The (Un)Anticipated Coming Trial and Suffering

Luke 18:31-34

And then [at this time] taking the twelve he said to them:
“Behold we are [on our way] going up to Jerusalem, and everything prophesied in the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. For he will be handed over [by the very people to whom he has been sent for their deliverance] to the gentiles and he will be mocked [satirised] and insulted and spat upon, and having subjected him to [a violent and degrading] scourging, they will kill him and on the third day he will rise.”
None of them understood these things [as he had prophesied them] and this utterance was clouded in darkness [for them] and they had no idea what he was telling them.

It was obviously important for Luke, as it was for the writers of the other Gospels, to form accounts that emphasized that Jesus’ closest and hand-picked disciples were not anticipating the reception that awaited Jesus upon his arrival in Jerusalem. They were in the dark. They had no idea what he was telling them when, as he is reported to have done by all Gospels, he repeated this advice.

This was the third time, Luke says, he stated this (see 9:21-22 and 43-45. See also Matthew 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19, 21:42; Mark 8:31-9:1, 9:30-32, 10:32-34; John 3:14, 7:33, 8:21-30, 12:27-36).

So this part of Luke’s narrative, plus the accounts in the other Gospels present us with a question: what is being conveyed here? Specifically, why is Luke wanting Theophilus (and us) to know about this ignorance? Here is a narrative, “thick” with its subtle, challenging and edifying content, a story that has nurtured faith in believers for just on two millennia.

Luke is reporting to us on the retrospective awareness of the Apostles, implying that what they experienced post-Pentecost brought them to the conclusion that during Jesus’ ministry they simply did not understand what Jesus had come to do even as they found themselves enthralled and in the grip of their Master, their Teacher, their Rabbi.

They and the other disciples involved in these incidents looked back upon them as those who only understood what was being revealed to them later on. This might sound so obvious that it does not need to be emphasized. But Luke and the other writers all emphasize it.

All four Gospels bear witness to the confession of the leadership in the early church that though they were chosen by Jesus it was not until the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them, that they could “get it all together.” And so as we have been saying, again and again, Luke is developing the theme of how Jesus’ ministry developed the prophetic work of John’s baptism in the Jordan (Acts 1:5).

Their subsequent story-telling about the coming of the Son of Man depended upon them being imbued with what Luke tells us was the Holy Spirit’s baptism. Only then would they – some of them who had also been former disciples of the murdered cousin of Jesus – understand John’s ministry let alone that of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Theophilus would need further instruction about the Old Testament reference that is used here by John in his Gospel. It is noteworthy that Luke makes the thematic link via John’s contrast of the baptism of repentance and the coming baptism “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:15-17 and see this in connection with what Luke writes in Acts 1:5 and 2:1-4).

But here Luke tells us that Jesus was busy before his suffering teaching his disciples the meaning and purpose of the coming of the Son of Man. Here he is drawn telling his disciples the central teaching of God’s covenant, just as he would do after his resurrection, and as he began to do over a forty day period, on the road to Emmaus when he met up with the two dispirited disciples (24:25-27).

The story had to be told – all Gospels, and Luke’s in particular, bear witness to the amazing coming of Jesus the Messiah. He, the one designated by his Father as Prince of all Princes, is presented to us as a person beyond our grasp but one who deigns to allow himself to be included in our stories of our life, the life he also lived with us. And so Luke is also emphasizing just how personal this Messiah is in his relationship with those who heed his teaching, take up the cross and follow him. This Gospel is a “meta-parable” of the Good Shepherd going in search of the sheep that has strayed (15:3-7), a reassurance that repentance brings joy and dancing into the courts of heaven.

We have said that Luke’s portrayal of Jesus gives us every reason to reckon with him as a literary artist, as one embued by God’s Spirit with poetic talents.

And so this Gospel, inspired by Jesus, is Luke’s literary account bringing together reports of those who, even if they had little or no idea what Jesus was previously talking about, could recall and subsequently understand the purpose of his “going up to Jerusalem”.

As we pointed out at the outset of this attempt to “re-read” and “re-tell” the story, Luke’s aim is

to draw up a coherent exposition… [collecting together] an account of the events that have taken place and are believed among us, as these have been handed on to us by those who, from the outset, were eyewitnesses, becoming custodians of the word (from 1:1-4).

19th January 2017


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