same author that will trace the life of the early church. The ending of the gospel of Luke clearly reveals that the gospel is the first part of a two-part story representing faith in the churches among the Gentiles. © Robert Traer 2016