(From today on through Easter, I will be posting two daily notes—one in the morning, and another in the afternoon/evening.
The morning notes will continue the series on the Son of Man sayings.)
Following the eschatological sayings in Luke 17:20-37 (cf. the previous note), there is recorded a parable of Jesus, found only in Luke (18:1-8a), which concludes with a Son of Man saying (18:8b). In the Lukan narrative context, this parable likewise has an eschatological emphasis, seen particularly in Jesus’ explanation in verses 7-8a:
“Should God not (all the more) make the execution of justice for his chosen [lit. gathered out] (one)s, the (one)s crying (out) to him by day and by night, and long restrain (his) impulse (to give help) upon them? I relate to you that he will make the execution of justice for them in short (order)!”
While it is possible to read this statement in a general sense—i.e. God will not wait to give help to his people when the earnestly pray and cry out to him—the eschatological implication is striking. Part of the impending sequence of end-time events involves the beginning of great suffering and travail on humankind, and, in particular, the persecution of believers. This is outlined vividly in the eschatological teaching contained in the (Olivet) Discourse of Mark 13 (par Matt 24 / Luke 21):
- Mk 13:5-8: false christs/Messiahs, war, earthquakes and famines, etc.—signs of the end, beginning of birth pains
- Mk 13:9-13: persecution and arrest, killing, etc. of believers—with an exhortation to endure this to the end
- Mk 13:14-23: an intense period of suffering/tribulation, along with desecration (of the Temple), false Messiahs, etc
- Mk 13:24-27: the coming of the Son of Man, who will gather/deliver the Elect (and bring Judgment)
The widow of the parable, repeatedly crying out for justice, symbolizes the people of God (i.e. believers) who are enduring an intense period of suffering and persecution. Jesus declares that God will not wait long, restraining his impulse/desire to help his people in their time of need, but will bring justice/judgment in short order (i.e. quickly).
Christians today may well be reluctant to view this parable from an eschatological standpoint (despite the clear context of Lk 17:20-37), since, on the surface at least, it is hard to square with a ‘delay’ of some 2,000 years+ before the end-time comes in full. And, to be sure, during all this time, believers have endured considerable persecution, in varying degrees, in different places, still waiting for the final working-out of Justice. This is a highly difficult (and sensitive) interpretive issue which is not possible to address here in this note. For the moment, it is necessary to focus on the text of the Gospels, and the sayings/teachings of Jesus, as we have them, recognizing the numerous difficulties of interpretation that are present (and are likely to remain so). Faithful, careful exegesis and exposition requires that we not rush to explain away apparent difficulties and discrepancies in the text, however uncomfortable and challenging they may seem. I will soon be posting here a series on the Eschatology of the New Testament, in which many of these points are considered and examined in detail.
In conclusion, it is necessary to examine briefly the Son of Man saying in Lk 18:8b:
“More than (this) [plh/n]—the Son of Man (at his) coming, will he then [a&ra] find faith/trust [pi/sti$] upon the earth?”
Several details in this saying should be noted:
- The conjunctive particle plh/n has the basic meaning “more (than)”, i.e. “more than this, besides this”, often used in an adversative sense—something like “however, nevertheless, despite (this)”. It connects back with the preceding parable (and explanation).
- The participle e)lqw\n (“coming”) is to be understood dramatically in terms of the Son of Man in the act or time of his coming—i.e. when he comes, at the moment he arrives.
- a&ra is an interrogative, inferential particle—”then will he…?” The sense is: once the Son of Man has arrived, will he then find…?
- What is the precise meaning of pi/sti$ (“trust”) here? In early Christian usage, it normally refers to faith in Christ, and, in the context of the persecution of early Christians (Mk 13:9-13 par; Lk 12:8-12, etc), could be interpreted in terms of enduring/maintaining faith in the face of persecution. At the historical level of Jesus’ teaching, the reference is more likely to trust in God—i.e. that he will deliver his people.
The coming of the Son of Man is parallel to the “day/days of the Son of Man” in Lk 17:22-37—i.e., the time of his coming, with the Judgment of God, at the end. In Mk 13:24-27, the other side of the Judgment is expressed: the rescue/deliverance of God’s Elect in the time of trouble (on this image, see the prior note on Lk 9:26). As I have indicated above, this is also the context of Lk 18:1-8. Even so, the precise force of Jesus’ question in v. 8b is not entirely clear; there are at least two possibilities:
- Will the Son of Man find the trust in God expressed by the widow of the parable, praying/crying out to God throughout the time of suffering
- God will vindicate his people (who cry to him), but when the Son of Man arrives to deliver them will he find real trust in God among them—i.e. trust is distinguished from the simple act of crying out in distress
I tend toward the latter interpretation. Trust/faith, as found among the people of God (i.e. believers, followers of Jesus), should surpass the desperate example of the widow—how much more should they trust that God will work justice for his people!