NTiR: Luke gives a different tale of Christ’s death (Luke 19-24)

By | May 10, 2010

Thank you for coming back to read more of this series, The New Testament in Review (NTiR).

Jesus’s death is creeping nearer and nearer, but a funny thing happens on our way there: Luke’s story starts to deviate from Matthew and Mark’s. Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. But the overall effect highlights the fact that the Gospels are written by different authors, and those authors have different views, different philosophies, and different agendas in their recounting of Jesus’s last days.

Chapter 19
Luke emphasizes the importance of Christ going to Jerusalem. I don’t remember this from either of the other two gospels… perhaps Mark mentioned it, too? But I digress. Jesus rides on a borrowed colt as he makes his way down the road to the holy city. A crowd of his disciples (all 82 of them) follow, singing praises to god and to Jesus. They made enough of a ruckus that the Pharisees demanded silence!

Jesus gets to the walls of Jerusalem, and then bemoaned the fate to come for the city. I know that I didn’t read this lament in either Matthew or Mark. Jesus cries “For the days will come when your enemies will build walls around you, surround you, and close you in on every side. [..] because you didn’t recognize the time when God came to help you.” (v. 43)

Chapter 20
Luke depicts Jesus telling the parable about the vineyard owner and the tenant farmers who killed the owner’s servants (prophets) and finally the owner’s son (Jesus), and the terrible vengeance that was in store for those who perpetrated such crimes (the Pharisees). In Matthew and Mark, the Pharisees are irked by this. In Luke, they are seriously pissed off. to the point that they wanted to attack Jesus then and there. The only thing that kept them from doing so were the crowds of Jesus’s followers around the temple.

There is another slight variation in theme between M&M and Luke here. The Pharisees ask which of a number of deceased husbands a wife will be with in heaven. In Matt and Mark, Jesus answered that there is no such thing as marriage in the afterlife, so after they are dead, there’s no need to worry about such things. Jesus’s answer suggests the answer is for the living: “but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” It’s a small difference, but gives a very different outlook. Jesus could very well be saying that those who deserve to be resurrected will not marry while they are alive. Question: Is this where the Catholic Church gets the idea for unmarried priests?

Holy crap, Jesus then decides to get medieval on the Pharisees asses, as he freely and publicly disparages them, “They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers to cover it up. They will receive greater condemnation!”

Chapter 21
Jesus has had his run-in with the Pharisees, which means he is now in a bitter mood. His next recorded teachings make this crystal-clear. Jesus warns about the coming apocalypse, just like in Matthew and Mark. But then Luke imparts another side of the story, as Jesus cautions his followers of persecutions to come. If the persecution does come, Christians are in for some really bad times: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated continuously by everyone because of my name.” Eeek!

(Note: For you Christians who think that this is already happening, please do some research on victim mentality.)

Chapter 22
This is another recounting of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. Luke provides a big departure from M&M, though, and this leads to an interesting retelling. First off, Judas doesn’t betray Jesus on his own, instead Satan “went into Judas.” Judas was still a weak-willed fool, but in Luke’s telling, it was the hand of Satan that directed Judas. I find that very interesting.

During the Passover meal, Satan is once again mentioned, this time by Jesus. “Satan has asked permission to sift all of you like wheat.” Jesus is very concerned that this could happen, so he continues to pray for the continued faith of his disciples, and charges Peter with keeping his brothers strong. I had absolutely no idea that Jesus made this charge. A lot of the following books in the New Testament now make a lot more sense.

After the Passover meal, Jesus follows his habit of going to Mount Olive in prayer. Luke states that an angel appears to Christ and gives Jesus strength to get through the coming ordeal. Which is a pretty cool image, and a very tender thought; even Jesus needed comfort from God.

M&M distinctly stated that Judas betrayed Jesus by kissing him. Luke sees things differently, as Jesus stops Judas, and then asks Judas “are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Judas stops, but the mob knows they have the right man, and they move to capture Jesus. The disciples try to fight, but Jesus holds them back. Jesus asks the Pharisees why they are stooping to come for him at night, when they didn’t dare lay a hand on him during the day when they were all in the temple. If there was an answer, it is lost to history.

There’s another major departure here. In both Matt and Mark, it is the Romans who torture and mock Jesus after Pilate sentences Jesus to death. In Luke, the Pharisees and scribes do this. It is also the Pharisees who try Jesus and pronounce him guilty.

Chapter 23
Luke continues to bring more context and depth to his Gospel. He also brings more discrepancies and inconsistencies to light. Luke’s Gospel is a very different book than Matthew and Mark’s. These last few chapters really highlight that.

Jesus is finally brought before Pilate, who almost immediately declares Jesus innocent of all charges (“I do not find anything blameworthy in this man.”) The mob doesn’t care what Pilate thinks, so Pilate does best thing he can think of: he passes the whole issue off to Herod. As one may recall from earlier in this gospel, Herod rules over Galilee, Herod had John the Baptist beheaded to please Herod’s own wife. Herod also wanted to meet Jesus for a long time; Herod even had his messengers go to Jesus. As can be imagined, Herod jumped at the chance to spend some time with Jesus.

So Herod gets his time with Jesus, but it isn’t what he expected. Jesus refuses to speak; Jesus won’t answer any of Herod’s questions. Worse, Jesus will not perform any miracles, which is the real reason Herod wanted to meet Jesus in the first place. Herod and the Galilean Pharisees mock Jesus, but Herod then dresses Jesus in “a magnificent robe” and gives him back to Pilate.

This left Pilate with a conundrum: he had an innocent man but a mob that seemed ready to revolt. Pilate tried reason: “What has he done wrong? I have found nothing in him worthy of death. So I will punish him and let him go.” Pilate was willing to punish an innocent man, hoping that the Pharisees and their mob would be happy with this. But mobs are not logical, and they tend not to be all that respectful of the law. The Pharisee-inspired mob practically started a riot, threatening to break in and lynch Jesus. So Pilate took the coward’s way out: he released Jesus to the mob and washed his hands of the whole thing.

We know how the mob handled Jesus’s release. According to Luke, Simon is forced to carry the cross by himself. Or at least that’s the way that I read Luke 23:26 (“they put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.”) I have to stop here and look through a few different translations of the Bible to see if I am imagining things. Because what Luke has does not jibe with the crucifixion story I know. I use five different translations of the Bible for these articles. This is how the five translated this verse:

  • [ISV]As they led him away, they took hold of Simon, a man from Cyrene, as he was coming in from the country, and they put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
  • [ASV]And when they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to bear it after Jesus.
  • [KJV]And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
  • [NETtext]As they led him away, they seized Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country. They placed the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.
  • [WEB]When they led him away, they grabbed one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it after Jesus.

To me, that doesn’t sound like Simon was helping, but that he was being forced to carry the cross, all by himself.

Back to the story, where Jesus is being led to Golgotha. Jesus encountered a group of women who were “wailing for him.” Jesus told the women not to cry for him (Argentina!), but for themselves and their children. He also meets the two other men who are also to be crucified. Matthew and Mark pretty much ignore them, but Luke shows more of the men. Criminal A (neither are actually named) mocks Jesus, telling him to save them all. Criminal B, however, shows a spirit of honor. He chastises Criminal A, saying both deserve their fate, but Jesus has done nothing wrong. He then turns to Jesus and asks not for salvation, but just that Jesus remember him when Jesus enters his kingdom. This is, again, Luke at his finest.

Jesus lasts for three hours on the cross, then finally succumbs, dying at 3:00 in the afternoon. The Roman centurion who had been supervising the crucifixion was moved, and declared that Jesus was truly righteous. Those in the crowd who saw this interaction also realized that crucifying Christ was wrong, and turned their backs on the whole thing.

Jesus’s loved ones do not abandon him, of course.

Chapter 24
After Passover and the sabbath are over, “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other” women make their way to Jesus’s tomb to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. When they got there, however, the cover stone for the tomb has been rolled away. Two men in “dazzling robes” greet them. Notice that these men are not called angels? The women immediately headed to where the 12 (er, sorry, it is 11 now) are gathered. The women try to explain what happened, but it was assumed that the women were just speaking gibberish. Damned misogynists! Peter was curious enough that he went to the tomb to investigate, but when he saw the empty tomb, he decided to go home and figure out just what happened.

Two of the 71 disciples are walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. A man they didn’t recognize them joins them on the seven-mile journey. (Have I mentioned I love the little details Luke adds to his tales?) He asks what they are discussing, which astonishes them. They ask him the equivalent of “Have you been living under a rock?” They give him the short version of the story, up through the women finding an empty tomb. The man then joins in on the conversation, discussing scriptures and how they apply to the story at hand. “Then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them all the passages of Scripture about himself.”

The two disciples aren’t the brightest of the bunch (though Luke credits them with being blinded by God instead of not being very smart) and don’t realize who they are walking with. They do offer the man a place to stay, and ask him to join them for a meal. The man does, and at their meal he breaks and blesses the bread for the meal. The men finally put two and two together (“Then their eyes were opened.”) Unfortunately, once they figure it out, Jesus disappears.

These two immediately got up and headed back to Jerusalem, and ran directly to the eleven. They spilled their story, and everyone started to discuss this. I can only imagine the discussions, but I am sure it was almost impossible to hear anything over the buzz of the conversation. Sadly, Luke doesn’t give any fragments of the conversation.

As the discussion continues, Jesus enters the room. Everyone is terrified, of course. They are seeing a dead man walking amongst them, after all! Jesus calms them, asking those gathered to touch him to prove to themselves that he isn’t a ghost. While they tried to digest this, Jesus turns his mind to a different type of digestion: “Do you have anything here to eat?” The disciples did, of course, so they gave him some broiled fish, which he ate with them. And really, who can blame him? Lord knows I’d be hungry after three days.

Luke gives his Gospel a happy, promising ending. Jesus tells his disciples that all of the promises in scripture have been fulfilled by him, and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.” Jesus walks with the disciples to Bethany, blesses them, and leaves them.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins. What a wonderful message.

And thus ends Luke’s gospel. This is – by far – my favorite of the gospels so far. As I mentioned a few times through this series, I am impressed and entranced by the richness Luke gives to his writing. I also love that Jesus and the disciples are not the only people in the story to play a prominent role. Luke shows that others were capable of love and honor and courage and compassion. Luke’s Gospel is grounded in the people and places and atmosphere of the time. His Gospel reads more like a novel than a history text, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Luke painted his Gospel – and his rendition of Christ – with love and hope and, most of all, forgiveness. His Gospel is uplifting and heartening, and is truly beautiful. Reading the Gospel of Luke has been a pleasure, one that I won’t soon forget.

Translation key:
[ASV] = American Standard Version
[ISV] = International Standard Version
[KJV] = King James Version
[NEText] = New English Translation
[WEB] = World English Bible

Up next: The Gospel of John, which I can already tell is going to annoy me.

New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.