April 10 (3): Luke 2:34-35

In the year 2016, Good Friday coincided with the Annunciation—the celebration of the Angelic announcement to Mary. In most years the Annunciation comes close in time to Lent and/or Holy Week. This connection between the death of Christ on the cross, and his conception in the womb of Mary, may seem strange to most of us. We are perhaps not accustomed to meditating upon these two aspects together, but Church Fathers such as Ephrem the Syrian certainly were aware of the connection (especially the association with Passover):

Moses shut in the lamb in April
On the tenth day—a symbol of the Son
Who came into the womb and closed Himself up
On the tenth day…
(Hymn 5 on the Nativity st. 14, translation Kathleen E. McVey; cf. also Hymn 4 st. 31-34, etc)

The conception here is coordinated with the 10th of Nisan, at the time when the lambs are set aside in preparation of slaughtering for Passover (4 days later), cf. Exodus 12:3-6. Indeed, it may be most profitable on this day to consider the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), both the prophecy (arranged chiastically):

    • ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai
      • kai\ dw/sei au)tw=| ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ to\n qro/non Daui\d tou= patro/$ au)tou=
      • kai\ basileu/sei e)pi\ to\n oi@kon  )Iakw\b ei)$ tou\$ ai)w=na$
    • kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$

“This (one) shall be great and called Son of the Highest
and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father
and he shall be king upon the house of Jacob into the Ages
and of his Kingdom there shall not be an end” (vv. 32-33)

and the answer to Mary’s question:

    • pneu=ma a%gion e)peleu/setai e)pi\ se
      • kai\ du/nami$ u(yi/stou e)piskia/sei soi:
    • dio\ kai\ to\ gennw/menon a%gion
      • klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=

“(The) Holy Breath [i.e. Holy Spirit] shall come upon you
and (the) Power of the Highest will cast shadow upon you
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born) is holy
called the Son of God”
[the last portion can also be rendered as:]
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born)
shall be called holy, the Son of God” (v. 35)

However, I would like to look briefly here at another episode from the Lukan Infancy Narratives involving Mary: namely, the encounter with Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:25-35), since it has traditionally been associated with the Passion of Christ. There are four parts to the narrative: (a) the purification of Mary / presentation of Jesus [2:22-24], (b) the introduction and Canticle of Simeon [2:25-32], (c) the Prophecy of Simeon [2:33-35], and (d) the presence of the prophetess Anna in the Temple [2:36-38], along with a concluding notice by Luke [2:39-40]. The Canticle of Simeon (known by its Latin translation as the Nunc Dimittis) is one of the most beautiful and cherished of New Testament hymns, and quickly became a fixed part of the liturgy: traditionally sung as part of the Daily Office (at Compline), as well as in funeral services, it holds a special place in the Holy Week Office.

I wish to focus on the second part of the Simeon episode, the prophecy (vv. 34-35). For the moment, I leave out the parenthetical prophecy regarding Mary, so that it is easier to see the prophecy in context:

i(dou\ ou!to$ kei=tai ei)$ ptw=sin kai\ a)na/stasin
    pollw=n e)n tw=|   )Israh/l
kai\ ei)$ shmei=on a)ntilego/menon
{prophecy regarding Mary}
  o%pw$ a*n a)pokalufqw=sin e)k pollw=n kardiw=n dialogismoi/

“See, this (one) is laid (down) unto the falling (down) and standing up
of many in Israel
and unto a sign being counted (i.e. spoken) against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the countings-through (i.e. reasonings/reckonings) out of many hearts might be uncovered”

[or, in smoother, conventional translation:]

“See, this (one) is set for the falling and rising
of many in Israel
and for a sign to be spoken against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the thoughts of many hearts might be uncovered”

The prophecy is fairly clear: Christ’s life and presence is set toward (and will lead to) the “falling down and standing up” of “many” in Israel. Are these separate groups of people, or separate conditions in which the same person may find him/herself? Or both? That there is some sort of division intended, I think is certain. And, indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry, up to his death and resurrection, and for all the centuries thereafter, this prophecy seems to hold. Jesus himself speaks of bringing a “sword” (Matthew 10:34)—his life and teachings, indeed, his very presence, will cause division even between members of a family. There is a two-fold aspect to the second stanza as well: (a) a sign spoken against, (b) thoughts of many hearts uncovered. The adverb o%pw$ (used as a conjunction), links the two phrases into a purpose clause—i.e., the sign is spoken against “so as” or “so that” the reckonings of many hearts will be revealed. In other words, speaking against Christ (and what he signifies) is for the purpose of (and results in) the revealing of what is inside the human heart. Why “many” and not “all”? It is possible that the primary emphasis is directed toward believers, not all the people; that is, it is not a blanket expression of judgment, but of the sifting through and revealing of those who will come to believe.

What then of the difficult prophecy regarding Mary which is embedded in the oracle? The Greek reads:

kai\ sou= [de\] au)th=$ th\n yuxh\n dieleu/setai r(omfai/a
“[and] also of you (your)self a sword will go through your heart”

The precise meaning of the statement is difficult to determine. Traditionally, it has been seen as a prophecy of the suffering Mary will experience when she sees Jesus put to death on the cross—this is the popular “Sorrowful mother” (mater dolorosa) of the Stabat Mater and Pieta in Christian art. Some would treat this more generally in terms of the suffering and rejection Mary would experience (vicariously through Christ) or in her own person. Many scholars today tend to focus more specifically on Mary’s role elsewhere in Luke-Acts: she does not appear in the Passion scene at all; also several of the scenes in which she appears (2:19, 33, 51) in the Infancy narrative emphasize that she “treasured” [suneth/rei, lit. “guarded/kept together”] and “pondered” [sumba/llousa, lit. “threw/put together”] in her heart the things she has witnessed (v. 19). This, along with the position of the statement—right before “so that the thoughts of many might be uncovered”—has suggested that the “sword” is actually one of discernment or discrimination: that is, Mary herself will come to understand the reality of who Christ is, but only with struggle and difficulty. However, in the only other (Scriptural) reference to a sword “going through” (Ezekiel 14:17), it is clearly an invading sword of judgment, “cutting off” man and beast, leaving only a remnant to survive. Is it possible that Mary here is meant as a symbol (the “mother”) of all Israel (or at least the “many”), and the sword passing through her represents the very same judgment and uncovering of thoughts that will divide the people, leaving “alive” only a believing remnant?

Mary does, of course make an appearance at the cross in the Gospel of John (19:25-27), and this becomes the basis for her traditional role in the Passion. Both Byzantine and Western art, the image of the Mary and the “Beloved Disciple” (John) flanking the cross became standard.


However, in the West, by the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, a more popular image was the Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the cross, after the deposition, holding the dead body of Jesus (the Pieta). The visceral imagery and sheer pathos of the scene made it a favorite in Renaissance art, the most famous, of course, is that of Michelangelo.


Returning to the juxtaposition of the birth and death of Jesus, one should mention a type of combination icon which developed in Byzantine tradition—on one side, Mary with the baby Jesus (here the Virgin Hodegetria type), on the other, Jesus as the “Man of Sorrows”.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 6 (Lk 23:26-49)

Luke 23:26-49

While Luke’s account of the Death of Jesus follows the basic Synoptic tradition (cf. the previous note), there are significant differences, as well as signs of development in the tradition, which must be examined. To begin with, there is a substantial difference in the overall tone of the episode, in terms of Jesus’ Passion. In the earlier Gethsemane scene, we previously noted that, if one regards 22:43-44 as secondary to the original text (a view that is probably correct), then Luke has eliminated the sense of Jesus’ distress and anguish which is otherwise found in the Synoptic version of the Prayer scene (compare Lk 22:39-46 [om. 43-44] with Mark 14:32-42 par). In a similar fashion, Luke seems to have removed (or at least downplays) the suffering of Jesus in the crucifixion episode. Consider that there is no reference to Jesus’ being whipped/scourged (to be inferred only from v. 22). Jesus’ great cry to God (Mk 15:34f par, citing Psalm 22:1), with its sense of anguish and despair, is also omitted. Throughout the episode Jesus appears to be calm and in control, offering instruction, exhortation and comfort to others, even as he hangs from the cross (cf. below). Luke retains the loud cry of Jesus at the moment of death, but without the parallel to the first cry of anguish, it comes across as more of a forceful command or declaration, all the more considering the words which Luke records.

In terms of the structure of the narrative, the Gospel writer has expanded the core episode with additional material, and, as a result, it is comprised of three distinct parts:

  1. The Way to the Cross—vv. 26-31
  2. Jesus on the Cross—vv. 32-43, which can also be divided into three portions:
    a. The scene of the crucifixion (vv. 32-34)
    b. The mocking of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers (vv. 35-38)
    c. The dialogue of the two criminals with Jesus (vv. 39-43)
  3. The Death of Jesus—vv. 44-49

Each of these scenes has been modified in some way, compared with the Synoptic version in Mark/Matthew.

1. The Way to the Cross (Lk 23:26-31)

In the main Synoptic version, this is limited to the (historical) traditions surrounding Simon the Cyrenian who carries Jesus’ cross-piece to the place of execution (Mk 15:21), and the reference to the name of the location (“Golgotha, (the) Skull”, Mk 15:22). Luke includes both details, with little modification (vv. 26, 33), but adds a separate tradition involving the crowd of onlookers as Jesus proceeds on the way to the Cross (vv. 27-31). Among the crowd are specified certain women who were “cutting/beating [i.e. their breasts] and wailing”—apparently according to the manner of professional mourners. Their actions prompt a response by Jesus:

“Daughters of Yerushalaim, you must not weep upon [i.e. for] me—(all the) more upon yourselves you should weep, and upon your offspring” (v. 28)

Their apparent concern over his fate is directed away, back to their own situation as “daughters of Jerusalem”. This expression, derived from Old Testament tradition (2 Kings 19:21; Isa 4:4; 10:32; 37:22; 52:2; Lam 2:10, 13, 15; Mic 4:8; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9, also Song of Songs 1:5; 2:7, etc), is a poetic figure for the city, the land (and its people) as a whole. In other words, the women represent the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judea. This is clear from the prophecy which follows in verses 29-30, echoing the eschatological suffering and distress announced by Jesus in Mark 13 par (esp. verses 14-20). For women and children, such suffering will be particularly acute; indeed, frequently the suffering of women and children (especially women in labor) is used to symbolize the experience of a people’s collective suffering. One of the most difficult aspects of New Testament interpretation is the question of whether the terrible events predicted by Jesus in Mark 13 (par Luke 21) should be understood in terms of the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.), distant future events, or both. Luke specifically sets Jesus’ prediction of suffering (corr. to Mk 13:14-20) in the context of the siege of Jerusalem (21:20ff). A similar siege description is part of Jesus’ prophecy-lament for Jerusalem in 19:41-44. If the Gospel of Luke is to be dated c. 70 A.D., as believed by many commentators, then it is likely that these 1st century events are foremost in the Gospel writer’s mind.

The precise meaning of the illustration in verse 31 is not entirely clear. Most likely the sense would be—if people do these things when conditions are not so bad (as they will be soon in the future), how will they act during the dry/severe time of tribulation that is to come?

2. Jesus on the Cross (Lk 23:32-43)

Several distinct Lukan features and details in this scene should be discussed.

The saying of Jesus in v. 34—Among the details of the crucifixion scene in Luke is a saying by Jesus, presumably just after he has been put upon the cross:

o( de  )Ihsou=$ e&legen: pa/ter, a&fe$ au)toi=$, ou) gar oi&dasin ti/ poiou=sin.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, release [i.e. forgive] them, for they know not what they are doing.'”

This verse is absent in a wide range of manuscripts and versions (Ë75, ac, B, D*, W, Q, 0124, 579, 1241, and some Syriac and Coptic translations), including the early Bodmer papyrus (Ë75). At the same time, it is found in the majority text, including both family 1 & 13 MSS, and the entire later Koine text tradition, along with key early manuscripts (a*, C, Dc, L, G, D, 0117) and many early translations. Thus the manuscript evidence is fairly evenly divided, perhaps with a slight edge to the shorter reading. Even if secondary, the verse may well represent an authentic saying by Jesus that was inserted in this location by early scribes; certainly it is accord with the teaching and example of Jesus expressed elsewhere in the Gospels. I disagree with scholars who claim that it is easier to explain the omission of this saying than its insertion. Orthodox scribes, on the whole, appear to have been reluctant to delete Christologically significant sayings or details, and were more likely to add or preserve them.

The context of the narrative indicates that this prayer by Jesus—whether original or secondary to the Gospel—refers to the Jewish leaders who were primarily responsible for arranging his death. On this motif of ignorance, cf. Acts 3:17; 13:27; 17:30). Note also the similar prayer by Stephen in Acts 7:60b.

The Mocking of Jesus (vv. 36-38)—In Mark 15:29-32, first the people passing by generally (vv. 29-30), and then the Chief Priests and Scribes specifically (vv. 31-32), mock Jesus, taunting him to “come down” from the cross if he is the miracle-working “Anointed One, King of Israel”. As I discussed in the previous note, this parallels the Sanhedrin interrogation scene closely (cf. Mk 14:57-61ff par). Luke would seem to have modified this considerably. First, while people do pass by, it is only the religious leaders (“the chief [ruler]s”) who mock Jesus this way (v. 35). Second, they are joined in the taunts by Roman soldiers (vv. 36-37), a detail unique to Luke’s account. Both modifications would appear to be intentional and with a distinct narrative (and theological) purpose. This is confirmed by the fact that there is a similar modification in the earlier Roman “trial” scene. In Mark/Matthew, a crowd of the (Jewish) people demands Jesus’ death, while in Luke, it is only the group of Jewish leaders presenting the case to Pilate who are involved. The entire Roman trial scene in Luke has been composed in relation to Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-28). The Jewish and Roman leaders—i.e. Herod and Pilate, the Chief Priests etc and Roman soldiers—are the ones arranging and carrying out Jesus’ death. While they represent the people, it is not the people (as a whole) who are directly responsible.

Luke thus has a different sort of parallelism in this scene, which comes out especially when we examine the taunts directed at Jesus by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, respectively:

    • Jewish leaders (v. 35):
      “He saved others—(so) let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One) of God, the (One) gathered out [i.e. Chosen One]!”
    • Roman soldiers (v. 37):
      “If you are the King of the Yehudeans {Jews}, save yourself!”

These two titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “King of the Jews” were combined together in Mk 15:31 par, as they also are in the charge against Jesus presented to Pilate in Luke 23:2. They reflect the Messianic figure-type of the coming (end-time) ruler from the line of David (cf. Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It is the latter title (“King of the Jews”), with its more obvious political implications, which features in the Trial and Crucifixion scenes, as emphasized in the inscription on the cross (v. 38 par).

The title “Chosen One” (e)klekto/$, lit. “[one] gathered out”) is a different sort of Messianic title, being drawn primarily from Isaiah 42:1ff. The substantive adjective, along with the related verb (e)kle/gomai), only rarely occurs in the New Testament as a title or description of Jesus. Most often it is used as a title for believers. However, there is an important occurrence of the title in Luke 9:35, uttered by the heavenly voice at the Transfiguration scene: “This is my Son, the One (I have) gathered out [i.e. my Chosen One]” (cp. Mark 9:7 par). The same substantive adjective form used here in v. 35 is also uttered by John the Baptist (in relation to the Baptism of Jesus) in Jn 1:34 v.l.

The Dialogue with the Two Criminals (vv. 39-43)—In the Synoptic tradition, both of the criminals being crucified on either side of Jesus join in the taunts (Mk 15:32b). In Luke’s version, however, only one of the criminals acts this way, his words being recorded in v. 39. The other criminal rebukes him, and offers a declaration (confession) of Jesus’ innocence: “…this man has performed [i.e. done] nothing out of place” (v. 41). The entire dialogue is unique to Luke’s version, and concludes with the famous and moving exchange between the “good thief” and Jesus:

    • “Yeshua, remember me when you should come into your kingdom” (v. 42)
    • “Amen, I say to you (that) today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43)

On the textual issue in verse 42, cf. the critical discussion in a prior article.

This is a good example of the way that a simple historical tradition (Mk 15:27, 32b) is expanded and developed.

3. The Death of Jesus (Lk 23:44-49)

In this portion, Luke follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew more closely, but with a number of small (yet significant) differences:

    • Jesus’ “cry of dereliction” (citing Psalm 22:1) is omitted
    • The darkness over the land is described in terms of an eclipse(?) of the sun (v. 45a)
    • The splitting of the Temple curtain takes place prior to Jesus’ death (v. 45b)
    • The final cry of Jesus before death is accompanied by the words: “Father, into your hands I set along my spirit” (v. 46)
    • The climactic declaration by the centurion is entirely different (v. 47, cf. below)
    • The action of the onlookers in v. 48 parallels that of the women following Jesus in v. 27 (cf. above); note also the reference to women followers of Jesus in v. 49 (cp. 8:2-3).

On the omission of the Synoptic cry of distress, cf. the discussion above. Instead of the quotation from Psalm 22:1, there is a different Scriptural quotation by Jesus in the cry prior to his death—from Psalm 31:5. It is possible that v. 45a is a creative reworking, in some fashion, of the tradition in Mk 15:34 par; note the points of similarity:

    • Elwiegkate/lipe/$ me
      elœiengkatelipes me
      “Eloi [My God]…(why have) you left me down (behind)?
    • tou\ h(li/ou e)klipo/nto$
      tou ¢liou eklipontos
      “at the sun’s being left out…”

If wordplay of this sort was intended, later scribes, unable to understand it, would have found the expression strange and been inclined to modify it to something like “and the sun was darkened“, which we see in a number of manuscripts. It is possible that, in terms of the natural phenomenon involved, Luke is referring to the occurrence of a solar eclipse.

Luke’s location of the Temple curtain event is curious, setting it prior to Jesus’ death. He may simply wish to connect it directly with the darkness over the land; as I discussed in the previous note, both events are symbols of God’s Judgment upon the land (and its people). The reordering also has the effect of setting Jesus’ cry to the Father in a more climactic position.

Most difficult of all is the confession of the centurion, which has a form in Luke so very different from that of Mark/Matthew:

    • “Truly this man was (the) Son of God” (Mk)
    • “This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]” (Lk)

The different in formula—and also emphasis—is striking indeed, so much so that is necessary to address the issue briefly in a separate note.

April 10 (2): John 10:1-21

To commemorate Friday of Holy Week (Good Friday), I will be exploring the “Good Shepherd” discourse of John 10:1-21, leading up to the climactic verses 17-18 which relate specifically to the Passion of Christ.

There are two main patterns for the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John: (1) partial-dialogue and (2) continuous exposition. The previously-discussed discourses in chapters 3, 7-8 and 12 follow the first pattern, where the people hearing Jesus’ words react and respond with a question that reflects some level of misunderstanding, prompting Jesus to respond in turn. John 10:1-21 follows the second pattern, which can be compared in some ways to the longer parables in the Synoptic Gospels; the Vine discourse of John 15 is another example.

Jesus begins with a compact illustration or “parable”—the word used by the Gospel writer here is paroimi/a (paroimía “along the path”, i.e. “by way of…”) rather than parabolh/ (parabol¢¡  “[something] cast/thrown alongside”, i.e. “comparison”). Paroimi/a could be rendered “metaphor” or “proverb”, presumably comparable to the Hebrew word lv*m* (m¹š¹l); it is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Jn 16:25, 29 and 2 Pet 2:22. The illustration consists of verses 1-5, with two main figures: (a) the door (qu/ra) to the sheep-pen (the au)lh/ or “open space” for the sheep, presumably surrounded by a wall), and (b) the shepherd (poimh/n, the “keeper/guardian” or “herder” of the sheep). These two figures are brought together in vv. 1-2 by way of two theologically significant verbs: (a) a)nabai/nw (anabaínœ, “step up”), used in v. 1 for the thieves or “false” shepherds who climb up into the sheep-pen; and (b) ei)se/rxomai (eisérchomai, “come/go into”) in v. 2 for the “true” shepherd who enters through the door. There are two main themes as well within the illustration:

(a) The “true” or ideal shepherd contrasted with the “false” or wicked shepherd (emphasized in vv. 1-2)
(b) The sheep follow the (true) shepherd, who calls them by name—they know his voice (vv. 3-5)

It is curious that Jesus identifies himself with both the door and the shepherd (cf. the exposition in vv. 7-18). It is clear that some early scribes had difficulty understanding this, for a number of textual witnesses (including the early MS Ë75) read poimh/n (“shepherd”) instead of qu/ra (“door”) in verse 7. I tend to interpret the door and the sheep-pen according to Jesus’ (i.e. the Son’s) relationship to (and identity with) the Father—going out and in of the door is illustrative of Jesus coming from and returning to the Father. As such, according to the theology in John, since Jesus is the way to the Father for believers (Jn 14:6), he is the door for them as well. From another aspect, the sheep-pen also reflects the unity of believers in/with God and Christ (cf. especially Jn 17:20-23ff).

In the exposition of the illustration which comes next (vv. 7-18), Jesus discusses both figures (door and shepherd): verses 7-10 deal with the door, and verses 11-18 with the shepherd. Each section follows a common pattern:

    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus—v. 7 / 11
      • Contrast of “true” vs. “false” shepherd, emphasizing that only the true/ideal Shepherd cares for the sheep—v. 8 / 12-13
    • “I Am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statement of Jesus (repeated)—v. 9a / 14a
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading the sheep, and the sheep following—v. 9b / 14b-16
    • Statement of salvific purpose and action of the Shepherd—v. 19 / 17-18

Comment should be made on the expression o( poimh\n o( kalo/$, usually translated “the good shepherd”, though a more literal rendering would be “the beautiful keeper/herder”. Here the adjective kalo/$ probably should be understood in the sense of “fine, noble”; it might, however, also have the connotation of “perfect” or “ideal”, especially in light of the contrast with the “false” shepherds (thieves/bandits and hirelings). In a society such as ancient Israel where pastoralism (herding) was a major part of the economy, the image of the herdsman would have been clear and powerful, much more so than for people in modern Western countries. In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a common symbol for the ruler (as guardian) of the people, sheep being especially vulnerable and in need of protection. It appears frequently in the Old Testament (2 Sam 5:2; 7:7; [Eccl 12:11]; Isa 44:28; Jer 49:19; 50:44), often used of God as Shepherd (Gen 49:24; Ps 23:1ff; 28:9; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 37:24; Amos 3:12; Mic 7:14). Moses and David are examples of ‘ideal’ rulers who had served as shepherds (cf. the specific association with David in Ps 78:70-72), and on a number of occasions the people Israel are depicted as sheep lost without a shepherd (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Jer 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7; cf. also Mk 6:34; 14:27 par). In the Prophets, the theme of judgment against the (religious) leaders as false (corrupt/wicked/failing) shepherds (Isa 56:11; Jer 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 25:34-36; 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 13:7) appears often, occasionally contrasted with the promise of restoration of true/faithful shepherds to lead Israel (Jer 3:15; 23:1-4; Ezek 37:24; Mic 5:4-6). The two Old Testament passages where this theme is most fully expounded are Ezekiel 34 and Zech 11; the last of these is thoroughly a message of judgment (v. 17 is close to 13:7, which Jesus quotes in Mk 14:27 par), whereas Ezek 34 is closer to the thought of the discourse here in Jn 10. Jesus as “Chief Shepherd” appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), and Christian leaders are to follow his example as shepherd of a flock (cf. Jn 21:13-17; 1 Pet 5:2, etc). Paradoxially, in the Gospel of John, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is both the Lamb (Jn 1:29, 36, et al.) and Shepherd—an association made explicit in Revelation 7:17.

Special attention should be given to principal theme of the “Good Shepherd” saying and exposition here in Jn 10:11-18:

o( poimh\n o( kalo\$ th\n yuxh\n au)tou= ti/qhsin u(pe\r tw=n proba/twn
“The beautiful keeper/herder sets (down) his soul [i.e. lays down his life] over the sheep” (v. 11b)

This can be understood concretely—the shepherd lays his body over the sheep to protect them—or figuratively—the shepherd gives up (i.e. risks) his life for the sake of protecting the flock. Clearly, in the context of Jesus’ teaching here, the image prefigures his upcoming death; note the use of similar language in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“this is my blood of the testament/covenant th[at] is poured out over many”, Mark 14:24 and cf. par.). In the Old Testament shepherd imagery, this theme of risking one’s life is not especially emphasized, but only implied within the idea of protection and rescue of the flock (see also the Shepherd parable in Lk 15:3-7; Matt 18:12-14). It is a certain characteristic of the true/ideal/faithful shepherd as opposed to the mere hireling who does not really care for the sheep (vv. 12-13).  But there is even more is involved: the idea of setting/laying down one’s life; note again the structure of this section:

    • “I Am” saying (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 11a
      • Theme: the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, v. 11b
      • Contrast between true shepherd and false shepherd (hireling), vv. 12-13
    • “I Am” saying repeated (“I Am the Good Shepherd”), v. 14a
      • Theme: “I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (sheep that are) mine know me”, v. 14b
      • Emphasis on the shepherd leading (a&gw) the sheep, and the sheep following (“hearing”, a)kou/w)—”knowing” explained in terms of hearing, v. 15-16

There are several important (Johannine) theological motifs embedded in the brief exposition of vv. 15-16:

    • The knowing between sheep (believers) and shepherd (Jesus/Son) is reciprocal
    • The relation between believers and Son parallels that of Son to the Father (ultimately Jesus leads them to the Father)
    • This knowing is salvific—it is intimately connected with the sacrifice of the shepherd laying down his life
    • This knowing involves “hearing” the “voice” of the Son (who only speaks what he has heard from the Father)
    • This hearing/knowing/leading involves the unity of all believers (v. 16, with the mission to the Gentiles implied)

The climax of the passage is the statement of salvific purpose and action (vv. 17-18, parallel to that in verse 10) for the Shepherd:

Dia\ tou=to/ me o( path\r a)gapa=| o%ti e)gw\ ti/qhmi th\n yuxh/n mou, i%na pa/lin la/bw au)th/n. ou)dei\$ ai&rei au)th\n a)p’ e)mou=, a)ll’ e)gw\ ti/qhmi au)th\n a)p’ e)mautou=. e)cousi/an e&xw qei=nai au)th/n, kai\ e)cousi/an e&xw pa/lin labei=n au)th/n: tau/thn th\n e)ntolh\n e&labon para\ tou= patro/$ mou
“Through [i.e. because of] this the Father loves me, (in) that I set (down) my soul (s0) that I receive it again. No one carries it (away) from me, but (rather) I set it (down) from myself. I have authority to set it (down) and I have authority to receive it again—this (charge) laid upon (me) [i.e. this command] I received (from) alongside my Father”

Here we have a powerful dualistic expression (setting-down/taking-up) of the two aspects of the Shepherd’s saving sacrifice—setting down life (i.e. death), and taking it up again (i.e. resurrection). There is some ambiguity in the verb lamba/nw, which can be understood either in the sense of “receive” or “take”; for consistency’s sake in the translation above, I rendered all three instances (indicated with italics) as “receive”, but in the first two instances “take” might be more appropriate. Even though Jesus is normally thought of as raised up from the dead by the Father (and not by himself), in the Gospel of John, we have the clear idea that Jesus receives life “in himself” from the (living) Father (see esp. Jn 6:57), and so has the power both to be—and to confer—life (Jn 6:57b; 10:10b; 11:25).

The setting down of Jesus’ life certainly covers the entire Passion, but we can see it vividly expressed especially at the moment of death, where, in John’s account, upon uttering his final word (tete/lestai, “it is completed”), we read:

kai\ kli/na$ th\n kefalh\n pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma
…and bending (down) the head, he gave along [i.e. gave up] the spirit [lit. breath]

For the taking/receiving his life back again, we must wait for Easter Sunday.

April 10 (1): Lk 23:4, 14, 41, 47

Today’s note for Good Friday continues the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of Luke. There are no occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” (ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the account of Jesus’ trial and death in Luke 23, nor in the Synoptic tradition, but there are several instances where the expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$) is used, and these are especially significant in the Lukan context.

Luke 23:4, 14, 41, 47

The expression “this man” (a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$), or “this (one)” (ou!to$), occurs 5 times in four key verses, all of which specifically relate to Jesus’ innocence:

  • V. 4—Pilate states: “I do not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
  • V. 14—Pilate again: “I did not find any cause (for guilt) in this man
    • —contrasted with the Jewish authorities: “You brought this man to me… you spoke out [i.e. brought a charge] against him”
  • V. 41—Man on cross: “This (man) has not done anything without place [i.e. out of place, improper]”
    • —contrasted with the two on the cross, who have been judged/sentenced rightly/justly [dikai/w$]
  • V. 48: Centurion: “This man (truly/really) was just [di/kaio$]”

The first two instances use the substantive ai&tion (“cause”)—Pilate find no cause or basis for guilt in Jesus, even after examination; that is to say, Jesus is innocent of the accusation brought against him (vv. 1-3). The last two refer specifically to justice (using di/kaio$/dikai/w$)—not only was Jesus innocent, he was also just or righteous. This appears again in the use of the title “Just/Righteous One” (o( di/kaio$) of Jesus in Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14.

In addition, there are two important aspects to this expression, represented by the two words or elements which comprise it:

“This (one)” (ou!to$)—The use of the demonstrative pronoun becomes a way of referring to Jesus in the early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as recorded in the sermon-speeches of the book of Acts:

Note also:

It indicates that it is specifically Jesus, in the context of his death and resurrection, in whom healing and salvation may be found.

“Man” (a&nqrwpo$)—The specific usage in Luke 23 is almost certainly an intentional echo of the Son of Man sayings related to his suffering and death, especially the Passion predictions by Jesus in Luke 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 (cf. the earlier notes on these). I have argued that in the use of “son of man” in such a context, Jesus is identifying himself with the human condition, in terms of mortality—i.e. weakness, suffering and death. Note, in particular, the Lukan version of the second Passion prediction (in 9:43b-45) with its precise parallel “son of man”–”men”:

“the Son of Man is about to be given over into the hands of men” (v. 44b)

The importance of the Son of Man in the Passion narrative has already been discussed (cf. the previous two notes), where the two main aspects of its association with Jesus are emphasized:

    1. The suffering (and death) of the Son of Man—Lk 22:22, 48
    2. His coming in glory as end-time Judge—Lk 22:69

The occurrence of “this man” in Lk 23:4, 14 (above) has a parallel in the Gospel of John:

    • John 18:29—”What charge do you bring against this man?”
    • John 19:5—”See—the man!”

In the latter reference, Pilate brings Jesus out (after the flogging) “…so that you may know that I find no cause (for guilt) in him” (cf. Lk 23:4, 14). The declaration in v. 5 may indicate contempt and ridicule, or even pity. However, it is also possible that, from the standpoint of the Gospel writer, there is a Messianic allusion (of sorts) at a deeper level for early believers. Consider the interesting parallel with Zechariah 6:12:

i)dou\ o( a&nqrwpo$ (“See—the man”)
i)dou\ a)nh/r (“See—a man”) [Zech 6:12 LXX]

Zech 6:11-12 is definitely a passage that would have been understood in a Messianic sense at the time of Jesus, based on evidence from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period. The key phrase is omv= jm^x# vya! hN@h! (“See, the man—’Sprout’ [is] his name”), cf. also in Zech 3:8. The Hebrew jm^x# refers to something springing up, i.e. a sprout (from the ground) or a branch (from the root of a tree). The use of the term in association with prophecies regarding David in Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15 (cf. also Isa 11:1) proved to be influential on Messianic thought and expression. The Messianic title “Sprout/Branch of David” [dw]d* jm^x#] appears 5 times in three different texts from Qumran. In the Septuagint (LXX) of Zech 6:12, the Hebrew jm^x# is translated literally by a)natolh/ (“springing up”), related to the verb a)nate/llw, which also occurs in this verse (a)natelei=, translating Hebrew jm*x=y]). As it happens, there is another important text where a)natolh//a)nate/llw is connected with the coming of a ManNumbers 24:17:

“a Star will march (forth) from Jacob, and a Staff will stand (up) [i.e. arise] from Israel”
which, in the LXX, reads—
“a Star will spring/rise up [a)natelei=] out of Jacob, and a Man [a&nqrwpo$] will stand up out of Israel”

Balaam’s prophecy of the Star and the Staff was a prime Messianic text in the 1st-century B.C./A.D. (see the current series “Yeshua the Anointed”), though, interestingly, it was not applied to Jesus in the New Testament, apart from a possible allusion in Matt 2:1-12.

The “man” of Zech 6:12 is also associated with building the Temple (“…and he will build the temple/palace of YHWH”), which creates another connection with Jesus’ death and the Passion narrative:

    • An accusation against Jesus during his appearance before the Sanhedrin involved a reported saying that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days (Mk 14:58 / Matt 26:61, cf. also Acts 6:14). Mark and Matthew attribute this to false testimony, however, John records a similar saying by Jesus (Jn 2:19). Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:1-2 par) also has a Passion setting in the Synoptic narrative.
    • The Temple-saying in Jn 2:19, along with the exposition in vv. 21-22, interprets the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Finally, we might also note another eschatological reference to “the man”, similar in some respects to Jesus’ usage of the title “Son of Man” in Lk 22:69 etc—namely, Acts 17:31:

“(God) has set [lit. made stand] a day in which he will [lit. is about to] judge the inhabited (world) in justice [dikaiosu/nh], in a man that he has (already) marked out [i.e. appointed, ordained], holding along as a trust (of this for us), standing him up [i.e. raising him] out of the dead”

In other words, Jesus is the man through whom God will judge the world at the end-time (i.e. the coming “Son of Man”); the sign/proof of this is that God has raised him from the dead (and exalted him to His right hand). Interestingly, we find in Acts 17, both aspects of the Son of Man outlined above:

    • This Jesus, the Anointed (One), who I announce to you…” (v. 3)
      —”the Anointed (One)…to suffer and to rise from the dead
    • The man through whom God is about to Judge the world, having raised him from the dead (v. 31)

It is the supreme paradox of the Gospel message and narrative that in Jesus, at the moment he his most fully identified with humankind and human weakness—at the time of his humiliation, suffering and death—we also find a declaration of his divine status and glory, both aspects being wrapped up in the powerful and challenging expression “the Son of Man”.

For more on the associations related to Zech 6:12 etc, above, cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29A), p. 876.