The Ascension

You may or may not be familar with the illusionist Criss Angel. He has a television program on A&E (Mindfreak) on which he is regular putting his illusionist skills on display for millions to see. Should you watch his show, you will see him perform illusions using cards, coins, and cans. He is famous, though, for his illusions where he walks on water, vanishes in plain day light, and levitations. While interesting and intriguing (one is left asking, “How’d he do that?”), with all due respect, Criss Angel “ain’t got nothing” on Jesus. The ascension of Jesus is not slight of hand or an illusion – He didn’t levitate and then float back down to earth. When He “was carried up to heaven” there were no special tricks; it was the final demonstration of the power of God in the life of Jesus. Luke records the ascension not only at the of his gospel account (24.50-53), but also in his second volume, Acts. He is the New Testament writer who gives the most attention and detail to this final event in the life of Jesus. In fact, Mark and John give only brief mention of it and Matthew does not devote any of his gospel narrative to the ascension. Conversely, Luke is also the writer who gives none of the meetings between Jesus and His disciples “in Galilee” which Matthew, Mark, and John give. Nevertheless,  here, at the close Luke’s gospel, is a very precious offering of sacred history concerning our Lord’s ascension back to the Father.

The Eulogy

It has been forty days since the resurrection (Acts 1.3). This is not Easter Sunday! This is forty days after that first Sunday when the tomb was found empty. First, Jesus takes His disciples to Bethany. “Bethany was on the eastern declivity of the Mount of Olives” (Barnes) and therefore, once the Lord was taken up, the disciples would return to Jerusalem “from the mount called Olivet” (Acts 1.12). Bethany means “house of sorrow” or “affliction.” This is a key villiage in the life of Jesus; He often frequented there since this was the hometown of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. One writer says it was probably from “the remoter uplands which lie above the city” from which Jesus, in full view of His disciples, made His depature.

Before the actual ascension, though, Jesus has one final thing He desires to do with and for His disciples: bless them. Like Jacob (and the other patriarchs) of old (Gen 48.8-20; 49), Jesus lifted up his hands to bless them. Like Aaron the high priest (Lev 9.22), Jesus, the High Priest of the new covenant, lifts His hands and blesses His people. Some commentators think that also inherent in the act of lifting the hands was the intent to lay them on their heads. Perhaps, but the text is silent concerning this. This blessing is the assurance of favor, even the favor of God. When Jesus blesses His disciples, that is what He is communicating to them.

The Embarkment

As He expressing the divine favor upon them, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” That is, He intentionally separated Himself from them and stood apart from them. Then he was taken up, lifted. The language is very passive, as if this were something being done to Him rather than by Him. In Acts, Luke further records that a cloud comes and acts as a chariot escorting the King into the throne room of God and out of the sight of men’s eyes.

One wonders what it was like once Jesus was gone. “And just like that he was gone.” That’s it? Now what? In Acts, Luke records the angelic testimony that one day, just He left, Jesus is coming back. And so the disciples will wait do what Jesus said to do (Luke 24.49; Acts 1.8) and wait in the city for the promise to be fulfilled.

The Exultation

In the meantime, life must go on. The first thing the disciples do is worship Jesus. Do not overlook this too quickly for its theological significance is huge. The only Being worthy of worship is God – this is the testimony of Scripture (Ex 20.3-4; Deut 5.8-10; 6.13-15), Jesus (Matt 4.10; Luke 4.8), and angels (Rev 19.10; 22.9). Only God is to be worshipped and yet Jesus is worshipped and it is acceptable. Why? Jesus Christ is God. Those who rob of Him of this do not serve the same Jesus the apostles knew. Everything they had experienced with the crucifixion, resurrection, and, now, the ascension testified to them that Jesus is God. And so they worship Him as God.

Once worship is over, they go back into Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to come. But the attitude and atmosphere is different. They are now joyous, full of joy because of what had just happened. This has been a common theme in Luke (1.4; 2.10; 8.13; 10.17; 15.7, 10; 24.41). There is no grief, though it might have been present inasmuch as Jesus, their friend and Teacher is gone. But whatever grief could have been is swallowed up in joy.

While in Jerusalem, they frequent the temple to engage in “blessing God.” Regularly, perhaps even daily, these disciples made trips to the temple to praise God. Fittingly, Luke concludes his narrative where it all began: in the temple. From Zechariah’s fearful encounter with an angel to the disciples faithful exulations to the Almighty, Luke brings us full circle concerning the “narrative” compiled from “eyewitnesses and ministers” of “the things [we] have been taught” concerning the man named Jesus.

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Appearances, pt.2

It seems many Christians fail to grasp the great importance of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – we need the appearances of Jesus. Without them, we may have an empty tomb, but the question would linger: where’s the body? Where’s Jesus? The appearances of Jesus after the resurrection answer that question firmly: He’s alive! Christians do not serve a dead guru or wise man; Christians serve a risen Savior who reigns from heaven. His tomb was found empty and He was seen by multiple eyewitnesses who were so deeply affected by seeing Jesus dead and then alive again that they were never the same. InLuke 24.36-49, we find yet another account of an appearance of the risen Jesus. It is still resurrection (Easter) Sunday, perhaps even slipping into Monday (by the Jewish reckoning of time). On this occasion, you find the Eleven with some other unnamed disciples listening to the testimony brought by the two who travelled with Jesus on the road to Emmaus without realizing who it was that spoke with them.

The Uncanny Evidence from the Savior

To demonstrate that He is indeed raised from the dead and, therefore, Lord and Savior, Jesus presents the disciples with three proofs as evidence.

The first proof is that Jesus miraculously shows up. John gives a parallel account of this occasion and describes the setting as one behind locked doors (John 20.19). The disciples from Emmaus and the Eleven are talking amongst themselves about “these things” which have happened during the course of the day, namely, all of the appearances of Jesus: to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the women, the two on the road to Emmaus. Lo, and behold, as they are talking about all these appearances, “Jesus himself stood among them” (v.36). Out of nowhere, Jesus miraculously materializes with a message: “Peace to you!” I suppsose the disciples reaction is the same as anyone of us would have: shock, disbelief, terror and fear, and they think they’re seeing a ghost (lit. spirit).

The question Jesus asks is interesting. In essence, Jesus asks, “What’s the big deal?” First, why are you excited and sitrred up? Also, why are you doubting? So to address these questions and concerns, Jesus presents still another proof: The nail scarred hands. The Greek is emphatic: “It is me, I myself.” And the proof is He bears the marks of crucifixion. He offers for them to touch them. In eight days, Thomas will do the same thing. He wants them to be absolutely that He is there in the flesh. Perhaps Luke includes these words to combat the seeds of Docetic gnosticism which would evolve into the heretical teaching that Jesus was an immaterial being who only seemed to have a body of flesh. There can be no doubt – Jesus’ resurrection was physical and bodily. He had a body of flesh.

His disciples are still a state of “believing disbelief.” But this fed not by doubt but by joy and astonishment. It’s still hard to believe and so Jesus provides on more proof: Jesus eats supper. It doesn’t get much more bodily or human than eating. “Have you anything to eat?” They have some “broiled fish,” where they obtained this fish is uncertain, but it seems to have been leftovers from their dinner. Some manuscripts add, “and some honeycomb.” Indeed, Canaan was the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Whether just fish or fish and honey, eat would completely remove any notion among His disciples that a “ghost” or phantom or spirit was before them. It really was the bodily resurrected Jesus!

Certainly questions arise about this resurrection body. Of what nature and sort is it. It must be noted that we know very little about it. Further, I would note that the resurrection body Jesus possessed during the final forty days He was here on earth is not the glorious body He now possesses as He sits at the right hand of God. To borrow the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we shall be “changed.” Inasmuch as Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father, He had yet to put on the glory He possessed before the creation of the world (cf. John 17.5). This world cannot contain that kind of glory. But once back in the high halls of heaven, having assumed His position at the right hand of the Father, He “changed” from the resurrection body He had during the forty days for the glorified body He now possesses.

The Understandable Expositon of the Scriptures

 Having supplied convincing proofs that He is really raised, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples ignorance of the Scriptures. Jesus explains that He had told them that these things would happen, and indeed He had on multiple occasions predicted His suffering and resurrection. But ultimately, His suffering, His three days in the tomb, and His subsequent resurrection from the dead were all to take place so that the Scriptures (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) might be fulfilled. God had spoken and men had recorded in Scripture these prophecies of Messiah. Jesus says He is the fulfillment of those prophecies.

In verse 45, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Most want to jump to the conclusion that the way Christ did this was through the Holy Spirit. In fact, Matthew Poole writes, that Jesus “knew the Scriptures would not sufficiently give them a knowledge of him, and the things of God, without the influence and illumination of his Spirit.” It is curious, though, that in verse 49, Jesus promises the Spirit (promise and power from God) was yet to come. Either Jesus opened their mind for a purpose or He did it with a result. That is, He opened their collective mind in order to understand Scripture or He opened their mind so that they could understand the Scriptures. This is the same kind of language used by Luke about Lydia (Acts 16.14): “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” A veil is dropped and their hearts are ready and open to “understand the Scriptures.” Previously, Jesus has asked His disciples, “Are you also still without understand?” (Matt 15.16; Mark 7.18) They were darkened, as it were, in their understanding. Now, in light of the death, burial, and resurrection, their minds are ready for Christ to instruct them in the Scriptures. The same kind of language is used by Luke in Acts with Paul’s teaching and preaching ministry also (Acts 17.2-3; 26.17-18).

Their minds now open, He opens up the Word of God to them. “Thus it is written…” and Jesus highlights three prophetic points: 1) the suffering of Christ, 2) the resurrection of Christ, and 3) the preching of Christ. Jesus the Christ suffered mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually for every man so that sin might be atoned for and forgiveness and redemption made available to those who might seek Him. Three days later, Jesus the Christ was resurrected from the dead by the power of God. And now, fulfilling the prophetic mandate, Jesus would commission and send forth His disciples to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins…to all nations.” Luke closes a circle he began with near the beginning of his gospel narrative and has addressed throughout, namely, the universality of the gospel. “The gospel is for all.” All nations; all enthic groups. This is the exact same language used by Matthew in the Great Commission (Matt 28.19). But this has a starting point: Jerusalem. Just ten days following the ascension of Jesus (24.51; Acts 1.9), the Twelve, empowered by the “power from on high” (the Holy Spirit), will preach this message of repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2, esp. v.38). They are the witnesses of the fulfillment of prophetic utterance and will bear their testimony “to all nations.”

They are not alone nor do they rely upon their own power to accomplish this mission. The Father has promised to send help. John particularly highlights this promise in chs. 14-16 of his gospel account. Contextually, though, Jesus appears to be talking about a promise made through the prophetic word. In Acts, Luke gives us the rest of the story when Peter on Pentecost explains that the miraculous empowering of the Spirit is fulfillment of prophetic promise made through the prophet Joel (Acts 2.16-21; cf. Joel 2.28-32). It seems that is when the Father made the promise to “pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” Jesus says that prophetic promise will be kept, but they must “stay in the city” of Jerusalem until the “power from on high” is put on (cf. Luke 1.35 for similar language). A similar reminder will be made just before Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 1.4).

Appearances, pt.1

As we draw ever closer to the end of Luke’s gospel, we are reminded in vivid fashion that there is a one key element to the gospel narrative oft overlooked in our telling of the good news story: the appearances. The necessity of the appearances of the resurrected Lord is captured by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where he details how the gospel he preached consisted of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (v.3-4) and the appearances Jesus made to Cephas (or Peter), then the twelve, to more than 500 at one time, to James, and all the apostles (v.5-7). In other words, this was not a silent and secret resurrection; many people saw Jesus dead one day and three days later (and for forty days) alive again. In Luke 24.13-35, we have one of the appearances of Jesus recorded by Luke in great detail. This appearance account is peculiar to Luke, although Mark does mention it near the end of his gospel (Mark 16.12-13).

The Reunion with Jesus

It is still resurrection Sunday (“that very day”) when two disciples of Jesus who are not members of the Twelve (now eleven since Judas has hanged himself, see Acts 1.18-19) are traveling to Emmaus, a town six and a half to seven miles from Jerusalem. Their conversation is morose and melancholy as they recall the events of the past three days, especially, it seems, the crucifixion (see v.20) but also the various reports they have heard about the empty tomb. There is probably some confusion and questioning as they “communed” with one another as they walked. And as they communed (KJV), “talking and discussing together,” Jesus shows up. What a beautiful picture depicting exactly what Jesus has stipulated elsewhere: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18.20, ESV). Here are two disciples communing and conversing, questioning back and forth, and Jesus “drew near and went with them.” It is interesting, though, that they could not identify Him. Mark tells us that He appeared in another form (16.12) when he discusses this same appearance account in brief. There was something about His physical appearance which was different.

The Request from Jesus

Jesus interrupts their conversation by asking a question of His own. In essence, He wants to know what they are talking about. It is interesting the word Jesus uses when describing their “conversation” (ESV) for it is word which means to throw back and forth as people would do with a ball. They are volleying these questions back and forth between them as they go and Jesus wants to know what has their attention so rapt. Conversation stops. The disciples stop walking. Sadness fills the air.

The Reply to Jesus

Luke identifies one of the disciples as Cleopas. Speculation abounds concerning the other disciple – one says Nathanael, another Simon (probably because of the context, v.12), still others contend the second disciple is Luke himself. Again, all this is speculation; whoever he is, he is unindentified. But Cleopas speaks up to answer Jesus’ question. His response is somewhat intriguing because in essence he asks “Have you been living under a rock these past three days?” In other words, where have you been? How could you not know what’s been going on in Jerusalem? What is communicated here is the publicity and notoriety of the crucifixion of Jesus; everyone knew about the man from Nazareth and about His execution. Much like Joseph in the Old Testament, Jesus refrains from revealing Himself to his disciples and simply asks, “What things?”

Cleopas then tells Jesus about, well, Jesus. He explains that, first, Jesus was a prophet, mighty in word and work, before God and man. Second, Jesus was condemned and crucified by the religous leaders and authorities. Third, Jesus was the hope of Israel, the one whom people trusted would be the deliverer of God’s people. Fourth, all this took place about three days. Fifth, there has been a firestorm of amazing accounts from people who followed Jesus. Some women have been to the tomb and found it empty early in the morning. They also had seen an angel who said Jesus was alive. In addition, some of the company of the followers (Peter and John) have also been to the tomb and found it just as the women did – open, empty, and the grave clothes laying there.

In Cleopas’s account, there seems to be a glimmer of the flame of faith. But it is so weak and nearly extinguished. “We had hoped” but now that hope has faded; it has, after all, been three days. The story from the women seems too fantastic. And even the disciples who went to the tomb and saw with their own eyes the empty tomb is not enough; they did not see him. Mixed with the confusion is, perhaps, hopelessness and frustration. What now?

The Rebuke from Jesus

In somewhat strong language Jesus rebukes these disciples for their lack of faith. He calls them fools or those lacking in understanding or thought. Also, He calls them “slow in heart” which is a phrase used to describe someone as dull and lacking in comprehension. What they have failed to comprehend and believe are the prophets and everything that God spoke through the prophets. And by their own admission of Jesus as a “prophet mighty in deed and word” that means they have not believed Him.

And so Jesus asks yet another question of them: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (v.26). It’s rhetorical. Of course it was because the prophets, indeed, the Prophet had predicted these things should happen. So Jesus takes these two doubtful disciples on a jet tour study of the Christ from Moses to Malachi concerning what the Scriptures say about Himself. Notice Jesus does not “proof-text” them to death; rather, He “interpreted” or explained or exegeted the Scriptures for them, clearly communicating what the prophets about the Christ. We would do well to note that the doctrine of Christ saturates the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. It really is all about Him. As J.C. Ryle has written, “The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.”

The Recognition of Jesus

We don’t know how long they walked with Jesus, but in that time span He had captured their hearts and minds so much so that as they drew near to Emmaus, they “urged him strongly” to stay with them. The language is such that they forced Him to stay with them even though He pretended like He was going further. It was late in the day and evening was coming on. And so He did go to their lodging place. We would do well to note that Jesus will not stay with us if we do not strongly desire His presence in our lives. He would have gone on further had these two disciples not compelled Him to stay with them.

Remember, they do not know this is Jesus (v.16). As far as they know, this is just another man who knows His Bible. Its meal time and Jesus takes the lead in taking, blessing, and breaking the bread. Now consider that you have walked all this way with this “stranger” and perhaps there is something familiar about Him; you just can’t put you finger on it. Then He does this. And it clicks: “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Interpretations abound as to why Jesus “was known in the breaking of the bread.”

Some point to the upper room scene when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. However, it would not make sense that these disciples, who were not present for that upper room scene, would be aware of this. Coincidently, those who advocate this position from the Catholic Church also use this passage as validation for administering the bread without the wine to laity. But, again, this does not seem to be a Lord’s Supper context and if it were it would be the most bizzare account of that meal since Christ interrupts it midway through. Some say that when the disciples saw Jesus’ nail scarred hands they knew. But it is not in the seeing of His hands that they knew it was Him but in the breaking of the bread. And some see no particular significance. But clearly there was some significance to this whole event since it stimulated these disciples minds to remember something and so identify Jesus.

There is an account in Luke which uses nearly the exact same language as verse 30. In Luke 9 there is the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In verse 16, Jesus takes the bread (the five loaves), blesses it (while looking toward heaven), breaks the bread, and distributes it to His disciples. This was a very public miracle which literally thousands of people had experienced. Perhaps Cleopas and also this other disciples had been there for it. At least they had heard of it, if nothing else. This seems to be the occasion which these disciples recall here in Emmaus which identifies Jesus to them. And when they recognize Him, Jesus vanishes. It is beyond a doubt that the resurrection body of Jesus was real and material; it was a body of flesh. But the form was different and of such a difference that it could move, appear, and disappear as cannot be explained by this writer (nor by any writer I could find). Blessed is the one who can accept this by faith!

Once He had vanished, the disciples had time to meditate following the meal. First, while the text does not say this, I would assume there was silence for some time; just thoughtful quietness as they reflected upon what just happened. It had been Jesus the whole time! O foolish ones, indeed. But once they had thought about it…”Did you feel it, too?” “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They asked each other this question but they spoke of their one heart (singular noun in Greek). This seems to back to their communing together. Their one heart which was frozen by faithlessness was not melted by the exposition of the Scripture of God, which is like a fire in the bones (Jer 20.9) and from God who is a consuming fire (Heb 12.29; cf. Dt 4.24; 5.25; 9.3). The flickering flame of faith has been fanned into a full fledged fire.

Renewed by this meditation, these men now have a mission. “That same hour” they made the same trek of nearly 7 miles back to Jerusalem to track down the eleven and tell the good news. It should be noted that although Luke calls them “the eleven,” both Judas and Thomas are not present. The terms “the eleven” and “the twelve” are titles for the group and may represent the group in part or in total. The disciples find “the eleven” (behind locked doors, no doubt) and announce that “The Lord has risen indeed.” How simple and yet profound is the gospel! But also, there is proof: Jesus “has appeared to Simon!” They also recounted everything Jesus had said while walking to Emmaus and how they had fully recognized Him when He had broken the bread.

(Outline taken from The Outline Bible by H.L. Willmington)

Resurrection

In the Bordeaux Pilgrim (AD 333), there is mention of the location. St. Cyril of Jerusalem makes reference to it several times. In the days of the church historian Eusebius (first half of fourth century), there was no doubt as to the location of the empty tomb. No doubt that even today, there will be a guided tour near Jerusalem which will walk right past the site. One Sunday morning nearly two millenia ago, several women made a trek to the precise location of the the tomb of Jesus. As mentioned in the previous section (Luke 23.55), these women were familiar with the location of the tomb, having seen Jesus’ body placed in it just days before. There was no doubt in their minds as to where to go “after the Sabbath.”

John Calvin calls this “the closing section of our redemption.” J. C. Ryle calls the resurrection of Jesus “one of the great foundation-stones of the Christian religion.” Indeed, in the words of Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15.17, ESV). In other words, “Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection” (Theodsus Harnack, quoted in McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pg.205). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either “one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history” (McDowell, 203). The bottom line is we, Christians, need the resurrection. If Jesus was not resurrected, He can no more save me than condemn me. And if there is no resurrection, “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, drive the morality bus off the cliff if the dead are not raised. There’s no point in being a good, moral person since Christianity has toppled. Those who would argue for morality in the absence of the Christian religion should understand this. Morality is pointless without a supreme moral authority.

Truly, then, the whole world needs the resurrection of Jesus. Woven into the fabric of human history is the need for the resurrection of Jesus. Everything before points forward to it and everything since points backward to it. Indeed, everyone who has ever or will ever live by faith find their vindication in three simple yet striking words: “He has risen.” In Luke 24.1-12, the subject is the resurrection.

The Empty Tomb

The women of this context would appear to be the women of the previous context: “women who had followed him from Galilee” (23.49). The spices they bring were prepared just before the Sabbath, the day Jesus was placed in the tomb (23.56). They had rested on the Sabbath (23.56b) and now return to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus very early Sunday morning.

First, note that they went to “the tomb;” that is, they went to the tomb they had visited just a couple days earlier and “saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” There is not mistaking – they went to the right tomb. And if they had gone to the wrong tomb, surely on Pentecost day when Peter preaches the resurrection, someone would have pointed them in the direction of the right tomb with the body still within. Or the authorities when the apostles preached the resurrection would certainly have squelched this fable in the same manner. The fact of history is that the women and then the apostles Peter and John went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid following His crucifixion. However, things are different this Sunday morning.

Second, notice the tomb is open (v.2). Luke did not mention a stone being placed over the entrance of the tomb. It would appear he takes for granted the knowledge of his audience. That is, Luke seems to know that Theophilus would be aware of the large stone placed over the mouth of the tomb, sealing the body of Jesus inside. The women had discussed along the way the problem of removing the stone so they could continue and/or complete the burial of Jesus (Mark 16.3). When they arrive, though, the tomb is already open.

Third, in addition, the tomb was also empty (v.3). Since the stone was rolled away, they went into the tomb, perhaps ready and eager to accomplish their mission before someone return and replace the stone (which John seems to imply by the language employed that the stone was completely removed off its track, John 20.1). However, once inside, “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” A Bishop Brownrig has noted that this is the first occasion when this terminology (“Lord Jesus”) is used of the Savior in the New Testament. It is the first time Luke has used it and he will continue to use it into his next work (Acts). Rightly so, since He is now demonstrated by God to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36).

The open and empty tomb causes the women to be “perplexed.” The word used here signifies a state of great confusion and anxiety. They are at a total loss of making sense of this whole picture. They don’t know what to do, what to think, how to feel. Put yourself in their shoes – all the emotion and commotion from just a couple days prior. Their beloved Teacher was killed and they were not expecting a resurrection. Of course their confused. However, two men, angels, in “dazzling apparel” stand nearby. This same term for “dazzling” was also used of Jesus at the Transfiguration (9.29) when His clothes were dazzling bright. The term denotes something like lightning, bright and brilliant.

The Ethereal Tidings

Confusion turns to fear for the women and like the prophets of old, the seemingly lose control of bodily functions. Like Daniel or Ezekiel, they end up face down before the messengers of God out of respect. But these messengers bring a slight rebuke and subtle reminder for these courageous women. First, the slight rebuke is “Why do you seek the living with the dead?” The resurrected Jesus is alive. Therefore, His tomb is empty. He is not with the dead any longer. So of course “He is not here” for “He has risen.” Here is the angelic proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. Angels are highlighted in Luke’s gospel account. They announced to Zachariah the coming of his son John the Baptist; they spoke to Mary concerning her conception of Jesus; angels serenaded shepherds when Jesus was born. Now the angels are the messengers announcing the triumph of the Son of God over death. “He has risen.” How fantastic a thought that God has blessed men to carry this simple yet profound message of resurrection!

Second, the angels has a subtle reminder. “Remember” is how they begin. Jesus had told them this would happen (Luke 9.22; 18.33), namely, that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Here it is the third day and the tomb is empty. Just so there is no confusion, the angels specify what Jesus had said: 1) the Son of Man (favorite term of Jesus to describe Himself) would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, 2) death by crucifixion, 3) resurrection on the third day. While He was ministering in Galilee, Jesus made His disciples of these things. Luke tells us, though, they didn’t get it, understand it for “it was concealed from them” (9.45).

The Eyewitness Testimony

This angelic reminder causes the women to remember the words of Jesus. They leave the tomb and find the eleven and tell them. Note Luke says eleven and not twelve. Judas has already hung himself. In Luke’s next work, Acts, he will detail the death of Judas. But this is the first he speaks of the eleven. These women act as the first human agents of commnicating the good news of the resurrection of the dead. They are the first evangelists, tell others the good news of the resurrection of the dead. “To all the rest” is a vague statement and exactly who “the rest” are is uncertain. Some point to the 120 who would be with the apostles during the ten days after the ascension and before Pentecost (See Acts 1.15). Of course, during His ministry, Jesus had others whom He called and sent out (see Luke 10.1). Again, who exactly “the rest” are is unknown. Nevertheless, they hear about the empty from the women also.

Luke gives a detailed description of who these women are in verse 10: they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women with them.” Perhaps Salome (she is mentioned in Mark 16.1 as part of the company of women at the tomb) and Susanna (Luke 8.3) are also part of this number. It is the women who tell the apostles about the bewildering scene at the tomb. So fantastic is their message that the apostles cannot believe it. To them it is an “idle tale” or nonsense. Don’t be too hasty, ladies; remember just a few verses prior to this the women were experiencing something akin to this before two angels helped their unbelief.

However, there is one apostle who goes to the tomb: Peter. Just a couple days earlier he had denied Jesus and had had to look Jesus in the face immediately after the third denial (Luke 22.54-62). Luke graphically describes his reaction to hearing the women’s story: he “rose and ran to the tomb.” He left his fellow disciples and went to the tomb. John records that he went with Peter to the tomb. Peter arrives and “stooping and looking in” he sees the grave clothes of Jesus lying there. All this matches with with John very nearly except John has Peter entering the tomb. The empty tomb has a profound effect on Peter: he’s left “marveling” to himself. This is not a lack of faith but rather it seems Peter is trying to make sense of everything. What happened? Truly this has been the struggle for many people ever since the tomb was found open, empty, and the grave clothes lying empty. How should we understand this? The gospel writers present us with the facts of history and these facts demand an answer. The only answer which fits with the historical facts is that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected by the power of God on the third just as He predicted would happen.

Burial

What do you do with a dead body? There are all sorts of things people around the world do with death bodies, but the common practice of many is to bury it. It makes sense: you bury dead bodies. In Luke 23.44-49, we witnessed through the lens of Luke’s account the death of Jesus. He is dead and so He must be buried. From Mark (15.44-45) we learn that Pilate is surprised to hear Jesus is dead already and has to consult with a centurion to ensure that in fact Jesus is dead. The centurion, someone who deals in death on a regular basis and can tell dead from alive, confirms the reports Pilate is hearing: Jesus, the king of the Jews, is dead.

This is an important historical fact for a number of reasons. First, there are those who claim Jesus did not die on the cross but merely swooned and in the coolness of the tomb was revived. The evidence points to the contrary – Jesus, according to all accounts, died on the cross. Second, if Jesus does not die on the cross for our sins as he predicted He would, He is false prophet who can no more save than any other false prophet and we are still guilty of our sins. The bottom line is we need Jesus to die on the cross so that He can make propitiation and give His life for ours. Without this, there is no good news saving message; only the terrible news that there is no salvation.

At the death of Jesus, his friends and the women who had minister to Him during His ministry “stood at a distance” (v.49). It would seem they had neither the courage nor the capital to proceed with burial. However, there is one man who seemingly “stood at a distance” during the ministry of Jesus who comes forward from his secret discipleship that He might provide Jesus a proper burial. This man is Joseph of Arimathea.

The Measure of the Man

Luke records for us that Joseph was a man from Arimathea. Commentators seem somewhat divided about this. One authority said that Arimathea’s location is unknown. Another says that it was a famous Jewish town from which Samuel the prophet came – Ramathaim Zophim. Still another gives a more precise location of 20 miles NW of Jerusalem on the border of Judea and Samaria. At any rate, he seems to have taken up residence in Jerusalem since he sat on the council of the Sanhedrin. He is “a good and righteous man” according to Luke who is honorable and respected (Mark 15.43). He is also rich (Matt 27.57) and followed Jesus, although his discipleship was done in secret for fear of the Jews (John 19.38). Luke seems to allude to the discipleship of Joseph by saying that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (v.51). This is the same kind of language used by Luke in describing two other individuals early in this gospel account: Simeon and Anna (2.25, 38). They were waiting for the redemption and consolation of Israel. So it is with Joseph of Arimathea and it would seem that in his heart of hearts he believed Jesus to be the bringer of the kingdom. As a result, when the Council was casting their vote against Jesus and condemned Him, Joseph was either left out or driven out because the Council had been unanimous (Mark 14.64).

It is interesting that all four gospel writers speak of Joseph of Arimathea in a relatively positive, even ideal manner. One writer put it this way: Matthew calls him rich, the Jewish ideal (?); Mark calls him a respected member of the council, the Roman ideal; Luke calls him a good and just (kalos kagathos), the Greek ideal; and John calls him a disciple of Jesus, the johannine ideal. An interesting tradition about Joseph of Arimathea is that around 63AD he made his way to England and settled in Glastonbury, settling up the first Christian oratory. Whatever the case, it is this man who comes forward to request of Pilate the body of Jesus so that he might bury it. Pilate grants him his request.

The Methods of the Man

As mentioned, he first requested to have the body of Jesus so he might prepare it for burial. Upon receiving permission, he took the body of Jesus down from the cross. No doubt the body is beaten, battered, and bloody. What a picture of a rich man removing the bludgened body of this carpenter from a cross! It may be assumed Joseph had on the garments of a rich man and as he brings the body down they are smeared and spattered with the blood of Jesus. Pure speculation, of course. Next, he wraps the body in fine linen. The word “shroud” is supplied in the English, unnecessarily it would seem since John makes it clear that the body was prepared and wrapped according to the custom of the Jews (John 19.40). That means that the body was “bound hand and foot” as in the case of Lazarus (John 11.44). In addition, there was also a cloth that was used to cover the face also which John records that at the resurrection of Jesus was folded neatly and placed in the corner (John 20.9). Finally, he places the wrapped body of Jesus in a “new tomb” (Matt 27.60) “where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23.53). Calvin says this appropriate and according to the providence of God for Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1.18).

Inasmuch as it was the day of Preparation and the Sabbath was near beginning, the women take note of where Jesus is buried and go home to obeserve the Sabbath. Luke says the Sabbath was dawning. This is an interesting way to saying this and may seem foreign to our minds since we count time midnight to midnight. The Jewish day began at sunset and Luke may be alluding to the time when the lamps were lit. Be careful to notice that the women see where and how the body was laid. There are some who would claim that Sunday morning, the day of the resurrection, these same women went to the wrong tomb. However, Luke careful records that they knew exactly where to go so that they could annoint the body with the spices and ointments they were going to prepare.

It would seem that they had just enough to prepare their spices and ointments just before the Sabbath and would bring them Sunday, following the Sabbath (see Mark 16.1). Nicodemus had brought and presented some spices he had (John 19.39) and apparently placed those in the tomb with the body to be used by the women later. Everything seems to be done in haste since the Sabbath is fast approaching. There is also a sense in which the women and friends do not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead. He had predicted His death and even the manner of His death (crucifixion) multiple times and in nearly the same breath had said He would be raised on the third day. However, it appears all this is forgot and gives way to the grief and sorrow of Jesus’ death.

“On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (v.56b). Here is the final time the followers of Jesus would observe the Sabbath, not according to the traditions of their fathers, but according to the Law of Moses, even the commandment of God. This is of course the fourth commandment given in the Law. J. C. Ryle, though, has an interesting obeservation concerning the Sabbath and the Christian: “Let us not doubt that the Apostles were taught by our Lord to change the day [of the Sabbath] from the last day of the week to the first…Above all, let us regard the Sabbath as an institution of primary importance to man’s soul, and contend earnestly for its preservation amongst us in all its integrity. It is good for the body, mind, and soul. It is good for the nation which observes it, and for the church which gives it honor. It is but a few steps from ‘no Sabbath’ to ‘no God.’ The man who would make the Sabbath a day for business and pleasure, is an enemy to the best interests of his fellow-creatures.”

The Crucifixion, pt.3

Many people base their salvation upon a thread of Scriptures pertaining to “faith-only” and usually tie it together with the present account in Luke 23.39-43, the thief on the cross. Usually, their contention is that the thief was saved because of his faith and accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. Therefore, all a person needs to do today to be saved is put their faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, this one example of a man saved under the old covenant just prior to the death of Jesus does not square with what Scripture says about salvation under the new covenant. Nor is it consistent with every example of a person being saved by the apostolic preaching. Therefore, a person desiring to know what they must do to be saved (a common question in the New Testament book of Acts also authored by Luke) must look elsewhere for that answer.

Why then does Luke include this unique incident of a contrite criminal? To confuse millions of Bible readers about how one obtains salvation? Nay, verily. Instead, Luke includes this incident to make a striking contrast. Those who are reviling Him, be it the Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers, or the other criminal are calling on Jesus to “save himself” (v.35, 37, 39). It seems Luke highlights the fact that the cross is for the salvation of others, indeed, all of mankind (A theme of Luke’s; cf. 1.79; 2.31-32 7.1-10, esp.v.9). Further, Jesus is fulfilling His mission in providing salvation through the cross from the emarginated in society, even the prisoners and ciminals (cf. 1.52; 4.18-19; 7.22-23). This passage was not written to explain to people what they must do to be saved; it is written to show that Jesus never lost sight of the mission of Messiah even during the agony of the crucifixion.

All the voices are yelling, “Save yourself.” That’s not the point. The point is that Jesus through His substitutionary death on the cross is saving others. Even in this moment of His greatest weakness, as it were, He is accomplishing His greatest work: salvation for all mankind.

The Reviling

Many believe that both of the criminals began their final moments on their respective crosses by railing at the Son of God, joining in with the rest of those who mocked Jesus. This much can be gleaned from the parallel accounts (Matt 27.44; Mark 15.32). However, Luke records that one of the thieves had a change of heart, repentance. Key figures in church history such as Athanasius, Origen, Hilary, Chrysostrom, Theophylact, and Euthymius have held much the same view. Both of these thieves had crucified near Jesus, presumably equidistant and therefore were equally near Jesus. Both no doubt heard Jesus’ various sayings and had beheld His unjust suffering those six hours on the cross. Both were wicked men in need of salvation. Both were suffering acute pain and quickly approaching death. Both had equal opportunity to respond to the Messiah. Yet only one has a change of heart.

The one criminal is railing at Jesus, heaping up further insults on the Son of God. The tense of this verb indicates that this is something he kept on doing, as if he were continuing his activities which began at the first on the cross. The word itself is a form of the word for which we get “blasphemy.” This gives us an idea of the insults and slander which this man was speaking to Jesus. Part of the blasphemy is recorded by Luke: “Are you not the Christ?” This is a rhetorical question, the criminal expecting an affirmative answer. Of course you are the Christ and therefore you should be able to save yourself and us.

The Rebuke

“But the other rebuked him.” In this action, we see this criminal’s repentance which will be dealt with more in detail in a moment. But he rebukes his fellow criminal: “Do you not fear God?” God, the just judge; shortly these men will stand before the throne of God and give an account for what they have done. It is interesting that the thief then says their punishment is them “receiving the due reward of our deeds.” In other words, this is justice, which the thief says in v.41. Hence, he connects God and justice in nearly the same breath. God is a God of justice, pouring out His judgment on nations in history and at the end will justly judge each man. This criminal says it is God’s justice that they hang on their crosses, but Jesus is different: He “has done nothing wrong.” Here is a critical theological point: as Jesus hangs on the cross, the One who knew no sin becomes sin on our behalf (2 Cor 5.21). He is taking upon Himself the just judgment of God. In other words, God is justly judging our sins, meting out in due measure His wrath, punishing our sins through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus.

The Repentance

There are a number of reasons put forth by scholars as to why this criminal did repent. J. C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels lists several of the reasons scholarship has put forth as to why this was: “Some say, as Bengel, that he was a Gentile; and some as Scott, that he was a Jew. – Some thin, as Suarez, that he had heard our Lord preach, and seen Him work miracles at some former period. – Some think, as Euthymius, that he had heard our Lord’s answers to Pilate, and been struck by them and so learned to believe in our Lord’s kingdom. – Some think, as Stier, that he was struck by the title put over our Lord’s head on the cross. – Some think, as Theophylact, that he was pricked to the heart by hearing our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, and by seeing our Lord’s patience under suffering.” Ryle accurately notes: “All these are purely conjectural ideas.” Luke records precious little concerning what they dying man thinks of Jesus and why he repents. But it would seem to be based upon his knowledge of the innocent man hanging before him that he makes a request.

The Request

What did this criminal know about Jesus? The criminal knows Jesus’ identity. “Jesus.” The name itself means “salvation.” And here is a criminal, nearing death, conscious of need for freedom from the great sins on his record and he turns to Jesus for salvation. This implies this man was familiar with the fact that Jesus could do something about his sins. Perhaps word had even reached the ears of this criminal that there is a man who forgives sins: Jesus of Nazareth.Some later manuscripts add the word “Lord” after “Jesus” but this seems to be an interpolation added later. The criminal knows Jesus’ intelligence. “Remember me” is the criminal’s plea. This implies this man is aware of Jesus ability to grant him divine favor, even the favor of a just God. He also seems to have some idea that Jesus will know him in the after and identify as a person who died in faith. The criminal knows Jesus’ instruction. “Your kingdom,” that is Jesus’ kingdom. Now it could be argued that the criminal knew Jesus had claimed to be a king because on a placard above the cross was written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in three languages. But inferred is the man’s knowledge of the Messianic kingdom and Jesus coming “into” His kingdom, that is His rule and reign as the church’s cosmic sovereign ruler. Implied also is the Lordship of Jesus, ruling over His kingdom. Again, perhaps word of the Messiah has reached the ears of this criminal and kingdom thoughts have been planted as seeds finally sprouting vines of faith.

The Reward

Because of the faith this criminal manifests, Jesus has a rewarding declaration for him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Truly” is “amen” in the Greek. “So be it.” “You” is emphatic; “you, even you.” “Today” for some reason is tricky with many scholars but means, simply, “today.” Not tomorrow, next week, or two thousand years yet future from when Jesus spoke these words. “Before the sun yet scorching the their tortured bodies set” (Pulpit). “Paradise” –  This is the only occasion Jesus speaks of the resting place for the righteous in this language. It conjured up, for the Jews, thoughts of perfect Eden before the fall and “Abraham’s bosom” which we have seen Jesus use earlier in Luke (16.22). It probably refers to the place where God dwells (see 2 Cor 12.4) but if nothing else, it points to a splendid place of bliss and the pleasure of fellowship with God.

Again, this is not an account to point to establish doctrine concerning salvation for people under the new covenant. Luke deals with that in his next volume Acts. What we should take away from this account is that indeed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and has the ability to forgive sins, something we have seen Him do earlier in Luke (5.20; 7.48). Here is a pentient criminal whom Jesus uses to once more demonstrate His authority and power.

The Crucifixion, pt.2

As we continue through the crucifixion scene, we cannot but see that multiple prophecies are finding their fulfillment in the historical account of Jesus’ death. Intermingled with these prophetic fulfillments is the Christ’s cries from the cross, petitions even to heaven itself for the people performing this heinous deed.

Numbered with the Transgressors

Luke especially points this out and is the only gospel writer who gives us the details concerning the dialogue between Jesus and one of these criminals in particular. The word “criminal” is actually a contraction of two words in Greek, one meaning “evil” (kakon) and the other “work” (ergos) and is variously translated “criminal” or “malefactor.” Literally these are “evil doers” (Gk. kakourgoi). These are bad men receiving their due punishment. Between these evil doers is crucified the sinless Son of God. Isaiah records how the suffering Servant would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53.12b) and how through that action he would “make intercession for the transgressors” by bearing “the sin of many.” Jesus, in the upper room scene with His disciples, when He institutes the Lord’s Supper has already pointed to the vicarious nature of His death: “this is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26.28, ESV. Emphasis mine). All of this prophecy, from Isaiah to Jesus, finds its fulfillment here in the crucifixion.

Nailed to a Cross

As mentioned in Part 1, the manner in which Jesus was to be killed, namely crucifixion, was prophecied nearly a millenium before Jesus lived in Psalm 22.16: “they have pierced my hands and feet.” This is a prophetic picture of crucifixion. Two thousand years removed from the first century Roman Empire, this cruel form of torturous death has lost its impact upon the human psyche. The cross was not a warm, fuzzy, friendly image in the early church. Indeed, for nearly a millenium the cross was not the main symbol of Christianity as it is today. People understood what crucifixion was all about. The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero (102-43 BC) called crucifixion “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” He went on to say, “It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in chains, it is an enormity to flog one, sheer murder to slay one; what, then, shall I say of crucifixion? It is impossible to find the word for such an abomination.” He goes on to say, “Let the very mention of the cross be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.” Jewish historian Josephus called it “the most wretched of deaths.” Indeed, under Jewish law, being hung on a tree was a curse (see Gal 3.13 where Paul quotes Deut 21.23). It was an ugly, miserable, horrible way to die.

And yet, it should be noted that the gospel writers spend very little time dealing with the actual practice of crucifixion. Luke puts forth very simply that Jesus was crucified with next to no emphasis on the actual suffering and torment of crucifixion. The primary focus concerning the sacrifice of Christ is that 1) it happened, really and truly and 2) there are real benefits and significance for mankind as a result of the death of Jesus. Further, by comparison, the majority of the focus in the gospel narratives is on the life and teachings of Jesus as well as presenting the actual, factual resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the crucifixion scene (i.e. the death of Jesus) seems to be pointing forward to Sunday morning when the tomb is empty (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus).

Jesus is crucified at the place called the Skull (or “Calvary,” KJV which translates it such from the Latin calvaria). In Aramaic, it is Golgotha (see John 19.17). Most scholars say this hill is north of Jerusalem looks like a skull and is therefore named appropriately. It should be noted, though, there is a tradition that this is the place where, after vanquishing his opponent, David came and buried the skull of Goliath. Yet another tradition says this is the place where Adam’s skull was buried. But is seems most likely the hill was named for what it resembled: a skull. “There they crucified Him.” The statement is brief yet sums up the entire event. One criminal is to His right, the other on His left. Here, heaven’s love and heaven’s justice will meet and the problem of sin will be settled.

Casting Lots for His Garments

Luke records a unique of Jesus from the cross in v.34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Here is a prayer, short and simple, from the lips of Jesus. He prays the Father forgive “them.” Who? The Jews? The Romans? Either or both seems to be acceptable. As Barnes points out the Romans did not know that they were crucifying the Son of God and the Jews did not know that they were yet filling up the cup of God’s wrath. Even while the mobs cry “Crucify Him” Jesus crys out to the Father “Forgive them.”

Meanwhile, at the foot of the cross, the Roman soldiers are busy gambling for the clothing of Jesus. Yet another prophecy is fulfilled from Psalm 22.18: “they divide my garments among them,/ and for my clothing they cast lots.” The garments, history tells us, were the clothing of a simple man, even a poor man. Modern-day televangelists want people to believe that Jesus had a big house, drove a Rolls Royce, and wore designer clothing (Prosperity preachers Dr. Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, Creflo Dollar, John Hagee, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Copeland, et al). John Chrysostrom says this detail is added to show the poorness of the Lord’s clothing. In other words, He wore dressed in simple fashion.

Wagging their Heads

In verse 35 we have yet another fulfilled prophecy as Luke alludes to Psalm 22.7-8. Indeed, Matthew records this account and the words of the rulers are nearly identical to the words of David (see Matt 27.39, 43). There is a marked difference between the people (who seem to have comprised the bulk of the crowds calling for Jesus’ crucifixion) and the rulers. The people are nearby just standing and watching all of this. What was going on in their hearts and minds? Remorse? Guilt? Memories of this great Teacher? The triumphal entry just days earlier? However, the rulers of the people scoff and deride Jesus, calling upon Him to “save himself” from His present predicament. They call Him the “Christ of God.” This term has come up in Luke previously (9.20) when Peter called Jesus this same thing. No doubt they were calling Him this in that Jesus, less than 24 hours previous, had stood trial and acknowledged as much before them (22.67, 70). “His Chosen One” is unique to Luke’s account of the crucifixion. It is a term that speaks of divine favor, something that the Son of God would no doubt have. The rulers draw even more attention to the fact of Jesus’ unheard of claims and his present plight on the cross.

But the jeering does not stop with the Jewish authorities. Even the Roman soldiers (v.36), the executioners themselves, join in the ridicule, mocking Jesus as He hangs on the cross. There is yet further fulfillment of prophecy from Psalm 69.21: “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” The soldiers, Luke tells us, did just this when they offered him “sour wine.” This was cheap wine, really vinegar wine heavily diluted with water and gall. Luke is the only gospel writer to mention that there was mocking that accompanied the offering of sour wine to Jesus. Their mocking is simple but sadistic: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” The “if” can also be translated “since.” Having the placard posted over Jesus on the cross (v.38) would point them to an understanding that this man has claimed to be someone great. Therefore, since He is a King, he should be able to save himself.

Verse 38 presents an interesting historical note. All four gospel accounts mention a placard with an inscription and while “the four reports of the inscription slightly differ verbally” there is no difference “substantially” (Pulpit Commentary). Some of the oldest manuscripts do not have part of v.38 (“in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew”) but that this was an historical fact is evident because John records (John 19.19) and no authorities dispute this. The message on the placard is the crime for which the condemned is dying. In Jesus’ case, He claimed to be “The King of the Jews.”

These are several of the prophecies we find fulfilled directly in the historical crucifixion of Jesus. Now Luke will shift focus to an incident duirng the crrucifixion which is cause for much misunderstand pertaining to salvific matters. What’s next is Luke’s account of the thief on the cross.