Rejoicing in Prayer to God

After the customary introduction (verses 1-2), Paul begins to pour forth a description of his prayer life (1.3-11).

The Joy of Praise (1.3-6)

Paul explains how partnership in the gospel of grace produced thanksgiving in his prayers.

3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

I thank my God…of you: characteristic of all of Paul’s epistles (except Galatians, 1 Timothy, & Titus) Paul begins with thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is especially warm and earnest since no could of doubt darkened the apostle’s confidence in the Philippians. Paul could have remembered Philippi for the hostility faced there (beating and imprisonment); perhaps that is on his mind too. But in spite of that, he offers thanks (Gk eucharisto, gratitude for blessings and benefits) to God upon every memory of the Philippian church.

4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

Always in every prayer of mine for you all: prayer is literally “supplication” (Gk deesei) which carries the meaning of petition, entreaty, or request. Thus, every time Paul hits his knees to make petition to God he always remembers his Philippian brethren. Note the repetition of “all” with “you” throughout the letter; Paul is declaring his love for all of these brethren, refusing to recognize any divisions which may exist among these Christians.

Making my prayer with joy: Joy is a key word in this epistle. Suffice to say that making petition to God is a joy to Paul. It causes his heart to dance.

Note: Paul’s supplications are continual (present tense participle and “always”) and comprehensive (“for you all” embraces the whole fellowship).

5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Because of your partnership in the gospel: here is the reason for Paul constantly thanking and petitioning God—the fellowship (Gk koinonia, a sharing of common objects) of Philippian church in the gospel. Their faith in Christ (which would bring them into fellowship with God, Christ, the whole Christian church including Paul) manifested itself and was embodied in their generous contribution to the apostolic ministry of Paul. As the “real circumcision” (3.3) they knew the what counted was “faith working through love” (cf. Gal 5.6).

From the first day until now: cf. 4.15, “in the beginning of the gospel.” Since the establishment of the church in Philippi (when they first put their faith in Christ) they have been willing to contribute to Paul’s work. Faith prompted action right from the first.

6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And I am sure of this: perfect tense participle—Paul came to know and continues to know

That He who began a good work in you: God is “He who began” this “good work.” “Began” is an aorist tense verb (snapshot) pointing these Christians back to the very beginning of their Christian life: baptism. It is at baptism that God begins the good work of redemption.

Will bring it…Jesus Christ: In view here is the day of judgment, that final day. It is on that day when God finishes the good work of human redemption. This brings into view the scope of God’s good work: it is not individualistic but holistic. “Each brick in the wall only then attains its destination and goal, and fulfils its purpose, when the whole building has been completed and is dedicated” (Muller 42).

The Joy of Passion (1.7-8)

The Philippians’ partaking of the grace of God with Paul promoted powerful feelings in him.

7It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

It is right…in my heart: the confidence that Paul experiences (v.5) is founded upon good reason. “I hold (or have) you in my heart” is idiomatic of Paul’s affection for this church based on his “feeling” (or lit. concern) for these brethren.

For you are all partakers with me of grace: Lit. the Philippians (every last one of them) are “joint-fellowshipers” in God’s grace with Paul through their sympathy and support.

Both…of the gospel: whether in prison or proclamation, the Philippians were (seemingly) right there with Paul even though they were separated by time and space (“Pauline paradox”).

8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

For God is my witness:Let God take the witness stand and testify to this fact. Almost as though he can’t find words to express his affection for these brethren so he calls on He who knows the hearts of all men and is the righteous Judge to testify to how he feels.

How I yearn for you all: Paul has a love for all of these brethren (every last one).

With the affection of Christ Jesus: or the “tender-mercies” – lit. the inward parts. The viscera or inward ward parts were considered the seat of emotional life. “He is so united with Christ that he feels with the heart of Christ, he loves with the love of Christ” (Pulpit Commentary 3). “Paul was willing to suffer for them as Jesus had suffered for them” (Lipscomb 160).  He desperately desired to see Christ formed more fully in them—so he prays.

The Joy of Petition (1.9-11)

The following is prayer to the God of glory poured out of Paul for the Philippian’s love, knowledge, discernment, and righteousness so that they be more Christ-like.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

And this is my prayer: Gk. proseuchomai, the common word for prayer (speaking to God). The present tense indicates this was Paul’s habitual practice in prayer, his continual prayer.

That your love may abound more and more: Even as Paul’s love abounds. Love is objective—it is the overarching desire to see Christ in others. They presently have this; Paul wants that desire to overflow from these brethren all the more. Literally, Paul wants their love to Christ, His church, one another, and the lost to keep on overflowing, “a perpetual flood of love.”

With knowledge and all discernment: lit. in full knowledge (Gk. epignosis) and all (spiritual) perception, the latter of which can be cultivated (see Heb 5.14). The word used for “knowledge” is stronger than the usual word for knowledge (Gk gnosis) and denotes a deeper, more advanced knowledge of God and His ways which comes from Christ (cf. Col 2.3), Who fills us with it (cf. Col 1.9). “Discernment” has to do with (right) judgment and moral discrimination (NIV depth of insight) which will guard love. “The love of believers must accordingly be able to know rightly and to sense clearly and to distinguish correctly” (Muller 46). Why? Verse 10…

10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

So that you may approve what is excellent: involved in the idea of approval is to examine and test a thing to determine if it is good or worthwhile. Coupled with the notion of things which excel, Paul prays that the deep knowledge and spiritual perception involved in love will enable these Christians to distinguish between good and evil, but even more what is good, better, and best.

And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ: Present tense, continue to be pure and blameless. Pure (NKJV sincere) is literally “unmixed, unsullied” and is a rare word in the NT (only other usage is 2 Pt 3.1). Originally it meant to test something by the light of day—held up to the light the object would be seen to be pure, unstained, or clear. When held up to the light of the Son Christians ought to be unmixed and unsullied by the world having pursued that which is excellent. Adam Clark best explains blameless when he writes, “Neither offending God nor your neighbour (sic); neither being stumbled yourselves, nor the cause of stumbling to others.” The day of Christ is that Great Day when all shall be judged at the final coming of Christ.

11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Filled with…through Jesus Christ: “Filled” is a perfect passive participle—passive for it is God who fills and perfect tense means they were filled (past completed action) and continue to be full (present continuing results). These Christians were made full and stand full of the fruit of righteousness. “The fruit of righteousness is sanctification, which springs from justification, and manifests itself in holy living” (Caffin 4). Simultaneously in view is 1) that right standing before God attained for us through Christ and 2) the evidence of such relationship through morally upright living (a life empowered by Christ, see John 15.4-5).

To the glory and praise of God: everything that Paul prays for these Christians is aimed at this sole and solemn purpose: God’s glory and praise. Compare Jesus’ desire (John 15.8). God is honored and praised when Christians by His grace seek to live like Christ.

The Crucifixion, pt.1

Recently, a televangelist told his audience of thousands (possibly millions across the country and around the world) that Jesus never told His disciples he was going to die on a cross, i.e. by crucifixion. What a monstrous display of biblical illiteracy! And this from a guy who has his own television broadcast seen world wide!! This particular pastor (Fred Price Jr., son of Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, pastors of the Crenshaw Christian Center) even had the audacity to claim he had researched this and would not say this if he had not researched it. My advise to this ignorant pastor: read your Bible.

For if you read your Bible, even just a cursory reading of the gospel accounts will tell you otherwise. On multiple occasions Jesus has pointed His disciples to even to the mode of death, crucifixion (See Matt 16.21, 24; 20.19; Luke 9.22-23; 24.6-7; cf. Mark 8.31, 34; 9.31; 10.33-34; Luke 18.32-33, et al). Further, even if Jesus was silent about the specifics of His death, God was not silent and prophecied centuries before crucifixion was invented in the mind of man as a torturous mode of death and nearly a millenium before Jesus ever walked the earth that Messiah would die by crucifixion (see Psalm 22.16). Again, to all the televangelists: read your Bible.

No, Jesus has been predicting exactly what will happen to Him in Jerusalem by the Jewish and Roman authorities: He would be crucified. Luke records this dreadful deed in 23.26-43. First, in verses 26-31, we run into several people on the way to the crucifixion site.

The Man

We meet a man named Simon of Cyrene, a town in North Africa. This man is a long way from home, no doubt one of the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast. There is precious little we know about this man and what happened to him once he finished carrying the cross to the site. Mark tells us he was father to two sons, “Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15.21). Most scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel, aided by the apostle Peter (an eyewitness) and the Holy Spirit, to or for the church in Rome. Hence, Mark includes this specific detail about Simon of Cyrene being the father of Alexander and Rufus as if to say, “If you have any questions, just ask these men who’s dad was there and actually carried the cross.” It is interesting that in Romans 16.13 Paul greets a man in the Roman church named Rufus and his mother. Is this the same Rufus? It is possible, but any attempts to draw a hard line connecting them is purely speculation. Nevertheless, if nothing else, it would seem that Simon’s sons went on to be leaders in the early church. Were they influenced by their father, himself impacted by what he experienced when he carried the cross of a condemned man named Jesus?

Simon was coming in from the country. It seems that Jerusalem, crowded with Jews from all over the Empire, yet again has no room in the inn for anyone, Simon of Cyrene included. Hence, he forced to lodge outside the city in a nearby village and “commutes” as it were to Jerusalem for the Feast. Perhaps on this occasion he was on his way to the Temple or to the Cyrenian synagogue, which Jerusalem had. Cyrene was an important city with a large number of Jewish residents. So when they had to come from Cyrene to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they had a place to gather.

Simon is “seized” by the Romans and “compelled” to carry the cross of Christ. Jesus has been weakened by the last 24 hours and perhaps especially the scourging He has endured has taken its toll. So the soldiers lay hold of Simon had force him to go “the extra mile” as it were. The cross is laid on him and he follows Jesus as Jesus walks. Scholars reading from historians of antiquity say that the condemned often had a white sign hung about their necks which read their charges and what they had been condemned of. Perhaps Jesus has a similar sign and this is what is affixed later to the cross.

The Maidens

Luke is careful to note that this whole episode was not done in secret where no one could see; in fact, when Jesus is before Pilate there are substantial crowds of people (23.4, 13) present. Here again we see there is “a great multitue of the people” who are following along this deadly processional to Golgotha. But Luke, as he has done throughout this gospel account (1.39-52; 2.36-38; 7.11-15, 37-50; 8.1-3; 10.38-42; 11.27; 13.11-16), highlights some women who are walking along with Jesus. These women are crying out, wailing loudly, beating their breasts or smiting themselves as they go. Perhaps He sees the faces of some of the women He has known during His ministry: Mary and Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. Did He see His mother’s face in the crowd? She was present at the cross (John 19.25-27).

Nevertheless, Jesus sees these women and turns to them, a dramatic gesture in the midst of chaos, and imparts some teaching about what is to come. First, He says stop weeping for Him. What? But Jesus is one His way to death. True, but Jesus knows something even worse is yet to come. Stop weeping for Jesus. Second, start weeping for yourselves and your children. When I was little if I cried over something I wanted but did not get, my dad would tell me to “dry it up or I will give you something to cry about!” Jesus does something similar; He tells them exactly what to cry about. Third, He explains why: There are some bad, terrible, horrible things come down Jerusalem’s way. In fact, it will be a blessing to have been barren and not had children when this time comes. People will be calling for mountains and hills to fall and cover them from the terror and horror of what is coming. “They” in v.29-30 seems to be the people who have called for the death of Jesus – the religious leaders and other various people of Jerusalem, the crowds. And all the judgment coming upon them would spill over onto all of Jerusalem. Hence, these “Daughters of Jerusalem” who belong to Jerusalem proper do have something to weep, lament, and beat their breasts over: the coming destruction of Jerusalem, heaven’s exclamation point on the grand scheme of redemption.

Finally, there is this cryptic word from Jesus in v.31: “For if they do these when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What’s this all about? It seems to be a common proverb used as an explanation of what Jesus has just said. Various interpretations abound. Leon Morris in his commentary on Luke offers several which all seem plausible. Morris writes: “If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will the fate of the guilty Jews? If the Romans treat thus One whom they admit to be innocent, what will they do to the guilty? If the Jews treat like this Jesus who had come to bring salvation, what will be their punishment for destroying him? If the Jews behave like this before their wickedness reaches its consummation, what will they be like when it does? If grief is aroursed by the present events, what will it be when the subsequent disaster strikes?” Farrar adds: “If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false.” Inasmuch as Jesus addressed these Jewish women and it was the Jewish who so vehemently sought his death, this proverb from Jesus seems targeted for the Jews. The “wood” when he spoke this proverb is “green,” that is hard to burn. But its drying. Even as Jesus marches to Golgotha, the wood is drying. And when it is dry, what will happen? We, looking back into history, know exactly what happen when Jerusalem’s time in AD 70.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.4

As we approach Luke 21.29-38, we see the final words of Jesus concerning His coming in judgment on Jerusalem. As we have seen in part 1, part 2, and part 3, Jesus is warning his disciples about the impending doom yet to come upon the Jews for their continued rebellion toward God. He concludes His warning with a parable, a favorite tool for teaching of Jesus.

A Fig Tree

The fig tree is a plant indigenous to Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean region. Its blooms appear before the leaves do in the spring. Jesus uses this example from the creation in order to drive his point home: Just as certain as summer follows spring, the season when the fig tree puts forth its leaves, so also you may be certain that “when you see these things taking place” (all the things in v.10-28) you can know the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish world is right at the door. Jesus, in v.31, says the kingdom of God is near. That is, the rule and reign of God, His sovereignty over nations and peoples to bring them up and tear them down. What you see in the destruction of Jerusalem is an exercise of God’s sovereignty in human history.

Jesus reiterates His point in case anyone missed it: this thing is going to happen soon; so soon that the present generation (those people alive in the first century, some of them standing in front of Him) would not die until it had taken place (v.32). Hence, those expositors and commentators who try to shove this passage (and it’s parallel passages) into the future do so erroneously. Jesus is not talking about something millenia in the future; this is something right at the door for the first century disciples. If this has not yet been fulfilled, either Jesus lied (since that generation passed away without this prophecy fulfilled) or we should still have 2000 year old people walking around still waiting for the fulfillment. Neither of these is a reality nor possible – hence, Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled just as he described in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Indeed, Jesus makes this very point in v.33 when in essence he says “No word of mine will ever pass away unfulfilled.”  

A Final Tip

Jesus wraps up this discourse with a final warning and exhortation to His disciples. “Watch yourselves” (v.34) and “stay awake” (v.36). First, watch yourselves, especially in regards to their hearts. Something big and bad is coming down the pike…and now is not the time to mess with their Christian walk. Jesus mentions some very specific activities to avoid. “Dissipation” which has to do with drinking (alcohol) and the unrestraint behavior that usually accompanies that activity. How many people know the results and consequences of excessive alcohol consumption? Judgment and morality fly out the window and that is what Jesus is addressing. Avoid this. Next, “drunkeness” which is alcoholic intoxication. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing with abstinence from alcohol. And finally, the “cares of this life” are those things which divide our alligence to Christ and God. They pull us from being worshippers to being worriers. Jesus’ word to His disciples is guard yourself from these things. If you do not, “that day” (the day of destruction reserved for Jerusalem) will come upon them “suddenly like a trap.” I believe the imagry is self-evident.

Jesus further explains why they should watch themselves in verse 35. Many will use this verse in order to shove this whole context into the future. Indeed, it can present some difficulty. “For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Well, this would pretty well point to the scope of this judgment being universal, right? Not necessarily when you consider that the world for “earth” can (and in this context should) be translated “land.” Hence, all those who dwell in the land of Judea will suffer this judgment of God. Young’s Literal Translation provides this translation and Adam Clarke in his commentary makes mention of this point.

The next warning is stay awake at all times. In other words, keep yours eyes open and be on watch. What should a watchful disciple be doing in anticipation of this coming day? Pray. For what? Strength to escape all the horrible, terrible things that are coming which Jesus has just predicted. Indeed, it will get very bad. But also, pray that they would be able to stand before the Son of Man. The coming judgment is upon wicked Jerusalem. They will not be able to stand in judgment. But the disciple ought to be able to stand blameless at the coming of the Son of Man. They would then be free from the coming calamity.

One day He’s coming back. We often talk about the “second coming of Christ;” perhaps it is better called the “final coming of Christ.” One day he come back for the final time for final judgment. Ought we to listen to the words of the Master? He predicted physically judgment to be poured out in human history and told His disciples how they can prepare themselves for that day. Much more should we prepare for the Day when Christ will proclaim spiritual judgment upon all men and women. Ought also to stay awake and watch ourselves lest we fall into dissipation, drunkeness, and/or the cares of life? Our alligence must be wholeheartedly to the Son of Man if we would stand in final judgment.

The Faithful Teacher

Luke gives us a glimpse into the life of Jesus in v.37-38. Every day Jesus is teaching in the temple. We have seen Him sere before (see Luke 19.47). No doubt His message is still the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4.17).  He is still teaching during the day, but at night He’s sleeping on the mountains, the Mount of Olives. Mountains appear to be a special place for Jesus. They seemed to be His place of prayer and renewal (see Luke 6.12; 9.28). What’s Jesus every night before he turns in? Probably praying. His time is drawing ever closer and he needs the strength to carry out the mission. We’ve just seen Him warn His disciples to pray for strength; certainly the teacher is modelling for his students what this looks like. But you know where to find Jesus the next morning. Early in the morning He’s back at it, in the temple teaching all the people who came to hear Him.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.3

I continue to marvel at the fantastic intrpretations men have come up with concerning this passage. Albeit, I can understand their efforts; this is a text which is somewhat confusing since it is prophetic and therefore Jesus borrows from the language of the prophets of the Old Testament to convey this prophecy. But if we understand that concept, that this is highly symbolic prophetic language even in the vein of the prophets of old, and keep that ever before us, it will help in understanding this passage.

We now hit the meat of this text where Jesus specifically mentions the fearful fate of Jerusalem. It will be a very ugly end, an horrific sight which is recorded for us in history. Nevertheless, Jesus explains why it must be so: “these are days of vengence” (v.22) brought about by the “God of vengence” (Psalm 94.1). Israel, the Jews are filling to the brim the cup of God’s wrath (see Isa 51.17; Rev 16.19) and the execution of God’s Son will fill it yet fuller. Finally, in AD 70 (just decades away from when Jesus speaks this), God’s wrath will spill over into the land and God will punish them using the Romans (in this context, the “nations” or “Gentiles” of v.24).

The Approaching Disaster

Jesus begins to enumerate the signs that would signal to his disciples that the end of the Jewish age is right at the door. First, Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. These are the armies of Roman led by Titus. They would encircle Jerusalem and lay seige to it beginning in AD 68. It would take two years, but eventually Jerusalem will fall. Hence, that seems to be why Jesus is very specific: you see the armies of Rome and that means “desolation has come near.” It is not yet fully upon them until the end of the seige.

Jesus’ disciples are warned, then, that Jerusalem is going to be desolated, laid to waste by foreign armies. What should they do? Jesus gives guidance to them in v.21-23. If the are in Judea, run to the hills, the mountains. If they’re in the city, flee the city. And if they’re outside the city, stay out. Again, these are warnings to the disciples of Jesus and warnings for the early church. Would they listen? Indeed, not a single Christian lost their life during the Roman sack of Jerusalem. Eusebius, an early church historian, records that Christians fled to the city of Pella south of Galilee. Here is validation of the words of Jesus.

All this is happening because it is the will of God. Jesus says as much in v.22: God is pouring out his vengeance on His people for their continued unfaithfulness to Him. Where and whom has predicted this particular destruction of Jerusalem? Of course, all prophecy goes back to the mind of God, but these were uttered by Daniel in Daniel 9.26-27. I believe it is safe to make this conclusion (that Daniel is speaking of this event) because Matthew borrows the very language of that passage when in Matthew 24 he details the coming event (Matthew 24 is a parallel passage of Luke 21). Also, Barnes in his commentary cites Zechariah 14.1-2 as speaking to this time. Again, all this to say that this was according to the will of God as he serves His unfaithful people what they deserve for their evil deeds.

We catch a glimpse of the heart of Jesus as He laments for the pregnant woman and the nursing infants during this time. I wonder if he knew…I wonder if he knew just how bad it was going to get. Josephus records for us just severe the famine was going to be during this seige. In War of the Jews he details how people, young and old, father and mother, child were all scrambling for the last bits of food. Mothers snatched from the lips of their children even the tiniest morsels. Old men were beaten if they clung to any food (War 5.10.3). Josephus also records a horrific tale of a mother named Mary, a prominent woman who was daily taken advantage of by the soldiers in Jerusalem; any food she had they came and stole. One day, she had had enough and took her child, killed it, roasted it and ate half before the soldiers came. They smelled the stench and came in, hungry for anything. She uncovered the rest of her meal and these soldiers, in shock and sickness, left this woman alone (War 6.3.4). Again, I wonder if Jesus knew…

This was going to be a horror like never before. News of this would be all over the earth causing distress as God poured forth His fierce anger on “this people.” Verse 24, in the briefest of statements, sums up the carnage: many would be killed, many taken captive to “all nations,” and Jerusalem would no longer be the Jews possession. Josephus tallies the final number of the slaughtered at around 1.1 million people and another 97,000 taken captive. The nations would walk on or over. In other words, Jerusalem, the holy city, would be made common. But isn’t that the message to the Jews – God is telling them in this act, “I don’t live here anymore.” Indeed, in the church age God makes his dwelling with men (cf. Rev 21.3). Its a massive message to Jewish Christians and to Jews that this city, this temple is no longer the sole place of the presence of God. Isn’t that how this conversation got started? The disciples pointed out the temple’s beauty and Jesus uses that say, “There’s coming a time when this will no longer be important, in fact God is going to hand it over to the nations so they can walk all over it to try to get that point across.”

Scholars want to spend so much time on the last part of v.24: “until the time of the Gentiles (or nations) are fulfilled” (ESV). They say that points to 1900 years in the future when the Jews become a nation again and when Jerusalem is theirs again. Ugh. Actually, it seems like Jesus is pointing to the fact that even though the nations (Romans) would walk all over Jerusalem, eventually their time will run out too. They have a purpose to accomplish, a very dubious purpose, but once it is fulfilled, God will punish them, too. History bears this out: Rome loses steam and eventually collapses (it limps along until the 1400s in the East but it is effectively over by the 400s) and the Muslims take over Jerusalem…then back and forth with the Crusades…then the Turks…then the British…my point is that scholars prove too much with their explanations.

The next sign is in v.25 which presents a unique difficulty. Some want to take the first part of this verse and say its literal but the second part of the verse is figurative (of the Romans). Others shove it into the future as yet to happen (that comes from the faulty interpretation of v.24 mentioned above.) However, v.24 runs right into v.25 and seems to be Jesus borrowing from the language of the prophets to communicate a sobering message to his followers. I think verses 25-27 are highly figurative (prophetic) language used by Jesus to say, “Something terrible is about to happen.” In Matthew 24.29, more detail is given about the moon and sun will not give their light and stars will fall out the sky. This is the language of the prophets (see Joel 2.10, 31; 3.15 – these passages are said to be fulfilled in Acts 2.16ff. Peter, an inspired apostle, says that what Joel prophecied was taking place in what he and the rest of the twelve were doing).

The whole earth will be in turmoil because of the sea and roaring waves. The sea in propehcy usually refers to nations, so in this case it would seem the Romans are causing the people of earth (the Jewish world?) to be in a state of total calamity and worry. Fear and foreboding enter the hearts of the Jewish people because of what is happening to the Jewish world. Truly, what must have the Jewish heart thought of all this! All three gospels record about the shaking of the heavens. In other words, this is going to rock the world of the Jew. There will be nothing solid, nothing firm for them to grab hold of. All this to mark the coming of the Son of Man. This is a term found in the Old Testament in Daniel 7.13-14 who is given the same attributes and authority as the Ancient of Days. Folks, this is Jesus, the glorified Christ who has taken his position with the Father on the throne, coming in judgment on the Jews. He had power, indeed, the same power as Jehovah God. He has great glory, indeed, the glory he suspended so he could dwell among us. And he is coming on the clouds. In prophecy, clouds are the war wagons of God (see Deut 33.26; Psa 104.3; Isa 19.1, and cf. Psa 18.7-12; 97.2). When we think of clouds, we think nice little puffs of water vapor; but when used in prophecy and poetry concerning the judgment of God, they are a terrible sight. Think dark clouds, black clouds, ready to burst with rain. Here is Jehovah God and the Son of Man when they come in judgment on men. It is a powerful sight and a glorious sight.

The Appearing Deliverer

Jesus tells his disciples that when they see all this (these signs signalling the coming of the Son of Man in judgment upon Jerusalem), stand tall.  Straighten up and raise your heads. What’s implied is that they were bowed down, both body and head. And certainly with the sorrow and turmoil, heartache and heartbreak they would be down cast. But Jesus says there will be a time to rejoice as the deliverer, the redeemer has come. They can now look up “because your redemption is drawing near.” What does that mean?

First, redemption is a buying back. It carries the meaning of rescue by ransom; that is, a price is paid and a slave is set free. So it is deliverance (of some kind) that is drawing near. Second, redemption from what? Most want to shove this into the future and say it is the second coming of Jesus – that will be the full realization of redemption. I believe this is contextually dishonest. Jesus has been talking about a very specfic event (the coming destruction of Jerusalem) to a very specific audience (his disciples, the Twelve). To rip this statement from its given context and somehow apply it to a yet future event is an injustice to the text. No, Jesus says, “your redemption is drawing near” speaking specifically to those Twelve disciples standing before Him. Jesus is specfically talking about the deliverance of the Twelve (indeed, those who would also believe based on them, i.e. the Church) from the bitter and constant hostility of the Jews. Previous to AD 70, Christianity’s spread is somewhat slow, hindered by the constant persecution from the Jews. But following AD 70, Christianity faces next to no resistance from the Jewish crowd and growth is far more rapid. Therefore, Jesus’ words to his disciples are words to bolster their faith as well. Although the end is coming for the Jewish order, the deliverance of the Christian order is ready to be right at the door.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.1

There is so much talk right now about the end of the world. Have you noticed? Have you noticed the Discovery Channel and History Channel running specials on 2012 and the Mayan calendar and the apocalypse? Have you noticed doing their best to play off this interest for profit with the blockbuster “2012” and before that “Knowing”? Even the SyFy channel got in on this with a special about 2012 and the Mayan calendar. It seems like it is everywhere. 

With all the hype and hoopla surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar, it is good to see what Jesus about His coming. Notice, I did not say second coming. We need to understand that God (and Christ according to this passage [Luke 21.25-27] and Matthew 24) has come in the past. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). It should not surprise us that what Jesus is talking about in Luke 21.5-36 is all about his coming in judgment on the Jews and espcially Jerusalem (see v.20). The question we need to concern ourselves with is not “What will we do” but “How should we prepare” for when God/Christ come in judgment (be it in history on a particular nation or in the final judgment).

The Background

In paralell accounts (Matthew 24, Mark 13), Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple. No doubt this is the same setting for Luke. According to historians, this temple, which Herod had built, was made of exceedingly white stones. In fact, Josephus said it resembled a mountain covered with snow. So brilliant was this display, that should the sun reflect off of it at just the right angle, the onlooker would have to turn away for its brilliance. There were costly gifts and the spoils of war in it. It was a very rich setting.

The disciples are all alive with conversation about this beautiful building and its “noble stones and offerings” and how it was adorned. In Mark, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful things!” (Mark 13.1) They are impressed. Jesus is not and let’s them know as much in his answer (v.6).

The Bombshell

Jesus explains that there is coming a day when not one stone will be left upon another, indeed all the stones, and therefore the building itself, will be thrown down. Can you imagine the shock on these disciples? Jews, all of them. And here is Jesus (a Jew himself) saying the center for Jewish religion and worship would be utter destroyed. It was all they had known and, in their thinking, the only system they would ever know. It was, not in the least, their whole world. Yet here is Jesus saying all that is going to pass away. Their shocked disbelief prompts a question: When? So human, their reply. When will our world end? We want a time frame. Perhaps that is why the Mayan calendar is so intrigue to some; it gives a time frame for “the end”  corresponding to our year 2012. What signs will there be so that we can see and know the time is near? All of these typical questions humans ask. We want a time frame and indeed we need a time frame so that we can schedule our lives around it or (more like) it around our lives.

The Behest

Jesus has a personal charge for his band of believers, a warning about what’s on the horizon for them. Here is a key to understanding this entire passage: Jesus was not talking to you, he was talking to “you.” In this context, “you” are his twelve disciples (sustained by the use of the plural throughout), not you (singular) two thousand years later. It is his twelve who will see many come in His name, who hear of wars, who will be persecuted (v.12) and bearing witness (v.13). It is the twleve who will be hated (v.14) and who will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies (v.20). This was spoken in a very specific context to a specific group of men about a specific coming event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans.

To his twelve he warns that many will come, even in Jesus’ name, and claim to be him or will be setting dates for “the time.” Jesus warns his disciples “do not go after them.” Many people concerned about the coming end will be afraid and that is a perfect opportunity for racketeers to come in and take advantage (like Hollywood). In the disciples time, they would come and play on people’s fears and lead them astray. That is the first admonition: be on guard for false Christs or anti-Christs. Second, do not be afraid. In other words, fear not. Wars and tumult may come but it must be so. These happen first. But “the end” is different. This can be understood as stuff must happen first, then comes the end. This should not be interpretted to mean that His coming is postponed 2000 years. It simply means that some things “must take place first” and then “the end” will come. But the disciple need not fear. Why? God is in control.

That’s why these date setters and propaganda artists ought to be ashamed of themselves. Whether Hollywood or the History Channel or Family Radio in Oakland, CA (which says the end of the world is not 2012, but actually Oct 21, 2011), to you, devoted reader, I say what Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not go after them.” Don’t you believe it/them for a moment! Jesus does not give a precise time for when Jerusalem would be destroyed and God has not given a precise time for when this world will end. The message has aways been “You don’t know and won’t know the exact time, but you can be ready and should prepare yourself spiritually for it.”

Ready or Not…

Remember the game Hide-and-Seek? One person would be “it” and all the others playing would go and hide. The person who was “it” would count while the others went and hid. And when they reached the end of their counting (be it to 10 or 100 or whatever), they would yell out for all those who were hiding to hear: “Ready or not, here I come.” That was all the warning those hiding got if they had not found their place to hide that they had precious few seconds to find a place of cover.

In Luke 12.35-48, Jesus is telling his disciples of a more serious thing to be ready for. It is no game. And if you are not ready for it, the consequences will be dreadful. We do need to keep this context, though. Jesus has just finished speaking to his disciples about worry (v.22ff). He tells them stop worrying about their life, but rather get ready for the afterlife by storing up treasure in heaven. He is trying to get his disciples to become less earth-focused and more heaven-focused. The necessity of having our hearts on heaven is revealed in this parabolic teaching of Jesus.

The Information of the Parable

The teaching of this parable is found in v.40: “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” This is the big idea Jesus is driving home for his disciples. In a general way, this applies to the second coming; however, this text seems to pointing toward an event on the horizon, very near to the time of Jesus’ teaching. The parable is still impacting for application then and now.

Jesus prefaces this parable with a command to “stay dressed for action” (lit. gird up your loins). This is to say prepare yourselves. No matter what other men (even disciples) may be doing, you (emphatic) be ready. Keep your lamps burning spills over into the parable about being awake and watchful. It would be unwise, if one was trying to stay awake and alert, to leave the lights off. It would be too great a temptation to close the eyes and fall asleep. So keep those lamps burning, stay awake, be alert and ready for action. That way, when the master comes his servants can open the door straightway for him.

Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who are awake and alert, ready for the master in v.37. The role will be reversed then for the master will take the place of a servant and serve the servants. Why does he do this? He is pleased, overjoyed to find his servants ready and waiting for him. Indeed, this is the position Jesus took when he came the first time. He was a servant to all (Luke 22.27). He came as one who serves. The brilliant portrait of this services is seen in John 13 when he washes the feet of those reclined at the table. This is the reward of our Lord: he blesses us wth the unexpected.

The servant who is waiting for his master is blessed. Even if he comes in the middle of the night (second or third watch), the servant has waited anxiously for the master. There is then a slight change in the picture painted by the Lord with a house master who would not allow the thief access to his house if he knew what time he would show up to do his dastardly deed. The call is clear: be ready.

The Application of the Parable

Peter’s got a question. He has heard this parable from the Lord and wants to know who it is for: “us” (the disciples) or “all” (disciples and everyone else). Why this question from Peter? Perhaps he is truly eager to know and he asks with all sincerity (I lean toward this). Maybe he wants to know if he (and his comrades) are privy to some secret information no one else knows about which would serve as some kind of ego boost. Well, our Lord fields the question by asking how own question.

Jesus’ questions almost seems as if he is overlooking the question of Peter, as though he is ignoring the question of Peter. And perhaps he is if Peter is asking with motives to boost his ego or to have Jesus detail the privileges of the apostolic college. But Jesus does answer Peter’s question when he asks about the “faithful and wise servant.” I think Jesus is saying that anyone can be a faithful and wise servant. If a servant is being a good steward of the goods his master has put him in charge of, if he is distributing the “food” the master has given him to portion out, that servant is blessed (v.43). There follows a reward of more responsibilities for the faithful and wise servant: he is put over all the master’s possessions.

Flip coin over, though, and we find a dark picture of a faithless and foolish servant who acts in a manner that does not anticipate the coming of his master. He begins to beat the servants, eat and drink and even get drunk. How dreadful for him when the master comes! Jesus says the master will cut him to pieces and toss him in with the unfaithful. What then? Jesus is absolutely clear in v.47: any disciple who knows the will of the master and does not do it or act faithfully according to that will has a “severe beating” waiting for him. It is not simply for wrongdoing that a person recieves punishment; it is for failing to do that which is right as well. James says it this way: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4.17). Disciple take warning.

In the same vein, ignorance of the will of the Lord is not an excuse either. One commentator says “there is no such as absolute moral ignorance (Rom 1.20; 2.14, 15).” There is still a “light beating” for the one who does not know the will of the master. In a generic sense this true of all mankind: One is still held accountable to God for the things they knew and did not know and failed to do. But also the disciple who does not seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus is responsible for the things they failed to learn. Hence, the final warning for the Lord: more is demanded from the one entrusted with much. A disciple is a steward of the Lord entrusted with his Word, with certain gifts, with the growth of the kingdom, etc. Hence, we need to be people devoted to doing our best to fulfill the will of our master in each of these (and other) areas of our life.