Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Parables of Jesus (Part 3)

The Parables of Jesus (Part 3)

The eschatological and “Kingdom” parables in Matthew and Luke are being examined according to five themes:

    1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 4
    2. Vineyard Parables
    3. Banquet/Feast Parables
    4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25
    5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

The first three of these were treated in Part 2; here we will study the remaining two.

4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25

Following the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24), Matthew records three additional eschatological parables:

Matthew 25:1-13: Parable of the Bridesmaids

Both of the parables in Matt 25:1-30 are Kingdom parables, as is specified in verse 1: “the kingdom of the heavens will be considered (to be) like…”. As in several of the parables we have already examined (Parts 1 and 2 of this study), the setting involves a man who has gone away and is expected to come (back). In the Bridesmaids-parable, this motif has been simplified to that of the bridegroom in a marriage/wedding-ceremony who is coming to fetch the bride and take her to his house. A rather different wedding scenario appears in Luke 12:35-38 (cf. below). There is some question whether, in the original context of the parable(s), the man/bridegroom represented Jesus or God the Father (YHWH). The setting here in Matt 25, following the Eschatological Discourse in chap. 24, naturally would have led early Christians to associate it with Jesus’ return. However, more properly the image refers to God’s end-time appearance for Judgment, and to deliver the faithful ones among his people; this appearance was understood in terms of his heavenly/divine representative—Messenger of the Lord and/or Son of Man—identified with Jesus in the Gospel Tradition.

There is again a distinction between two groups, juxtaposed against one another, as in the parable of the Weeds and the Net (cf. the discussion in Part 2). The two groups are together in one body (community or collection of people), but reflect very different characteristics. In the Bridesmaids-parable, there are ten virgins (maidens)—five of whom are described as mindful/thoughtful (fro/nimo$), while the other five are “dull” (mwro/$). They are together in one place, attending the bride, a detail which has to be inferred from the context (the variant reading in v. 1 indicates that copyists may have misunderstood the setting of the parable). The bride, who belongs to the bridegroom (having been betrothed to him, by a binding agreement [covenant]), is similar in many respects to the field in the Weeds-parable which belongs to the Sower (the Son of Man). The bride/bridegroom imagery, based on ancient Near Eastern (and Old Testament) tradition, more specifically suggests the religious relationship between God and his people Israel. In addition to the general milieu of ancient love poetry and marital imagery, which may be interpreted in this light (cf. Song of Songs 4:8-5:1), it is found, e.g., in Isaiah 49:18; 61:10; 62:5. The theme of love between husband and wife, in terms of marital faithfulness and loyalty, was used in the Prophets as a way of expressing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, violating the binding (marriage) agreement, or covenant. We see this most famously in Hosea 1-3, but also in a number of other places, such as Joel 1:8 and Jer 2:2. On the wedding feast (verse 10), cf. Rev 19:7-9 and the discussion on the Feast/Banquet parables in Part 2.

Typically the servants/workers as characters in Jesus’ parables are meant as instructive examples for his disciples—the disciple of Jesus will see himself (or herself) in the position of the faithful servant. The parable functions as an exhortation (and a warning) for the disciple to behave in the manner of the positive character, rather than the negative. The “lamps” carried by the maidens is a figurative expression of the disciple’s behavior and faithful devotion, as stated more generally in Matt 5:14-16, etc. The brief Lamp-parable in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 4:21-22) has an eschatological orientation, which is echoed here as well. There is a sense in which the light from the lamps is defined as the message of the Kingdom which has been given to the disciples.

Apart from the fundamental setting of the coming/return of the man (bridegroom), the eschatological aspect is emphasized by other details in the parable, such as the use of the noun u(pa/nthsi$ / a)pa/nthsi$ (vv. 1, 6). The related verbs u(panta/w and a)panta/w are virtually synonymous—both have the basic meaning of going away to come opposite (i.e. to meet, come face-to-face) with another person. Paul uses a)pa/nthsi$ specifically to refer to believers meeting Jesus in the air at his return (1 Thess 4:17). However, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the primary idea was that the people must be prepared to meet their God—i.e. the end-time Judgment. This eschatological judgment motif—involving the separation of the righteous and wicked, as of the true and false disciple (cf. the chap. 13 parables)—is vividly expressed by the climactic scene of the parable (vv. 11-12), which has similarities to the sayings/parables of Jesus in 7:21-23 and Luke 13:25-27.

The suddenness of the bridegroom’s appearance is emphasized in vv. 6, 10, in which he comes “in the middle of the night” when many, like the dull/foolish bridesmaids, might naturally be asleep. This reflects the imminent expectation of the end-time Judgment, held by early Christians (and other Jews of the time), though tempered, perhaps, by the motif of a ‘delay’ in v. 5: “But (while) the bridegroom (was) taking (his) time…”. This could provide support for the idea of a significant period of time (some years, at least) which could pass before the end-time Judgment (and return of Jesus). For more on the “delay of the Parousia”, see section 5 below.

There are certain parallels between the Bridesmaids-parable and the brief parable in Luke 12:35-38; despite differences in detail, the general outline and message are much the same: the servants (disciples) are to keep their lamps lit and remain watchful for their master’s return.

Matthew 25:14-30: Parable of the Talents (par Lk 19:11-27)

The Matthean Parable of the Talents is quite similar to the Lukan Parable of the Minas (19:11-27); many scholars consider them to be part of a shared tradition (“Q” material), though the significant differences make this less than certain. There are several ways of understanding the relationship between the two:

    • They reflect two different, but similar, parables of Jesus
    • It is the same parable, preserved in two different lines of tradition
    • It is the same parable (“Q”), modified by one or both of the Gospel writers

In favor of the latter is the fact a common core parable can be obtained by a simple removal or modification of several elements unique to each version:

    • Matthew:
      • Addition of the concluding line (v. 30), which is especially common as a refrain in the Matthean sayings/parables
    • Luke:
      • The narrative introduction in v. 11
      • The reference to the man as of noble origins, and the reason for his departure (“to receive a kingdom of himself”), v. 12
      • The verses/details related to this Lukan kingship motif—vv. 14-15a, 25, 27

Apart from these separable components, the differences between the two versions of the parable are minor—most notably, the difference in the amount of money involved (talents vs. minas). Curiously, Luke’s version specifies ten servants, though the parable itself, like Matthew’s version, only deals with three. Perhaps the reference to ten servants is meant to give the impression that the faithless servant (1 of 10), like Judas Iscariot (1 of 12), is relatively rare among the disciples of Jesus.

If we examine the parable in Matthew, we see that it is included together with the previous Bridesmaids-parable as another parable of the Kingdom (vv. 1, 14); Luke’s version makes this explicit (cf. below). We have the familiar motif of servants/workers and the landowner or household master who goes away. The money entrusted to the three servants resembles the lamps held by the bridesmaids—both symbolize the disciple’s faithful service to God and Jesus. Instead of two groups, there are three distinct characters, yet still reflecting two kinds of characteristics—those who deal faithfully with the money for their master, and those who do not (through fear and inaction). The end-time Judgment is expressed through several details in the parable:

    • The return of the master who settles the accounts (v. 19)
    • The reward given to the two faithful servants (vv. 20-23)—note the traditional reference to “entering” the divine/heavenly life (i.e. entering the Kingdom)
    • The judgment against the wicked/unfaithful servant (vv. 26ff)
    • The separation of the wicked—thrown into the “outer darkness” (v. 30)

As noted above, the Lukan version contains a kingship narrative line running through the parable:

    • The narrative introduction (v. 11), establishing the reason for Jesus’ uttering the parable (cf. Section 5 below)
    • The man is described as “well-born”—he goes away specifically “to receive a kingdom for himself” (v. 12)
    • The parable is interrupted, it would seem, by the notice in v. 14, introducing the theme of the rebellious citizens who do not want the man to rule over them as king
    • When the man returns, he is said to have “received the kingdom”, i.e. authority to rule (v. 15a)
    • Again, at the end of the parable, we find another reference to the people who did not wish the man to rule—now they are characterized as “enemies” (v. 27).

It must be admitted that verses 14 and 27 seem out of place in the parable, which otherwise generally matches the version in Matthew. It has been suggested that two separate parables are blended together in Luke’s version: (1) a parable similar to Matt 25:14-30, and (2) a parable involving a king and his subjects. The two strands fit uneasily, making two very different statements: (1) exhortation to faithful discipleship, and (2) Jesus’ role/position as Messiah. Interestingly, the Lukan version, like Matthew’s, ends with a harsh declaration of Judgment (v. 27), though the two differ considerably in form and emphasis.

Both versions also include a motif suggesting a ‘delay’ in the coming of the end-time Judgment (and return of Jesus). Luke expresses this by way of the introduction in v. 11, and also with the detail that the man travels into a “far-off place” (v. 12). For Matthew, a similar idea is indicated in the parable when it is stated that master returns “after much time” (25:19). This will be discussed in Section 5 below.

Matthew 25:31-46: Parable of the Sheep and Goats

The last of the three parables in Matthew 25 has much the character of a vision-scene with symbolic/figurative elements, rather than a parable properly speaking. Indeed, it is not a Kingdom-parable, but a description of the Kingdom of God in heaven. It is, in fact, a scene of the great Judgment, set in the heavenly court. The eschatological key phrase is found in the opening words:

“And when the Son of Man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him…” (v. 31a)

This virtually restates the Synoptic saying in Mark 8:38 par, referring to the appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time Judgment, viewed as imminent. The corresponding saying in Matthew at this point highlights the theme of the Judgment:

“For the Son of Man is about to come in the splendor of his Father, with his Messengers, and then he will give forth to each (person) according to his deed(s)” (16:27)

For more on this end-time appearance of the Son of Man—a tradition deriving primarily from Daniel 7:13-14ff—cf. Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 pars, and the recent study on the eschatological Sayings of Jesus. The opening verse of the parable emphasizes the exalted status and position of Jesus (at God’s right hand), as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. The depiction of the Judgment scene is altogether traditional, at least in its basic framework:

    • The judgment of the Nations (v. 32)—traditionally, the Messiah would play a prominent role in this process; in 1 Enoch, as in the Gospels and early Christian tradition, the Danielic Son of Man figure was identified as God’s Anointed One (Messiah), the two figure-types being blended together.
    • The separation of the righteous from the wicked (vv. 32ff)—this is stated generally (“he will mark them off from [each] other”), which could give the misleading impression that nations are being separated from another. Rather, it is the people (humankind) generally who are being separated.
    • The separation is expressed through the symbolic designation of “sheep” and “goats”; this simply reflects shepherding imagery, like the fishing imagery in the Net-parable (13:47-49), and one should not read too much into the sheep and goat as distinctive symbols.
    • The basis for the separation (righteous vs. wicked) is ethical (rather than theological), though with a uniquely Christian emphasis (cf. below).
    • The final Judgment (reward/punishment) likewise is stated in traditional language:
      “and these [i.e. the wicked] will go away into punishment of the Ages [i.e. eternal punishment], but the just/righteous (one)s into (the) Life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 46)

What is especially distinctive, and most memorable, about the parable is the basis for the judgment/separation, which is set forth in considerable detail (unlike the parables of the Weeds and Net, where is left unstated). It is described entirely in terms of how one has responded to people who are in need (of food, clothing, comfort, care/treatment of sickness, etc)—i.e. to the poor and unfortunate in society. This has caused some consternation for Christians accustomed to viewing salvation strictly, or primarily, in terms of faith in Jesus, i.e. acceptance of him as Messiah and Son of God. However, the emphasis in the parable here is not much different from that in the Sermon on the Mount (see esp. the Beatitudes [5:3-12] and the Antitheses [5:21-47]), where traditional religious and ethical standards have been given a new, deeper interpretation. The true and faithful disciple of Jesus will follow this new ethic, and the declaration by Jesus in 5:20 is very much of a kind with the parable of the Sheep and Goats:

“For I relate to you that if your justice/righteousness does not go over (and above, even) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, you (certainly) will not go into the kingdom of the heavens!”

5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

A final topic which must be addressed, related to the parables in Matthew and Luke, involves several key references which suggest a period of time which is to pass before the coming of final Judgment and the return of Jesus. This would seem to contrast with the language of imminence which otherwise is found in most/many of Jesus’ sayings (cf. the earlier study of the Sayings). The specific (and difficult, from our viewpoint) aspect of imminent eschatology in Jesus’ sayings/teaching will be discussed in more detail in the next study (on the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse”), as well as a separate study devoted to the topic. However, it is worth mentioning here these important references in the parables to what is typically called “the delay of the Parousia”—i.e. a recognition among early Christians, after several decades, that the coming of the end (and the return of Jesus) might not occur for some time. In this regard, the relative dating of the Gospels could be significant. Mark is usually recognized as the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, dated perhaps c. 60 A.D., with Luke somewhat later (after 70 A.D.), and Matthew, perhaps, later still (c. 80 A.D.). Apart from the statement in 13:7b (to be discussed), there is little in Mark to suggest anything other than an imminent expectation of the end—i.e. within the lifetime of the disciples. If the conventional dating of Luke and Matthew is correct, they would have been written at a time when a number of the disciples—i.e. the first generation of believers—were beginning to die off. It must be admitted that this issue is not specifically addressed in any of the Synoptic Gospels, but only in the Gospel of John, usually thought to be the latest of the four (c. 90-95 A.D.?)—cf. the tradition (and the way it is presented) in Jn 21:20-23. It is natural that the later, more developed Gospel tradition would reflect the concern of this “delay”, and seek to explain it, at least in a rudimentary way.

Even so, it must be stated that evidence of this sort is rather slight in Matthew and Luke. Neither Gospel writer felt it necessary to alter, to any real extent, the various Synoptic sayings and traditions which indicate an imminent expectation of the end-time Judgment. For example, they all leave the statement by Jesus in Mark 13:30 par in place without any real modification or explanation. Similarly, references indicating a significant ‘delay’ are relatively rare, and should not be overstated. We saw above, details in two of the parables which are worthy of note:

    • It is said of the Bridegroom that he was “taking (his) time” (xroni/zonto$), which led some of the maidens carelessly to fall asleep (25:5)
    • In the Parable of the Talents, it is only “after much time” (meta\ polu\n xro/non) that the master returns (25:19)

Both details, it would seem, reflect the same basic idea, though the latter more clearly indicates a significant period of time. If these parables properly refer to the return of Jesus, then it could, perhaps, express the idea (or at least allow for the possibility) that Jesus might not return within the lifetime of the first disciples.

The Gospel of Luke contains more details of this sort, which, indeed, is more fitting for the context of the combined work of Luke-Acts, with its emphasis on a period of mission work among the Gentiles that must take place before the end comes (Acts 1:6-8, etc). The parables also express this in various ways; there are two which need to be examined here: (a) the Parable of the Judge and the Widow, and (b) the Parable of the Minas.

Luke 18:1-8: The Parable of the Judge and the Widow

The purpose of this parable is expressed by the Gospel writer in the opening words (narrative introduction, v. 1): the necessity of the disciples “always to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] and not to act out of a bad (heart) [i.e. be weak, cowardly]”. In other words, Jesus exhorts his followers to be persistent in prayer, even in the face of difficult and trying circumstances, where it may seem as though God does not hear them. This is certainly the primary message of the parable (vv. 2-6); however, if we read between the lines, the chronological dimension of the parable could be taken to suggest a delay in the end-time deliverance of God’s people (i.e. the Judgment), which early believers (along with many devout Jews) were fervently expecting. The woman in the parable “would come toward him [i.e. the judge]” (v. 3), i.e. would come repeatedly; and the judge was apparently not willing to hear her complaint “upon [i.e. for] (some) time” (v. 4). The explanation of the parable by Jesus in verse 7, and its application to the disciples (believers), suggests more is involved here than simply the question of unanswered prayer:

“And would God (then) not (all the more) make out justice for his (chosen one)s (which he) gathered out, the (one)s crying to him day and night, and is his impulse (to answer) long upon them [i.e. is he long in answering them]?”

There seems to be an echo here of the eschatological (and Messianic) hope expressed, for example, in 2:25, 38. Moreover the persecution which Jesus’ disciples will face, also implied here in the parable, is often presented in an eschatological context (21:12-19 par, etc). Luke is fully aware that at least thirty years would pass, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, without the end coming, and that, during this time, the early Christians (especially missionaries such as Paul and Barnabas) would face persecution. This parable may have been included by the Gospel writer, in part, with just this context in mind. The eschatological orientation of the parable would seem to be confirmed by the concluding declaration by Jesus in verse 8b, which may have circulated originally as a separate saying: “All the more, the Son of Man (at) his coming, will he find trust upon the earth?”. Disciples are to continue following Jesus faithfully, trusting in God, for the period (however brief or long) that lasts until the Son of Man comes. Verse 8a suggests that this period of time will not be all that long, preserving the basic sense of imminence—”I relate to you that he [i.e. God] will make out justice for them in (all) speed!”. On the language of imminence here—i.e. the expression e)n ta/xei, “in [i.e. with] (all) speed”—cf. the separate study in this series on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

Luke 19:11-27: The Parable of the Minas

The parable itself was discussed above, in connection with the Matthean Parable of the Talents. Here, it is necessary to focus on two elements of the Lukan version: (a) the narrative introduction in verse 11, and (b) the description of the man who goes away in verse 12. First consider the setting indicated in the narrative introduction, which also serves as a transition from the Zaccheus narrative in vv. 1-10:

“And (at) their hearing these (thing)s, (Yeshua,) putting (this also) toward (them), said (it as) an (illustration) cast alongside [i.e. parable], through [i.e. because of] his being near to Yerushalaim, and their considering that the kingdom of God was about to shine forth [i.e. appear] paraxrh=ma.”

The syntax is somewhat complex, but what the author is describing is clear enough. Jesus was aware that many people (among his disciples and other followers) were thinking/expecting that the Kingdom of God would suddenly appear and be realized (on earth) once they arrived in Jerusalem. The adverb paraxrh=ma is difficult to translate literally; fundamentally, it refers to something which comes along (para/) just as it is needed (xrh=ma)—i.e. just at the right time. Sometimes it carries the sense of “at that very moment”, “immediately”. The “triumphal entry” narrative in the Gospel tradition (Mark 11:1-10 par) indicates that many people envisioned Jesus as the Messiah (Davidic-ruler type) who would establish the Kingdom in Jerusalem—presumably an earthly (Messianic) Kingdom, according to popular tradition. The questions posed to him in Lk 17:20 and Acts 1:6 reflect a similar eschatological expectation. In response to those questions, Jesus redirects his audience, pointing them toward a different (and deeper) understanding. Much the same is done here, through the parable which follows in vv. 12ff. The Kingdom of God will not be established immediately at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

This brings us to the beginning of the parable, which differs from the Matthean version in the description of the man who goes away. Here is how it is stated in the Parable of the Talents:

“…a man going away from his own people…” (25:14)

This simple phrase likely reflects the core parable (cf. above); however, in the Lukan Parable of the Minas, it is expanded considerably:

“A certain well-born man traveled into a far(-off) area to receive a kingdom for himself and (then) turn back [i.e. return].” (19:12)

I noted above that there is some ambiguity in these parables whether the figure of the master/landowner who goes away properly refers to Jesus or God the Father (YHWH). Probably in their original context it is God who is in view, though early Christians certainly would have come to interpret such eschatological parables in terms of Jesus’ return at the end-time. The Matthean Parable of the Talents could be understood either way; however, in the Lukan Parable of the Minas there is no question at all—the man who goes away has to be identified with Jesus. This is abundantly clear from the details in verse 12:

    • a well-born man (but not yet a King)
    • travels into a far-away land
    • to receive a kingdom for himself
    • and then returns back to his own land

This action in the story refers to a local ruler (prince, etc) who travels to the land/court of a powerful sovereign (king) to be granted the title and status of king (i.e., vassal of the greater sovereign). When he returns to his own land he now rules as king under the authority of the sovereign who granted him that title. From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, this process described in verse 12 can only refer to the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Having being raised to the right hand of God the Father, when Jesus returns, it will be as a divine King ruling with God’s own authority.

There is nothing in the parable which indicates exactly the time that the man (Jesus) is away; the designation of “far-off land” is best understood in terms of location (i.e. with God in Heaven). The Matthean parable does state that it is only “after much time” that the man returns. If we are faithful to the Lukan parable itself, all that we can say is that the Kingdom of God will not be established until some time after Jesus’ death, resurrection and departure to the Father. In the context of the wider narrative of Luke-Acts, this allows at least for a period of missionary work among the nations (Gentiles), as indicated in Acts 1:6-8ff; however, beyond this, there is no indication of the amount of time that is involved. This will be discussed further when we study the eschatology in the book of Acts.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Parables of Jesus (Part 2)

The Parables of Jesus (Part 2)

Part 1 of this study examined the parables in the core Synoptic (triple) tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark. We looked primarily at the Kingdom-parables in chapter 4, along with the parable of the Wicked Tenants in 12:1-12. Now we turn to the parables found in Matthew and Luke (but not Mark); some of these parables are unique to each Gospel, while others occur in both (i.e. material commonly designated “Q”). These eschatological and “Kingdom” parables will be examined according to five themes:

    1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 4
    2. Vineyard Parables
    3. Banquet/Feast Parables
    4. The Eschatological Parables in Matthew 25
    5. The “Delay of the Parousia” in Luke

1. The Matthean ‘additions’ to the Synoptic Tradition in Mark 4

Matthew 13 clearly draws upon the same tradition as Mark 4—a sequence of Kingdom-parables, according to an established (thematic) arrangement. However, Matthew includes several parables and sayings not found in Mark (nor the corresponding version in Luke [8:4-18])—these are:

    • The dual-saying in vv. 16-17 (“Q”, cf. Luke 10:23-24)
    • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43)
    • The Parable of the Leaven (v. 33)
    • The Parables of the Treasure and Pearl (vv. 44-46)
    • The Parable of the Net (vv. 47-50)
    • The concluding saying in vv. 51-52

The additional parables all illustrate the Kingdom of God (“Kingdom of Heaven“, in Matthew)—vv. 24, 33, 44, 45, 47, and also v. 52. They also serve to enhance the eschatological orientation of the sequence of Kingdom-parables; in particular, the Parables of the Weeds and Net have a clear reference to the end-time Judgment.

The Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

The “Parable of the Weeds” is similar in theme and scope to the Synoptic Parable of the Sower (13:3-9 par); both parables include an explanation of the parable by Jesus given to his close disciples (vv. 18-23 par, 36-43; cf. verse 11ff). Many critical commentators express doubt that the explanations come from Jesus himself, but rather reflect early Christian interpretation. It is hard to find clear objective evidence for such a distinction, and the explanations are generally consistent with the language and style of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic tradition. The question, for our study, is especially significant in the case of the Parable of the Weeds, since the explanation of that parable, if coming from Jesus, would reflect his own eschatological understanding.

Unlike the parable of the Sower, the Weeds-parable is marked specifically as a Kingdom parable: “The kingdom of the heavens is (consider)ed to be like a man scattering fine seed in his field” (v. 24). However, in the explanation to the parable of the Sower, Jesus does indicate that it, too, relates to the Kingdom, identifying the seed as “the word/account [lo/go$] of the kingdom”. The context of that parable suggests that the sower is Jesus (proclaiming the message of the Kingdom); while the explanation of the Weeds-parable identifies him as “the Son of Man” (v. 37). This expression, or title, is used frequently by Jesus, often as a self-designation. The eschatological usage, drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14, features prominently in the Weeds-parable, and will be discussed in more detail in the study on the “Eschatological Discourse”.

Interestingly, while the seed in the Sower-parable is identified as the message or “word” of the Kingdom, in the Weeds-parable it is the “sons” (ui(oi/, i.e. children) of the Kingdom (v. 38). The reference to “sons”, in terms of the Semitic idiom which Jesus would have understood, has two principal aspects:

    • In the literal sense of (royal/aristocratic) sons who will inherit their father’s estate, and
    • Indicating those (as a group) who belong to the Kingdom—i.e. members of the Kingdom. The Hebrew /B@ (“son”) is often used in the sense of someone who belongs to a particular group or category, possessing certain attributes or characteristics, etc.

By contrast, the “weeds” (ziza/nia) are identified as “the sons of the evil (one)”. It is possible to translate this expression as “the sons of evil”, but the context suggests a person (or personification)—”the evil one” (i.e. the Satan or ‘Devil’); Jesus’ usage elsewhere would seem to confirm this (cp. in the Lord’s Prayer, 6:13). This sort of stark dualism is less common in the Synoptic sayings of Jesus than in the Johannine discourses, where it features prominently (Jn 3:19-20; 5:29; 8:39-47). First John presents a contrast very close to that of the parable here (3:8-10, “the children of God and the children of the devil”, v. 10). A similar dualistic contrast (“sons of light” and “sons of darkness”) is found in the Qumran texts. The ziza/nion, a Greek word of uncertain derivation, would typically be translated as “weed”, but seems to refer primarily to a type of grass or stalk which resembles the grain itself, but yields no produce.

The “field” (a)gro/$) in the parable is said to be the sower’s own field (“his field”, v. 24), while in the explanation it is identified as o( ko/smo$ (“the world-order”, v. 38a), i.e. creation, the created order. This emphasizes the cosmic aspect of the parable, and also indicates that the Son of Man, as God’s heavenly/divine representative, has authority and control over the world. Here ko/smo$ is used in a neutral sense—i.e. the world and all the people in it—much as in the parable of the Sower, where there are different types of soil, representing different responses of people to the message of the Kingdom. A different sort of illustration, but along similar lines, is presented in this parable: the Son of Man sows the good seed, while the enemy (e)xqro/$, the ‘devil’, dia/bolo$) sowed in the weeds (the false seed) secretly, at night. The explanation suggests two levels at which this may be interpreted:

    • True and false disciples of Jesus, both part of the same group of people identifying themselves as his followers. This certainly would have been the immediate understanding of the parable by early Christians.
    • The “weeds” as intrusive attempts to stifle the spread and growth of the Kingdom—this would include both people (false believers, persecutors), and other sorts of obstacles, temptations to sin, etc (v. 41)

The crux of the parable is its eschatological orientation—the harvest motif (vv. 28-30) used in parable, with the explanation in verses 39ff. The climactic statement of the parable would have immediately evoked the idea of the end-time judgment, as seen from the words of the Baptist in 3:12 par, echoed here:

“Release [i.e. allow] both to grow together until the reaping [o( qerismo/$], and in the time of the reaping I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the weeds and bind them into bundles toward the burning down (of) them, but bring together the grain into my building where (the grain is) put away!'” (v. 30)

In the explanation, there is no doubt left as to what Jesus means:

“The reaping [i.e. harvest] is the completion (all)together of th(is) Age, and the reapers are the (heavenly) Messengers” (v. 39b)

He is referring to the end of the current Age, and the idea, expressed elsewhere in the Gospel tradition, of the role of the Angels (assisting the Son of Man) in the end-time Judgment (Mk 8:38; 13:27 par; Matt 16:27; 25:31, etc). Verses 40-41f drive this home emphatically:

“…so it will be in the completion (all)together of th(is) Age—the Son of Man will set forth his Messengers, and they will gather together out of his kingdom all the (thing)s tripping (people) up, and the (one)s doing (things) without law, and he will cast them into the burning chamber [i.e. furnace] of fire…”

The kingdom of the Son of Man (“his kingdom”, par “his field”) involves: (a) the proclamation of the message of the Kingdom in the world, and (b) those who belong to the Kingdom and respond to this message (i.e. the true disciples of Jesus). All that does not belong to the Kingdom, or which hinders its proclamation and establishment on earth, will be burned up at the end-time Judgment. The divine/heavenly dimension of the end-time Kingdom is made clear in the concluding words of the parable (v. 43, cf. Daniel 12:3):

“Then the just/righteous (one)s will give out (rays of) light as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

The Parable of the Net (Matt 13:47-50)

The parable of the Fish-Net is much shorter and simpler, but has essentially the same theme as the parable of the Weeds. Instead of seed cast into a field, it uses the image of a fishing-net cast into the sea (v. 47). Fundamentally, it is the end-time Judgment which is in view here; first in the parable—

“…and when it was filled, they stepped it up upon the shore, and, sitting (down), they gathered together the fine (fish) into containers, but the rotten (one)s they threw away” (v. 48)

and then in the explanation (v. 49):

“So it will in the completion (all)together of th(is) Age—the Messengers will come out and will mark off the evil (one)s out of the midst of the just/righteous (one)s.”

The dualistic contrast here is simpler, drawing upon the traditional religious-ethical distinction of good/bad, righteous/wicked. Jesus’ statement in John 5:29 reflects the same traditional language:

“…and they will (all) travel out [i.e. from the dead]—the (ones hav)ing done good into a standing-up [i.e. resurrection] of life, but the (ones hav)ing acted foul(ly) into a standing-up of judgment.”

2. Vineyard Parables

Jesus appears to have regularly used the image of workers in a vineyard in his teaching. Many in his audience likely would have identified themselves with the servants, laborers, and tenants of these parables. The illustrations seem to play especially upon the idea of the absentee landowner—a man who travels away or lives elsewhere while the land itself is worked by hired laborers and tenant farmers. This proved useful for instruction on the theme of responsible discipleship—working faithfully while God is ‘away’ (in Heaven). The same storyline and setting could easily be applied—both in the authentic tradition, and in early Christian interpretation—to the idea of Jesus as the master who goes away (i.e., his death, resurrection, and departure to the Father). In several of the parables with an eschatological emphasis, this latter setting seems to be in view.

We have already looked at the (Synoptic) parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12; par Matt 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19). It remains to examine two other parables found in the Gospel of Matthew, both of which occur in the general context of (end-time) reward and judgment—cf. 19:13-30; 20:20-28; 21:33ff.

Matthew 20:1-16: Payment of Laborers in the Vineyard

This is marked specifically as another Kingdom-parable:

“For the kingdom of the heavens is like a man (who is) master of a house(hold), who went out before (daytime) [i.e. in the early morning] to arrange (for) workers in his vineyard (to work) for wages…” (v. 1)

The eschatological aspect of this parable has to be inferred from the fundamental idea of the work in the vineyard being done over the course of an entire day (these being day-laborers, with a harvesting context implied). At the end of the day (v. 8), i.e. at the end-time (end of the current Age), the agreed-upon wage (misqo/$) for each worker is paid. There is an obvious parallel here to the idea of heavenly reward for the faithful/righteous ones at the end-time Judgment, being implicit in the parable (vv. 9ff). Early Christians certainly would have understood the workers in the vineyard as faithful disciples of Jesus, who came to be disciples at different points in time. For all such disciples the payment/reward is the same, which is the primary theme of the parable—believers do their work in common, as disciples of Jesus, without expecting any special priority or status based on when or how long one has been a disciple. This is emphasized by the concluding, paradoxical words in verse 16, which may have originated as a separate saying: “So will the first be last, and the last first”. The saying could easily be interpreted a different way, according the reversal-of-fortune motif found in a number of Jesus’ sayings. Here, by contrast, an egalitarian principle is established, one which softens or re-works the traditional eschatological language of the Judgment (cf. above). However, since it is disciples of Jesus (i.e. believers) who are the subject of the parable (not the wicked), this emphasis is more appropriate.

Matthew 21:28-32: The Two Sons

The contrast between righteous and wicked—true and false disciple—is expressed more clearly in the “Two Sons” parable. Here it is a Father (i.e. God) who asks each of his two sons to work in the vineyard (v. 28). As in the parable of the Sower, there are different responses to this word from the Master (vv. 29-30, note the interesting textual variants of wording and order found in the manuscripts). While not designated specifically as a Kingdom-parable, the Kingdom (of God) is clearly in view, when Jesus essentially gives an explanation of the parable to the religious leaders who were questioning his authority (vv. 23-27):

“…Amen, I relate to you that the toll-collectors and the prostitutes lead (the way) before you into the kingdom of God!” (v. 31b)

This is effectively an application of the statement in 20:16 (above), according to the reversal-of-fortune motif: sinners in the present age will enter the Kingdom, while the ‘righteous’ (according to traditional religious and morality) may not. A more precise application would follow the Vineyard-laborer parable—the religious leaders may still enter the Kingdom, but only after the lowly/wretched sinners have done so!

There is not an obvious eschatological aspect to this parable, other than what can be inferred from its basic setting, along with the narrative context—much of Jesus’ teaching in Jerusalem (chapters 21-25) is eschatological in orientation.

3. Banquet/Feast Parables

There are three such parables to consider, the first two of which may derive from the same line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material). They draw upon the older traditional motif of the heavenly/eschatological banquet, inspired by passages such as Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14; cf. 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4, etc (Fitzmyer, p. 1026). It is alluded to at several points in the book of Revelation (3:20; 19:9). At times this banquet/feast is specifically associated with the Messiah (and/or a “Messianic Age”). Jesus applies the idea to himself, and his closest disciples, in Luke 22:16ff, 29-30 par.

a. Matthew 22:1-14 / Luke 14:15-24

Matthew and Luke appear to be dealing with a common parable by Jesus (“Q” material), though the differences are significant enough that one must allow for the possibility of ‘separate’ parables coming from two distinct lines of tradition. However, the basic outline is the same—that of a (wealthy/prominent) man who invites people to a great feast. As in the parable of the Sower, there are different responses to this message, but initially they are all negative—everyone invited declines to attend, offering various reasons to be excused. These reasons all relate to the business of daily life, and would seem to parallel the the third soil-type in the parable of the sower and “the concerns/distractions of the world” (Mark 4:19, Jesus’ explanation). As a result, the man extends his invitation further afield, reaching to the poorer segments of society. This aspect echoes the parable of the Two Sons (cf. above), and the contrast between the repentant sinners/outcasts and the ‘righteous’ who fail to respond to Jesus’ message. In what appears to be the core parable, the invitation goes out to the streets of the city (Matt 22:8 / Lk 14:22); however, in Luke’s version, this is further extended to the crowded narrow lanes (where the poor and disabled are commonly found), and even further out into the roadways and fenced-off lands. This latter detail allows for (Lukan) application in terms of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles.

Both versions treat this as a Kingdom-parable, though in different ways:

    • In Matthew, it is so designated by Jesus (“the kingdom of the heavens is [to be] considered like a man…”, 22:2). Moreover, the man is specifically referred to as a king, and the feast identified as a wedding banquet for his son (further giving the parable a Messianic dimension). The people being invited are thus members of his kingdom.
    • Luke introduces the parable in the narrative context of a feast Jesus is attending (14:15), at which a man declares to him: “Happy the (one) who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This is similar to Jesus’ own words to his disciples at the Last Supper, where he speaks of drinking from “the produce of the vine” (i.e. wine) in the Kingdom of God (Mark 14:25 par). These motifs of eating/drinking should not taken too concretely; they are simply idioms referring to partaking in a meal. However, these references are eschatological, and relate to the feast/banquet motif mentioned above. As we see often in the Gospels, Jesus redirects his audience away from a simple traditional understanding (without entirely rejecting it), and points them toward a deeper meaning.

In Luke’s version, the poor and outcast take the place of the ‘righteous’ who refuse to attend, just as Jesus states in the Two Sons parable. Matthew’s version presents this quite differently, according to more traditional imagery associated with the end-time Judgment (cf. the chap. 13 parables above). Instead of the poor and afflicted, the call goes out to all people in the city, and a crowd comes to the feast—good and evil alike (22:10). This is very much akin to the parable of the Net, where good and bad fish are gathered up together in the net, to be separated out at the end-time Judgment. That is very much what the parable describes here in vv. 11-12, though in a most distinctive and memorable way, isolating on a single individual.

The Matthean version is thus more complex than the Lukan, and seems to be describing more distinct stages:

    • The well-to-do members of the kingdom (i.e. religious Israelites/Jews) who do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and/or fail to respond to his message
    • The disciples of Jesus who respond to his message, coming from all segments of the city—though not all are true, faithful disciples
    • At the end of the Age, at the time of the great feast, it is then that the true and false disciples will be separated

Finally, it is also worth mentioning a third version of this parable, in the Gospel of Thomas (saying/section 64); some critical commentators consider the Thomas version to be the more primitive, original form of the parable (Fitzmyer, pp. 1050-2).

Luke 13:23-30 (esp. verses 28-30)

There is a brief parable or illustration in the Gospel of Luke which is part of a block of teaching with an eschatological orientation. The section may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 22)
    • Question by someone (disciple?) in the crowd (v. 23):
      “(is it that) the (one)s being saved (are only) a few?”
    • Illustration of the Narrow Door (v. 24)
    • Illustration of the Master of House standing at the Door (vv. 25-27)
    • Illustration of the Kingdom Feast (vv. 28-29)
    • Concluding saying (v. 30):
      “see, there are the last who will be first, and the first who will be last” (cp. Matt 20:16, above)

The setting in vv. 22-23 introduces the eschatological context of these illustrations. For the association with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, cf. on Luke 19:11 below (Part 3); the context of question in verse 23 relates salvation to entering/inheriting the Kingdom at the end-time. In contrast to the belief expressed in Jewish tradition, that “all Israelites have a share in the world to come” (m. Sanhedrin 10:1; Fitzmyer, p. 1022), a number of Jesus’ sayings seem to suggest that only a small percentage of the people (i.e. those accepting and following him) will be saved. The two Door parables (compare with Matt 7:13-14, 21-23) seem to emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ (eschatological) message:

    • Entering the kingdom requires struggle (a)gw/n), due to the narrowness (ste/no$) of the door or gate, the result of the many obstacles which surround it (cf. the Parable of the Weeds above). Jesus declared and emphasized on numerous occasions to his disciples (and would-be disciples) that considerable hardship was involved in following him—a lifestyle which demanded an ethic even more stringent than that of the Pharisees (cf. the Sermon on the Mount, etc); and also a faith/trust in God which is rare indeed among people (cf. on Luke 18:8 below [Part 3]).
    • Moreover, the door is open only for a (short) period; at some point (the end-time) the Master of the house/kingdom, will decide to close the door. It will be impossible for anyone to enter at that point, regardless of the claims or petitions they may make (i.e. that they were followers of Jesus, etc).

This leads into the Feast parable of vv. 28-29—entering the Kingdom at the end-time means joining in this great feast, at which all the righteous attend (the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel, etc). There are two components to this illustration:

    1. Many Israelites will not join Abraham and Isaac, etc, in the Kingdom, but will be “thrown outside” (v. 28)
    2. Others will come from all the surrounding nations, from all directions (east, west, north, south) and will “lean back (to dine)” in the Kingdom (v. 29)

Given the overall narrative of Luke-Acts, it is not surprising that the Lukan parables and teachings of Jesus emphasis this more inclusive aspect—allowing even for the inclusion of Gentiles (through the early Christian mission) into the Kingdom.

(to be continued in Part 3)

References marked “Fitzmyer” above are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB] 28A (1985)

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 3)

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 3)

    1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
    2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
    3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
    4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
    5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
    6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

The first two areas of study were addressed in the previous article (Part 2); here we will be examining the next two areas (#3-4, in italics above).

3. The Coming Day of Judgment

The idea of a final Judgment by God upon the world is probably the most common eschatological motif in early Christian thought, and it informs nearly every aspect of the eschatology of the New Testament. While the basic idea is common to many cultures, the early Christian understanding derives from Old Testament and Jewish tradition—especially as related to the expression “Day of YHWH” in the Prophetic nation-oracles, etc. The main passages using this expression are: Isa 13:6ff; Jer 46:10; Ezek 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1ff; 3:14; Amos 5:18ff; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7-8ff; 2:2-3; Zech 14:1-3ff; Mal 4:5; many others allude to it. The original background presumably stems from ancient “holy war” tradition, in which God does battle for his people against their enemies. Gradually, especially in the context of the Exile and post-Exilic period, the idea came to reflect the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of Israel. Support for this certainly could be found in the Prophets—the “Day of YHWH” was a time when God would appear to judge (and punish) the wicked, and to deliver the faithful among his people.

When the similar expression “Day of the Lord” comes to be used in the New Testament, it still refers to the end-time Judgment of God upon humankind, but it is now thoroughly connected with a belief in the return of Jesus, who will appear as God’s chosen representative to judge the earth (cf. 1 Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10, etc). This role of Jesus, as one who brings about (and oversees) the final Judgment, is central to early Christian preaching, as we shall see when we examine the eschatology in the book of Acts. However, the idea also goes back to the sayings of Jesus himself, especially those which refer to the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man”. These references will be examined in the next area of study (section #4) below. Here, I wish to survey the sayings which refer more generally to the coming Judgment. I divide these as follows:

    • Sayings which specifically mention the (day of) Judgment
    • Those which deal with reward/punishment, in the context of an end-time Judgment
    • Specific sayings which mention entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom
a. Sayings which mention the (day of) Judgment

Somewhat surprisingly, there are almost no sayings in the core Synoptic tradition (as represented by the Gospel of Mark) which use either the verb kri/nw (“judge”) or the related nouns kri/si$, kri/ma (“judgment”); indeed, there is only one—Mark 12:40 par. It is much more common in Matthew and Luke, both the material they share in common (“Q”), and other sayings unique to each Gospel. These are:

All of these sayings draw upon traditional religious and ethical language (and instruction), warning people that ultimately they will face judgment by God for the things they have said and done. In Jesus’ sayings, this viewpoint has been adapted slightly, so that it now also refers to people being judged for the way in which they responded to Jesus in their lifetime (cf. below on the Son of Man sayings).

b. Sayings dealing with reward and punishment

There are a number of such sayings by Jesus, and all (or nearly all) of them have a strong eschatological orientation—i.e., they refer to the (heavenly) reward or punishment which a person receives following the Judgment.

The idea of the reward which one will receive from God, for faithfulness in following Jesus (his teachings and example, etc), is especially prominent in the Sermon on the Mount (and the parallel Lukan “Sermon on the Plain”), beginning with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12 par, esp. verse 12); on the eschatological background of the beatitude form, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes. The contrast between the present (earthly) situation and the ultimate heavenly situation is most striking in the Lukan version (6:20-23), with its woes (vv. 24-26), reflecting a reversal-of-fortune theme common in Jesus’ teaching. Other references dealing with reward and punishment are:

Especially noteworthy is the prophetic illustration in Matt 7:21-23 (par Lk 6:46; 13:25-27), in which Jesus apparently casts himself in the role of judge, distinguishing his true followers (those who do “the will of my Father in heaven”), from those who only claim to be so.

When we examine the wider Synoptic tradition, several passages stand out:

    • Mark 10:29-31 par—those who have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus, enduring deprivation and hardship in this life, will receive heavenly reward (eternal life) in the “Age to Come”. Note the variations between the Gospels (Matt 19:28-30; Lk 18:29-30) on the precise nature of the reward, with apparent fluctuation between heavenly and earthly(?) emphasis.
    • Mark 9:41 (par Matt 10:41-42)
    • Luke 10:20, with a possible eschatological nuance to vv 18f
c. Entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom

A number of the sayings express the idea of heavenly reward in terms of “entering” (or inheriting, receiving) the Kingdom, and, conversely, of punishment as failing to do so.

4. The Son of Man Sayings

These are the sayings of Jesus which refer to the “Son of Man” figure in a clear eschatological context. Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is distinctive, and, it would seem, unique to his discourse. That it reflects an authentic characteristic of the historical Jesus, his mode of expression, is confirmed by the fact that hardly occurs at all elsewhere in the New Testament or in other early Christian writings. It is not a title regularly used of Jesus by early believers; the occurrences in Heb 2:6 and Rev 1:13; 14:14 are quotations from the Old Testament. It is virtually limited to the Gospels, and, even there, is essentially never found except in the words of Jesus. Originally, as I have discussed elsewhere on a number of occasions, the expression “son of man” (Heb <d*a* /B#, Aram. vn`a$ rB^) was simply a (poetic) parallel for “man”—that is, a human being or member of the human race. It came to be used as a personal reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e., this particular human being), though it is hard to find clear examples of this usage prior to Jesus. There can be no question, however, that Jesus did use the expression in just this way—as a self-designation or reference to himself. We may isolate three specific contexts for the expression “son of man” in Jesus’ sayings and teachings, as recorded in the Gospels:

    1. Where he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of human suffering and mortality (death)
    2. Specific references to his impending death (and resurrection)
    3. Eschatological references to “the Son of Man”

The last category is the subject of this study. A critical analysis of these eschatological references is complicated by several factors, most notably the historical context. If Jesus is referring to his own future coming (i.e., after his death and resurrection), this would have been largely unintelligible to people at the time. Even his own closest disciples would have had little or no awareness of this sequence of events (death, resurrection, ascension, future return). This has led critical commentators to give serious consideration to two different possibilities:

    • The sayings, insofar as they identify the coming of the Son of Man with Jesus’ return, are largely the product of the early Church
    • In these sayings, Jesus is not referring to himself, but to a separate/distinct figure indicated by the title “Son of Man”

As I have discussed in an earlier study, there would seem to be very little evidence in the Gospels themselves for the first possibility. The second is much more plausible, but, in my view, cannot be embraced without serious qualification. I would offer the following explanation:

Jesus was drawing upon a tradition, derived primarily (if not exclusively) from Daniel 7:13-14, which envisioned a divine/heavenly being who would appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment. For the background of this eschatological (and Messianic) figure, which would have been understood by at least some Israelites and Jews in Jesus’ time, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (also the separate note on Dan 7:13f). Jesus identifies himself with this figure, but not in a way which would have been readily understood by people at the time (note the confusion indicated in John 12:34). The identification would have been implicit, based on his distinctive use of the expression “son of man”, and not made absolutely clear until the scene before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62ff par, cp. Acts 7:55-56). This view, I think, allows for a proper interpretation of the eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus could have made these references, without his disciples (at the time) necessarily connecting them with his own post-resurrection return.

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are three such Son of Man sayings:

    • Mark 8:38: “For whoever would feel shame over me and my words in this adulterous and sinful (time of) coming to be [i.e. age/generation], (so) also the Son of Man will shame over him, when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers.”
      The Lukan parallel in 9:26 is largely identical, the main difference being the reading “in His splendor and the (splendor) of His Father…”. Matthew’s version (16:27, cf. below) is quite different.
    • Mark 13:26: “…and then they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming on/in (the) clouds with much power and splendor”
      Again, Luke (21:27) is nearly identical, while Matthew differs considerably (note the additional words in italics):
      Matt 24:30: “and then the sign of the Son of Man will be made to shine forth in heaven; and then all the offshoots [i.e. peoples/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) and they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor”
    • Mark 14:62: “…and you will look with (your) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”
      Matthew (26:64) and Luke (22:69) both record the saying prefaced with a temporal indicator (“from now [on]…”); otherwise, Matthew is identical to Mark, while Luke’s version is in a simpler form which also removes the visual/visionary aspect:
      “…the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power of God!”

The first saying (Mk 8:38 par) follows the traditional end-time Judgment scene indicated in the sayings noted above (section #3). The Son of Man plays a leading role in overseeing (or otherwise participating in) the heavenly Judgment; the ethical dimension has been reinterpreted to cover the disciple’s faithfulness in accepting and following Jesus (cf. below). The sayings in Mk 13:26 and 14:62 pars more properly refer to the end-time appearance, or coming, of the Son of Man, and both draw clearly upon Daniel 7:13. The emphasis in Daniel is somewhat different, in that the heavenly figure (“one like a son of man”, i.e. resembling a human being) comes on the clouds toward God, i.e. approaching Him, rather than becoming visible to people on earth. However, the motif of the end-time Judgment (and deliverance of God’s people) was already present in the original vision (v. 14ff). The saying before the Sanhedrin is distinctive for several reasons:

    • Here Jesus makes a much more explicit identification of himself with the Son of Man figure
    • In the context, it is related to the death and eventual resurrection of Jesus
    • Dan 7:13f is blended together with the idea of Jesus being present at the “right hand” of God. This motif comes primarily from Psalm 110:1, and was central to the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus—his resurrection resulted in his exaltation to heaven and a position at God’s right hand.
    • All of this is further connected with Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and “Son of God”, cf. the question in Mk 14:61 par.

Luke’s version of the saying in Mk 14:62 (22:69) eliminates the eschatological aspect, possibly with the tradition in Acts 7:55-56 in mind. However, in 21:27 the eschatological dimension is retained. This saying (Mk 13:26 par) will be discussed as part of the upcoming study on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The connection in Matt 24:30 between Dan 7:13-14 and Zech 12:10 is also attested in the book of Revelation (1:7).

There are additional Son of Man sayings in the so-called “Q” material—i.e., the traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. In theme and concept these follow the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38 and 13:26 par, relating to: (a) the Judgment to be ushered in (and overseen) by the Son of Man, and (b) the coming/appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time. Several other sayings, unique to Matthew and/or Luke, will also be included under these headings.

(a) The Judgment Scene.

    • Matthew 10:32-33 / Luke 12:8-9. This double-saying is generally parallel to that of Mark 8:38 (cf. above). Note that only in Luke’s version is the expression/title “Son of Man” used; in Matthew’s version, Jesus uses the pronoun “I”, indicating that it is self-designation (on this, cf. above).
    • Matthew 13:41 (cf. also verse 37)—this reference will be discussed as part of the study of the eschatological elements in Jesus’ parables.
    • Matthew 16:27—in place of Mk 8:38 par, Matthew includes a similar saying where the Judgment scene is connected more clearly with the coming/appearance of the Son of Man:
      “For the Son of Man is about to come in the splendor of his Father, with his Messengers, and then he will give from (himself) [i.e. reward/repay] to each (person) according to his deeds”
      This saying (along with that of v. 28) will be discussed further in an upcoming note on the eschatological imminence indicated in certain of Jesus’ sayings.
    • Matthew 25:31—the Judgment scene is vividly depicted in this parable, which will be discussed further at the proper point in this series.
    • Luke 21:36—part of the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, to be discussed.

(b) The Coming/Appearance of the Son of Man. These references largely preserve the Judgment context; however, it is the sudden/impending appearance of the Son of Man which is particularly emphasized.

    • Matthew 24:27 / Luke 17:24
    • Matthew 24:37, 39 / Luke 17:26, 30
    • Matthew 24:44 / Luke 12:40
      All these sayings are included in Matthew’s version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Luke has them in different locations), and will be discussed further as part of our study on the Discourse.
    • Matthew 16:28—Matthew’s version of the Synoptic saying in Mk 9:1 par will be discussed in the upcoming note on “imminent eschatology” in Jesus’ sayings.
    • Luke 17:22—This saying, along with the peculiar phrase “one of the days of the Son of Man”, will be discussed in the study on the Eschatological Discourse.
    • Luke 18:8—A rather famous saying, often cited entirely out of context:
      “…the Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he find trust upon the earth?”
      It, too, will be touched on briefly in discussing imminent eschatology in Jesus’ sayings.

Finally, notice should be given to the statement by Jesus in Matthew 19:28:

“Amen, I relate to you, that you, the (one)s following (the path with) me, in the (time of) coming to be (alive) again [i.e. resurrection], when the Son of Man should sit upon his ruling-seat of splendor, you also will sit upon twelve ruling-seats judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea of judgment is certainly present, but the emphasis is on the heavenly throne/court setting, rather than on the Judgment scene itself. It is roughly parallel to the opening of the parable in 25:31. Luke records a saying very similar to Matt 19:28 (22:28-30), which is often regarded as coming from the “Q” line of tradition (despite the different settings). Luke’s version does not use the title “Son of Man”. The saying in Matt 19:28 will be discussed further in the next part of this study (section #5).

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 5:44

Last Monday, we examined references to prayer in the Synoptic Tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark. Now, we will be looking at those passages and references that are unique to the Gospels and Matthew and Luke; today we focus on the Gospel of Matthew.

Actually, in Matthew there are relatively few teachings or traditions of Jesus regarding prayer beyond the Markan/Synoptic references. Indeed, the relevant passages are limited to the collection of teaching known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, and which, to some extent, has parallels in Luke (so-called “Q” material). We have already examined the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13ff; par Lk 11:2-4) in considerable detail. Within this context, there are two other passages which must be studied: (1) the saying in 5:44, and (2) the teaching in 6:5-8 which directly precedes the Lord’s Prayer.

Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you, ‘You must love your enemies and speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you’.”

This saying is part of the Antitheses section of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-47)—in particular, the final (6th) Antithesis, on loving one’s enemies (vv. 43-47). Here, I reprise the discussion from my earlier series on “Jesus and the Law”:

On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

Customary saying:

    • “you shall love your neighbor [lit. the one near] and (you shall) hate your enemy [lit. the one hostile]”

Jesus’ saying:

    • “love your enemies and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the ones pursuing [i.e. persecuting] you”

Relation to the Law:

The saying is extracted from Leviticus 19:18 [LXX], a verse frequently cited in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:9, cf. below); however here the phrase “as yourself” (w($ seauto/n) is not included as part of the citation, presumably to better fit the second part of the saying. The second half of the saying does not come the Old Testament Scripture at all, but should be regarded as a customary and natural (logical) extension—if one should love one’s friends and neighbors, the opposite would seem to follow: that we should hate our enemies. For the principle expressed in ethical-philosophical terms, see e.g., the Delphic aphorism (“to friends be of good mind [i.e. be kind], with enemies keep [them] away [i.e. defend against, ward off]”) and the famous maxim in Xenophon Mem. 2.6.35 etc. (“a man is virtuous [on the one hand] in prevailing [over] friends in doing good, and [on the other] [over] enemies in [doing] ill”).

Jesus’ Exposition:

Jesus flatly contradicts the conventional wisdom, commanding instead to love one’s enemies and to pray to God on their behalf. This relates both to personal enemies and to those who persecute [lit. pursue] Jesus’ followers (cf. in the Beatitudes, vv. 10-12). Of all Jesus’ statements in the Antitheses, this represents the most distinctive Christian teaching, and the one which is perhaps most difficult to follow. As in most of other Antitheses (see above), Jesus extends the Torah command and gives it a deeper meaning—in addition to loving one’s friends and relatives, one must also love one’s enemies.

Example/Application:

As the basis for this command, Jesus cites as an example (verse 45) God the Father himself who:

    • makes the sun to rise upon the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people alike
    • sends the rain upon the ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ people alike

In some ways this is a curious example, drawing from simple observance of natural phenomena, apart from any ethical or religious considerations—for certainly, we see many instances in Scripture where God brings evil and judgment against wicked/unjust people. However, the emphasis is here on the more fundamental nature of God as Creator—giver and preserver of life.

Verses 46-47 provide a clearer application of Jesus’ teaching, and is parallel to the statement in verse 20. The so-called “love command”, with its extension even to one’s enemies, proved to have immense influence in subsequent Christian teaching, even if the force of it was sometimes softened—cf. Rom 12:19-21 (citing Prov 25:21-22). In Galatians 5:14 Paul refers to the love-command (as represented by Lev 19:18) as “all the Law fulfilled in one word”. There are various forms of Jesus’ saying in verse 44 preserved elsewhere in early Christian writings, which may reflect independent transmission: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; Didache 1:3; 2 Clement 13:4; Justin Martyr First Apology 15.9; Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians 11.1; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 3:14; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:12; Justin Dialogue 35:8; 85:7; 96:3; Clementine Homilies 12:32.

Ultimately the purpose (and result) of following Jesus’ teaching is stated in verse 45a:

“how that [i.e. so that] you may come to be sons [i.e. children] of your Father in the heavens”

This demonstrates a clear connection with the language and imagery of the Beatitudes (esp. v. 9); by following God’s own example (in Christ), we come to be like him—the same idea which concludes the Antitheses in verse 48.

The saying in verse 44 (par Luke 6:28)

With the context of the Antitheses in mind, let us now consider the specific saying in verse 44. It will be helpful to compare the Matthean and Lukan versions, since they presumably stem from the same basic tradition, though they occur in rather different contexts in the respective narratives:

Matt 5:44:
“But I say to you,
{line 1} ‘You must love your enemies
{line 2} and speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you’.”

Lk 6:27-28:
“But to you the (one)s hearing (me) I say,
{line 1} ‘You must love your enemies
{line 2} (and) do well to(ward) the (one)s hating you;
{line 3} you must give a good account [i.e. speak well] of the (one)s wishing down (evil) on you,
{line 4} (and) speak out toward (God) about the (one)s throwing insults upon you’.”

I have broken the saying into separate lines in order to indicate the poetic character of Jesus’ saying. According to the style and conventions of traditional Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) poetry, the saying follows the pattern of parallel couplets (bicola) whereby the second line (colon) restates and builds on the first. The Lukan version is made up of two bicola, while the Matthean has just a single bicolon. In both versions, the main verb in each line is an imperative (“you must…!”), while the descriptive modifier for the ‘opponents’ in line(s) 2-4 is a present participle, perhaps suggesting continuous/repeated action. If both versions, in fact, stem from a common tradition (i.e. historical saying by Jesus), then it is likely that the Matthean version is an abridgement (and/or simplification) of a more extensive saying.

In each version, the command in the first line is identical: “(you must) love your enemies” (a)gapa=te tou\$ e)xqrou\$ u(mw=n) [so also at Lk 6:35]. The difference is found in the line involving prayer:

and (you must) speak out toward (God) over the (one)s pursuing you
kai\ proseu/xesqe u(pe\r tw=n diwko/ntwn u(ma=$
kai proseuchesthe hyper tœn diœkontœn hymas

(and you must) speak out toward (God) about the (one)s throwing insults upon you
proseu/xesqe peri\ tw=n e)pereazo/ntwn u(ma=$
proseuchesthe peri tœn epereazontœn hymas

The sayings are essentially identical in form, differing only in terms of the specific preposition (u(pe/r vs. peri/) and descriptive verb (diw/kw vs. e)perea/zw) used. The variation in preposition could merely reflect a stylistic difference in Greek; the choice of verb, however, is more substantive. The Matthean verb is diw/kw, “pursue [after]”, often in a hostile sense (i.e. “persecute”), directed specifically at Jesus’ followers; as such, the verb is used three times earlier in the Beatitudes (vv. 10-12; cf. also 10:23). The Lukan verb (e)perea/zw) is much more rare, occurring just once elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Pet 3:16); it means “(throw) insults/abuse upon”, sometimes in the more outright hostile sense of “threaten, be abusive (toward)”.

How are we to explain the difference between the two versions? Given the pointed use of the verb diw/kw elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, it seems likely that the Matthean version may be an (interpretive) abridgment of an original saying preserved more completely in Luke. Certainly we could fairly say that the Lukan lines 2-4 are effectively combined and summarized in the Matthean line 2, with the emphasis being more directly on mistreatment toward people because they are followers of Jesus. On the other hand, the use of diw/kw could also reflect Jesus’ own emphasis (as speaker) in the context of the Sermon; this would certainly represent the more traditional-conservative explanation. At the same time, some commentators suggest that Luke has expanded the saying, and that Matthew’s more concise version more accurately preserves the original; perhaps the general parallel in Rom 12:14, using the same verb diw/kw, might be seen to confirm this. Either way, the main point is clear enough, in both versions: that Jesus’ disciples are to speak out toward God (i.e. pray) on behalf of those who are mistreating and abusing them. This remains one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of Jesus’ teaching for believers—and for us today—to follow faithfully.

The other principal passage on prayer in Matthew (6:5-8) will be explored in the next study.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (“Q” sayings, etc)

Having examined the Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic (Triple) Tradition (cf. the previous note), it will be useful here to survey the additional sayings and references found in Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark). While these most likely derive from separate lines of tradition, they all relate fundamentally to the sayings already discussed. I begin with the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in Matthew and Luke.

The “Q” Sayings

There are between 7 and 9 distinct sayings from the “Q” material. The first three (as they occur in Luke) tend to focus on the earthly life and suffering of Jesus, while the remainder have an eschatological (Judgment) emphasis.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19—Here we seem to have a simple self-reference by Jesus, dealing with his behavior/lifestyle during his ministry on earth. However, the expression “the Son of Man has come…” may allude to a certain eschatological and/or Messianic expectation (cf. below). In both Luke and Matthew, this saying is part of a (fixed) block of material dealing with the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 par).

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20—The emphasis is on the poverty and hardship endured by Jesus during his earthly ministry:

“The foxes have holes/lairs (for dwelling), and the birds of the heaven(s) (have place)s to put down house [lit. tent], but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head (for the night)” (Lk 9:58)

This also is part of a (fixed) sequence of sayings on the theme of discipleship. A motif of self-sacrifice is tied to the suffering and hardship of Jesus—i.e., his identification with the human condition.

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40—In this saying, Jesus draws upon the Old Testament story of Jonah, as a type or figure of his upcoming death. The saying is formulated quite differently in Luke and Matthew, but it clearly derives from a common tradition. It combines the idea of suffering (his death) with the scene of Judgment in Lk 11:29-32 par—two important aspects of the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33—This saying presents a vivid scene of the Judgment and the heavenly tribunal, or courtroom, with the Son of Man playing a central role in the proceedings. It was discussed briefly in the previous note, in relation to the corresponding saying in Mk 8:38 par.

Luke 12:10 / Matt 12:32—Another Son of Man saying follows immediately in Luke (by way of “catchword” bonding), while in Matthew it is found in a different location, joined to the Synoptic parallel in v. 31 (Mk 3:28-29). As I noted previously, the Synoptic saying in Mark raises the possibility that “Son of Man” could have originally been intended (by Jesus) in the general sense of “human being(s)”. However, in the context of the “Q” version in Matthew and Luke, it is almost certainly understood as a (self-)title of Jesus. Luke has more clearly preserved the eschatological/Judgment setting of the saying.

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44—Here the Son of Man saying is part of a short parable (Lk 12:39-40 par), and has a definite eschatological emphasis, warning Jesus’ disciples of the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance:

“(So) you also must come to be prepared, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is at) an hour of which you are not thinking/aware (that) the Son of Man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

Luke has included it as part of the eschatological material in chapter 12, while Matthew has set it in the eschatological “discourse” (chaps. 24-25 = Lk 21:5-36) during the final period in Jerusalem.

Luke 17:24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37, 39—There are three references to the Son of Man in the eschatological “Q” material of Lk 17:24-37. Matthew has included these sayings as part of the Jerusalem eschatological “discourse”, in a different arrangement:

Again, in both versions, the emphasis is on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance at the end time:

“Very (much) as the flash (of lightning) flashing out of the (one place) under the heaven(s) into the (other place) under the heaven(s), so it will be (with) the Son of Man [in his day]” (Lk 17:24)

Matthew’s version is expressed in more conventional imagery—parousi/a (parousia) being a common early Christian (technical) term for the return of Jesus:

“For just as the flash (of lightning) comes out from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] and shines unto the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. in the west], so will be the Son of Man’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a, i.e. his coming/return]” (Matt 24:27)

The Son of Man’s appearance will be both sudden and all-encompassing, like a flash of lightning which fills the sky from one end to the other. The Scriptural allusions in Lk 17:26-30 par—Noah and Lot [Matthew only refers to Noah]—involve Judgment by God upon humankind, expressed through natural disaster and destruction. Such natural phenomena were typically seen as accompanying the end-time Judgment (the “Day of YHWH”) in the Scriptural prophecies, such as those cited by Jesus in Mk 13:24-25 par (Isa 13:10; 34:4). It essentially reflects the idea of theophany—the presence of God breaking through into the natural world.

Luke includes certain elements in this section which are unique to his Gospel, such as the two references to Lot (vv. 28-29, 32-33). Both are likely part of the original tradition. Matthew may have omitted the reference (cp. Matt 24:37-39) for the sake of brevity. Similarly, a reference to Lot’s wife is a natural illustration for the saying in v. 31, which has a parallel in Mk 13:15-16. More significant is the Son of Man saying in verse 22:

“The days will come when you will set (your) impulse [i.e. heart/desire] upon seeing one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see (it)”

The expression “days of the Son of Man” probably is meant to fit the pattern of the sayings which follow—”days of Noah”, “days of Lot” (vv. 27-28). It refers to the time of the Son of Man’s appearing. More curious is the formulation “one of the days of…”, the precise meaning of which remains uncertain. Perhaps it serves to intensify the dramatic tension of the illustration—i.e., people will not be able to see anything, not even a glimpse, of the Son of Man’s appearance, no matter how much they long for it. As the following sayings make clear, this will be due to the death and destruction which will come upon human beings at the time of the Judgment. Only the elect/chosen ones (i.e., believers in Jesus) will be saved from this fate. Here seeing the Son of Man is synonymous with experiencing the salvation/deliverance which he brings (cf. Lk 21:28, etc).

Sayings and References found only in Luke

Apart from Lk 17:20, mentioned above, the following occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” are found only in Luke:

  • Lk 6:22—This is the Lukan Beatitude corresponding to Matt 5:11; while in Matthew Jesus uses the expression “on account of me“, the Lukan form is “on account of the Son of Man“. It is a clear example of “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus, being readily understood as such in the early Tradition. It also draws upon the motif of suffering and persecution which is central to a number of the Son of Man sayings. The Judgment setting of the Beatitude form (on this, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes) comes across more clearly in Luke’s version (6:20-26).
  • Lk 18:8—The parable in vv. 1-8a concludes with a Son of Man saying (v. 8b) which may originally have been given in a separate context. It serves as a kind of eschatological warning, and an exhortation, to Jesus’ followers, that they remain faithful despite the hardship and persecution they may experience in the current wicked Age:
    “The Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he (truly) find (any) trust (in God) upon the earth?”
    The coming of the Son of Man, in the context of the Lukan narrative, must be understood in light of the earlier eschatological material in chap. 17 (cf. above).
  • Lk 19:10—This saying appears to be a “floating” tradition, which is found in different locations (i.e., Lk 9:55; Matt 18:11) in the various manuscripts. Its inclusion at the end of the Zaccheus episode (19:1-9) may be a Lukan adaptation of the tradition. The saying itself refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus, with a possible allusion to his (sacrificial) suffering and death (cf. Mk 10:45). The emphasis on salvation—the Son of Man’s role in saving sinners—is unique here among these sayings in the Synoptics, being more prominent in the Son of Man sayings in John (to be discussed in the next note).
  • Lk 21:36—The end-time Judgment and the heavenly tribunal are certainly in view in this saying (cf. 12:40 par), with the Son of Man even more clearly in the position of Judge—”…to stand in front of the Son of Man”.
  • Lk 22:48—On this addition to the Son of Man references in the Passion narrative, cf. the earlier note.
  • Lk 24:7—The words of the Angel in the Lukan resurrection scene refer back directly to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par).

Sayings and References found only in Matthew

  • Matt 10:23—In Matthew’s narrative, this saying is part of Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve prior to being sent out on their mission (vv. 5ff). It includes sayings and teaching which are found in different locations in the other Gospels. While it all fits thematically, portions such as vv. 17-23 seem decidedly out of place. Indeed the instruction/exhortation in verses 17-23 is much more appropriate to a setting closer to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (cf. Mk 13:9-13 and the Last Supper Discourses [chs. 13-17] in John). In its original context, v. 23 almost certainly was eschatological, referring to the end-time coming of the Son of Man, as in many of the passages discussed above. However, the narrative setting here in Matthew creates an obvious chronological difficulty.
  • Matt 13:37, 41—There are two Son of Man references in the parable of the Weeds (i.e., Jesus’ explanation in vv. 36-43, cf. vv. 24-30). Verse 37 is unique in the Synoptic Gospels with its apparent allusion to the divine pre-existence of the Son of Man (otherwise found only in the Gospel of John). It no doubt also refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Verse 41 draws upon the image of the Son of Man as God’s representative overseeing the end-time Judgment (cf. the passages discussed above, and in the prior note).
  • Matt 16:13—In the episode of Peter’s confession, Jesus (in Matthew’s version) asks, “Who do men count [i.e. consider] the Son of Man to be?”. In Mk 8:27 par it is: “Who do men count me to be?”. Cf. on Lk 6:22 above, for the interchangeability with “Son of Man” as a self-reference of Jesus.
  • Matt 16:28—Matthew’s version of the saying in Mk 9:1 par may reflect an adaptation influenced by the earlier Son of Man reference in v. 27 (cf. Mk 8:38). Compare:
    “…until they should see the Kingdom of God having come in power” (Mk)
    “…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (Mt)
    The result is a saying with a more pronounced Christological emphasis (cf. Lk 23:42, etc).
  • Matt 19:28—This saying has been discussed in an earlier note. It may properly belong to the “Q” material (cp. Lk 22:29-30), but the reference to the Son of Man is unique to Matthew’s version. It draws upon the image of Jesus’ exaltation, which is otherwise found in the Son of Man sayings only in Mk 14:62 par, though it may also be inferred from the very idea of the Son of Man coming to earth (from Heaven) at the time of Judgment.
  • Matt 25:31—The eschatological image of the Son of Man, at the beginning of the parable (vv. 31-46), very much follows the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38; 13:26 par, etc. This is the clearest Judgment scene involving the Son of Man in the Gospels.
  • Matt 26:2—This saying by Jesus, echoing the earlier Passion predictions, has been utilized by Matthew in his introduction of the Passion narrative.

The next note will survey the dozen or so Son of Man sayings and references in the Gospel of John.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 8:38; 13:26; 14:62)

One major group of Son of Man sayings are eschatological—they refer to the coming of the Son of Man at the end-time, in connection with God’s (final) Judgment upon the world. Early Christians, along with most believers today, understood these sayings as referring to the future return of Jesus. However, viewed in this light, the sayings would have made little or no sense to people in Jesus’ own time. Even his close disciples could scarcely grasp the idea of his death and resurrection, prior to their occurrence; in this context, reference to his future return would have been unintelligible. Some critical commentators would treat such sayings as creations of the Church which have been projected back and set on Jesus’ lips. I find this to be most unlikely, given the apparent authenticity of the Son of Man sayings (on objective grounds), as discussed previously.

More plausible is the critical theory that, at the historical level, Jesus, in these sayings, is not referring to himself, but to a separate heavenly/divine figure called “the Son of Man”, inspired by Daniel 7:13 (and subsequent tradition). A close examination of the eschatological sayings (cf. below) shows, I think, that this view is possible; however, there are still serious problems with it. In what is arguably the best-established tradition (Mk 14:62 par, discussed below), Jesus is clearly identifying himself with this heavenly/divine figure. The same may be said for any number of the other eschatological sayings.

The “Son of Man” figure in these sayings is clearly derived from the being “like a son of man” (vn`a$ rb^K=, k§»ar °§n¹š) in Dan 7:13. While the book of Daniel was immensely influential on Jewish thought and belief in the first centuries B.C.-A.D., reference to this passage (and the “Son of Man” figure) is surprisingly absent from the Qumran texts, and other writings of the period. There is really only one contemporary parallel to the eschatological usage by Jesus: the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), often dated by scholars to the time of Jesus and the early Gospel tradition (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.). Equally inspired by Daniel, the Similitudes depict a heavenly figure, called by the title “Son of Man” (among other titles), who will function both as divinely-appointed Redeemer and Judge. There are definite parallels to the figure-type with whom Jesus identifies himself in the Gospels. For more on this subject, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental note on Dan 7:13.

There are three eschatological Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par—the last two of which are closely connected and relate to the Passion narrative. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

Mark 8:38

“For whoever would feel shame (because) of me and my [words] in this adulterous and sinful (period of) coming-to-be [i.e. generation], even (so) the Son of Man will feel shame (because) of him when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers”

This saying follows the first Passion prediction by Jesus (v. 31), and is part of a short block of teaching on the theme of discipleship (8:34-9:1). We see how it is conceivable that Jesus might be referring to a heavenly being separate from himself. However, the parallelism within the saying, together with Jesus’ frequent use of the expression “son of man” as a self-reference, makes this somewhat unlikely here. At any rate, it is clear that the “Son of Man” plays a role in the Judgment, as a witness, it would seem, for or against the human being. The basis of the Judgment, and the Son of Man’s witness, is the reaction of the person to Jesus and his words. The verb e)paisxunomai essentially means “bring shame [ai)sxunomai] upon [e)pi] (oneself)”, but sometimes in the sense of experiencing or feeling shame (within oneself) because of someone or something. The person—that is, the one who is supposed to be a disciple—who feels shame because of Jesus, will suffer a similar (reciprocal) fate in the time of Judgment.

The parallel passage in Luke (9:23-27) follows Mark closely, including the saying in v. 26. Two small differences are worth noting:

    • Instead of phrase “in the splendor of his Father”, Luke reads “in his splendor and (that of) the Father”, emphasizing the Son of Man’s own glory, which he has together with the Father. This formulation could indicate a slight Christological adaptation.
    • In the following (concluding) verse (27), Luke’s version generalizes the saying somewhat. Mark reads “…will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power”. Luke omits the qualification “…having come in power”, softening the eschatological emphasis.

Matthew has a rather different Son of Man saying at this point (Matt 16:27); it may stem from a separate tradition, or it may simply represent a generalization of the saying in Mk 8:38 par—regarding the role of the Son of Man in the Judgment.

In addition, we find a saying similar to the Synoptic version in the so-called “Q” material—in Matt 10:32-33 and Lk 12:8-9. Quite possibly, the Synoptic and “Q” versions each stem from a single historical tradition. The Q saying is more extensive and preserves a clearer sense of the Judgment scene:

“Every one who should give account as one [i.e. acknowledge/confess] on (behalf of) me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one on (behalf of) him in front of the Messengers of God. And the one refusing to speak (on behalf of) [i.e. who denies/disavows] me, he will not be given (any) speech (on his behalf) [i.e. will be denied/disavowed] in the sight of the Messengers of God” (Lk 12:8-9)

Here it is not a question of feeling shame, but of publicly affirming (or refusing to affirm) faith in Jesus. The would-be disciple’s behavior and attitude “in front of” other people will be reciprocated “in front of” the heavenly tribunal at the end-time.

Mark 13:26

This saying is part of the collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which is set as taking place, in Jerusalem, in the days prior to his death. It is presented as a sermon (or discourse) given on a specific occasion, but it is more likely that the arrangement is traditional and thematic, based on the common eschatological theme(s). This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Matthew includes eschatological sayings (“Q” material) which occur in Luke at an entirely different location (17:20-37). The saying in Mk 13:26, occurs at a climactic (central) point in the “discourse”, covering verses 24-27. It is preceded by a quotation/adaptation of Scripture (Isa 13:10; 34:4) which vividly depicts the heavenly phenomena which will occur at the end-time (vv. 24-25). This marks the sudden appearance of the Son of Man:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, coming in (the) clouds with much power and splendor” (v. 26)

The expression “coming in/with the clouds (of heaven)” clearly derives from the ancient theophanous motif associated with “the one like a son of man” in Dan 7:13. The Judgment setting of vv. 24-27 is certain, though it must be inferred somewhat in this particular verse. It is the role of the Son of Man in the act of saving/redeeming the Elect people of God which is emphasized in v. 27:

“And then he will set forth the (heavenly) Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) (all) his (people who are) gathered out [i.e. chosen] (from) out of the four winds, from the (furthest) tip of the earth until the (furthest) tip of heaven.”

Matthew (24:29-31) generally follows Mark, but adds/includes certain details in vv. 30-31:

    • A separate(?) Son of Man saying in v. 30a, which seems to allude to Zech 12:10 (cf. Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7); if so, it introduces the context of Jesus’ impending suffering which is absent from the tradition in Mk 13:24-27 par.
    • v. 30b fills out the expression “…clouds of heaven” (cf. Dan 7:13)
    • v. 31a adds the phrase “with a great trumpet”
    • in v. 31b, the spatial/geographic image for the gathering of the Elect is more straightforward than in Mk 13:27

The corresponding section in Luke (21:25-28) differs considerably, and may reflect an interpretive development of the Synoptic tradition. Note:

    • The detail of the Isaian passages cited in Mk 13:24-25 is summarized briefly in v. 25a & 26b
    • The reaction of humankind to the heavenly phenomena is included/inserted in vv. 25b-26a
    • In place of Mk 13:27 par, it would seem that Luke has included a separate saying of Jesus (v. 28), which more clearly brings out the idea of the coming redemption/deliverance of God’s people (i.e. believers)

The actual Son of Man saying in 21:27, however, follows the Synoptic/Markan version closely—another indication of its established/fixed position within the Tradition.

Mark 14:62

Even better established is the saying in Mark 14:62, which, if we accept as authentic and derived from Jesus’ actual words (on objective grounds), must have exerted a profound influence on every other eschatological reference to the Son of Man in the earliest Christian tradition. This is seen clearly enough from the way that the death of Stephen is narrated in the book of Acts, where the visionary scene in 7:55-56 obviously relates back to the Synoptic tradition of Mk 14:62 par. The setting of this saying—Jesus’ appearance before the Jerusalem Council (Sanhedrin)—will be discussed in the next part of this series, on the Passion Narrative. Here it is enough to look at the saying itself in its immediate context. It is presented as Jesus’ response to a question by the Council (the High Priest in Mark/Matthew):

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the ‘Blessed’ (One)?” (Mk 14:61)

Matthew’s version of this question (26:63) has added Christological resonance, in the way that it closely echoes the confession of Peter in 16:16. Jesus’ initial response to this question differs significantly in all three Gospels, but the declaration involving the Son of Man is generally fixed in the tradition. Mark’s version (v. 62) is:

“you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”

The context makes clear that Jesus is identifying himself with the heavenly Son of Man figure (from Dan 7:13 etc); nowhere else in the Gospel tradition is this so readily apparent. However one may interpret the other eschatological Son of Man sayings, there is no mistaking the self-identification of Jesus here. It is also the clearest reference to the exaltation of Jesus, in the way that it blends the reference to Dan 7:13 together with Psalm 110:1. The image of the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, so prevalent in early Christian tradition (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 1 Pet 3:22, etc), is prefigured here.

Again, it should be pointed out that, despite the numerous differences in how the Sanhedrin scene is narrated in the Synoptics, this particular Son of Man tradition is extremely well-established and fixed. Matthew and Luke (Matt 26:64; Lk 22:69) follow it closely, each including one small temporal phrase at the start—”from now (on)…”—which serves to contrast the current situation with that of the (future) end-time. Now Jesus is being judged under the power/authority of a human council, but from this point on (i.e. after his death and resurrection), the exalted Christ (the Son of Man) will be seated in the ultimate position of authority and judgment, at God’s right hand. We have seen how there is often a motif of reciprocity or reversal-of-fortune in the Son of Man sayings which deal with the Judgment—a person’s fate in the end-time Judgment will mirror his/her attitude and behavior on earth. Just as the Council is judging Jesus, so too will they be judged.

It is possible that Luke’s version of the saying is meant to objectify Jesus’ exaltation. Instead of “you will look with (open) eyes [i.e. see, gaze] at the Son of Man…”, the Lukan version reads simply “the Son of Man will be…”. It is no longer a question of something people will see, but of an objective reality which transcends one’s perception. People will see the Son of Man in glory at God’s right hand because that is where he will be after the resurrection.

The remainder of the Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” material, etc) will be discussed in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 etc)

This note will examine the Synoptic “Son of Man” sayings which relate to the suffering of Jesus. The best explanation for these sayings is that Jesus is consciously identifying with the human condition (as a “son of man”), especially in terms of the experience of hardship, suffering, and death. A particular group of these sayings specifically refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus. If we consider the core Synoptic sayings of the Triple Tradition (Mark, with parallels in Matthew and Luke), more than half of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus refer to his (impending) suffering and death; these include:

None of these sayings are Messianic, as such, but relate specifically to Jesus’ unique experience of suffering and death. The sacrificial, atoning character of this suffering is implied, but stated clearly only in Mk 10:45 par:

“for (so) also the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul [i.e. his life] in exchange for [a)nti] many (others) as a way (to) loose (them from bondage)”

In such passages, it is hard to see the expression “son of man” as anything other than a kind of self-reference—i.e., a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”. Yet the original sense of identification with humankind should not be missed: Jesus, as a human being (on earth), gives himself (his own life) on behalf of other human beings.

The Passion Predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par)

The three predictions by Jesus of his upcoming suffering and death are a central component of the Synoptic narrative, and are found in all three Gospels. They follow the conclusion of the “Galilean Period“, marked by Peter’s confession (Mk 8:27-30 par), and precede the journey to Jerusalem (covered by Mk 10), with the third prediction set as they approach Jerusalem. As such, they are transitional, leading into the Judean/Jerusalem period and the Passion narrative (Mk 11-15). Mark and Matthew essentially follow the same outline; however, Luke has expanded greatly the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, filling the span of 9:5118:34 (nearly 9 full chapters) with much traditional material—sayings, teaching, parables, etc. I discuss the three Passion predictions in considerable detail in an Easter season series (soon to be posted here Easter season 2020).

Just as we saw with the two Feeding Miracles (5000 and 4000), there is some question, among critical commentators, whether the three Passion predictions by Jesus reflect separate sayings (and historical traditions) or different versions of the same tradition. The general similarity of the sayings would tend to support the critical view that they derive from a single historical tradition. On the other hand, the three predictions are clearly distinct in the Synoptic narrative, providing the framework for the period prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). It seems likely that this structure was did not originate with the Gospel of Mark, but rather, already existed as an organizing principle for the narrative prior to its inclusion. In Luke, the periodic symmetry of this outline has been altered, due the enormous amount of material between the first two predictions (Lk 9:22, 43b-45) and the last (18:31-34).

There are certain differences between the versions of these three sayings (cf. the earlier study cited above for comparisons); however, the use of the expression “Son of Man” is consistent throughout. The key phrase in the first saying (Mk 8:31 par) is “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s…” Matthew’s version of this saying is the only one which does not use “Son of Man”, being presented indirectly by the narrator: “Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary for him…to suffer many things” (Matt 16:21). This indicates that the Gospel writer clearly understood the expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus.

The second saying (Mk 9:31 par) is shorter, focusing upon a particular aspect of the suffering, presented in a three-part chain—betrayal, execution, resurrection:

“The Son of Man is (being) [i.e. about to be] given along into the hands of men, and they will kill him off, and being killed off, after three days, he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again)”.

Matthew’s version (17:22-23) is simpler, but generally follows the Markan version. Luke’s version is simpler still (9:44b), but is given a more detailed (and dramatic) narrative setting.

The third Passion prediction saying (Mk 10:33) effectively brings together the first and second, expanding upon them, describing the suffering in more vivid and precise detail. Indeed, Jesus’ statement summarizes the scenes which will be narrated in 14:43-15:20ff. Again, Matthew (20:18-19) follows Mark closely; while the formulation in Luke (18:31ff) is quite different, suggesting here a development of the tradition:

“…and all things written through the Foretellers [i.e. by the Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man; for he will be given along…”

This emphasis on Jesus’ suffering as a fulfillment of Scripture and the Prophets becomes an important Lukan theme in the remainder of the Gospel (and the book of Acts).

Mark 9:9, 12

In between the first two Passion predictions, and following the Transfiguration scene, Jesus again refers (twice) to the suffering of the Son of Man:

“And, at their stepping down out of the mountain, he set through to them [i.e. to his disciples] that they should not bring through [i.e. reveal] (even) one (thing) of what they saw, if not [i.e. except] (until the time) when the Son of Man should stand up [i.e. rise] out of the dead.” (Mk 9:9)

Matthew (17:9) narrates this as a direct quotation by Jesus: “You should not say (anything) to anyone (about) this sight until the (time at) which the Son of Man should rise out of the dead”. Luke paraphrases the tradition (9:36b), making no reference to the “Son of Man”.

The saying which follows in Mk 9:12 is tied to a separate tradition, involving the eschatological/Messianic figure of Elijah (who is to come), vv. 11-13. It is not certain whether this saying occurred at the same time as v. 9, or has been joined to it thematically. Certainly the Markan v. 10 joins them together in the narrative. The original context of vv. 11-13 is not easy to determine; but, from the standpoint of the wider Gospel Tradition, Jesus would be seen here as identifying John the Baptist with “Elijah”, and referencing John’s suffering (and death) as foreshadowing his own (cf. 1:14a; 6:14-29). This association is made more specific in Matthew’s version of the “Q” material in 11:2-15 (vv. 11-15). In 17:10-13, Matthew follows Mark, but again makes the identification between John and Elijah definite (v. 13). Luke omits the tradition entirely, perhaps because he has already associated John with Elijah elsewhere (Lk 1:17, 76-77; 7:27).

Mark 14:21, 41

The expression “Son of Man” is used by Jesus again (twice) on the night of his Passion. The first (Mk 14:21 par) is set in the context of a woe against the betrayer (Judas); the verb indicating betrayal, paradi/dwmi (“give along”), is also used in the Son of Man Passion prediction sayings (cf. above). The expression “Son of Man” occurs twice in verse 21, as if to emphasize the experience of his suffering (through the betrayal). Matthew (26:24) follows Mark closely, whereas Luke (22:22) has simplified the saying somewhat.

The second saying is set in the garden, just prior to the ‘arrest’ of Jesus (Mk 14:41):

“the hour (ha)s come—see, the Son of Man is given along into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This essentially quotes the second Passion prediction (9:31), substituting “sinful (men)” for “men”. Again, Matthew (26:45) follows Mark, while Luke omits the saying (cf. 22:46).

Along with these Synoptic traditions, Matthew and Luke each include an additional Son of Man saying in the Passion narrative—Matthew’s occurs at the very beginning of the narrative, as a kind of thematic introduction (26:2), while Luke’s occurs in response to the kiss of Judas (22:22). Both of these sayings follow very much in accordance with the main Synoptic tradition summarized above.

In the next note, I will be looking at a different kind of Son of Man saying by Jesus—those which refer to a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment. I will discuss the two Synoptic references (Mk 13:26; 14:62), along with a survey other Son of Man sayings in Matthew and Luke (the “Q” material, etc).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Excursus (Lk 6:20-8:3 etc)

In the previous note, I presented the Synoptic narrative outline, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, along with a more detailed breakdown of the traditions in Mk 3:13-8:30, the second half of the Galilean period (1:14-8:30). Today, I want to look at how this material was developed by Luke and Matthew. In particular, I will focus on Luke’s treatment of the Synoptic/Markan traditions.

First, here again is the outline of Mk 3:13-6:13:

  • Calling the Twelve—3:13-19
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; 3 traditions joined together:
    3:20-21, 22-30, 31-35
  • Parables of Jesus—4:1-34, a distinct block (or sub-unit) of traditional material, organized as follows:
    • Introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • Parable of the Sower:
      —The Parable (vv. 3-9)
      —Saying to the Disciples (vv. 10-12)
      —Explanation of the Parable (vv. 13-20)
    • Three additional Parables (vv. 21-32)
    • Conclusion (vv. 33-34)
  • Miracle (Calming the Storm): Jesus with the Disciples together in the boat—4:35-41
  • Healing Miracles: 2 Episodes (3 miracles)—5:1-20, 21-43
  • Reaction to Jesus’ ministry—his natural vs. true family; episode at Nazareth—6:1-6a
  • Mission of the Twelve—6:6b-13

The green above indicates portions which Luke appears to have either re-worked or presents in a different order:

    • Luke reverses the order (6:12-16, 17-19) of the material corresponding to Mk 3:7-12, 13-19, reworking it to some extent
    • In 8:4-21, also the material corr. to Mk 3:31-35 & 4:1-25 is reversed and set in a different narrative context (omitting Mk 3:20-30)
    • Luke has a quite different (and expanded) version of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a), and it is set in a different location—at the very beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Lk 4:16-30); cf. the earlier note on this passage

The dark red portions above indicate the Markan traditions which Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include—Mk 3:20-30; 4:26-34.

Besides the ‘additions’ to the Nazareth episode (mentioned above), Luke has also included a considerable amount of material at a point corresponding to Mk 3:19. Here is the Lukan outline, with Markan parallels in parentheses:

From this point, Luke 8:22-9:6 follows Mk 4:35-5:43 + 6:6b-13. It is important to consider the additional Lukan material (6:20-8:3), which is comprised of six distinct units set in sequence. “Q” indicates the so-called Q-material, shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. “L” refers to traditions found only in Luke. There are three “L” traditions included here:

    • 7:11-17: a healing miracle story—the raising of the dead son of the widow at Nain.
    • 7:36-50: an encounter story (with a parable), involving the traditional motif of conflict/debate between Jesus and the Pharisees—the anointing of Jesus by the “sinful” woman. This tradition is quite similar to, but not identical with, Mk 14:3-19, and will be discussed in an upcoming note.
    • 8:1-3: a narrative summary, probably of Lukan composition, but containing traditional/historical information.

The traditions in 7:11-17 and 36-50 are very much in keeping with the episodes of the core Synoptic Tradition (cf. the previous note), though 7:36-50 shows definite signs of literary development. The “Q” material is rather different, and indicates that it has been derived from a separate (and early) line of tradition.

Many scholars believe that “Q” was an actual source document, comprised mainly of a collection of sayings by Jesus. These sayings, at an early point, were joined together, by way of thematic and “catchword” bonding, to form small units, which then could be collected/grouped into larger sections of sayings-material. “Q”, if it existed at all as a specific text, would have been made up of these larger sections, two of which are found at this point in Luke:

1. The “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-49), which follows the basic outline of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew (chapters 5-7). Despite the narrative setting in each Gospel, which presents the material as a single “sermon” given by Jesus, most (critical) commentators believe that it is better understood as a collection of sayings, parables, and teachings by Jesus, which represents the sort of instruction he gave regularly to his disciples. Matthew’s version contains considerably more material, some of which is found in a different location in Luke. Moreover, there are some significant differences in wording and emphasis, especially in the Beatitudes (cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes for more detail). Here is a breakdown of the Lukan “sermon”:

Luke and Matthew have each arranged several distinct units of “Q” material (sayings and parables, etc) to form a sermon or discourse. Notably, each Gospel writer (independently) has set this in the context of Jesus gathering his disciples together and instructing them (Matt 4:18ff; 5:1-2; Luke 6:12-16, 17)—though in each Gospel it occurs at a slightly different point in the narrative.

2. Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35). I have discussed this section briefly in the earlier notes of this series on the Baptism of Jesus. Again, while it would seem that the material in vv. 18-35 is all part of a single discourse by Jesus, this more likely reflects the thematic joining of a number of different traditions during the (early) process of collection and transmission. Clearly, the common theme involved is John the Baptist and his relation to Jesus. In my view, this is a mark of very early historical tradition, as the interest in John the Baptist soon faded among Christians in the New Testament period. There is less variation between the versions of this material in Matthew and Luke, than for the earlier “Sermon” (cf. above); both Gospels preserve it as a distinct block of tradition. Here is how it appears in Luke:

It is worth noting the portions in Matthew’s version which are not found in Luke (or occur in a different location):

Interestingly, while this Q-material in Luke follows generally after Jesus’ calling the Twelve (6:12-16) and the “Sermon” (6:20-49), in Matthew it occurs at a different (though similar) point in the narrative. The calling and subsequent mission of the Twelve is narrated together (Matt 10:1-5f), followed by an entirely separate collection of instruction (or “sermon”) for the disciples (10:5-42).

This brief, though detailed, analysis demonstrates the creative work of each Gospel writer in selecting, adapting, and arranging traditional material. Many of the themes and contours of the narrative are the same in each Gospel, but the overall presentation and thematic structure differs considerably. This is all the more true when we consider how the (historical) traditions have been developed and arranged in the Gospel of John. I will be examining this in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30)

Here I will be looking specifically at the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles), in terms of the significance (and symbolism) of the number twelve.

As mentioned in the previous note, the tradition of Twelve Disciples, representing the circle of Jesus’ closest followers, is extremely well established in early Christian tradition. The number is clearly fixed, even if the specific names which make up the list differ. Apart from the references to the calling of the Twelve (discussed in prior notes), they are mentioned as a group numerous times in the Synoptic Gospels, in passages which almost certainly derive from more than one strand of tradition. They are also mentioned twice in the Gospel of John, in 6:67-71 (cf. the previous note) and 20:24. Beyond the passage in Acts 1:12-26, they are mentioned as a group in 6:2, and are likely to be meant by the use of the expression “the apostles” (oi( a)po/stoloi), at least in the first half of the book (cf. 1:2; 2:42-43; 4:33ff; 5:2, etc). Paul also refers to “the Twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5.

The Significance of the Twelve

An obvious explanation as to the significance of the number Twelve, lies in an association with the twelve Tribes of Israel. Indeed, this is the only explanation which the New Testament itself offers. An intriguing critical question has been whether (or to what extent) this association (with its symbolism) goes back to Jesus himself. A careful examination of the evidence, however slight, suggests that, on objective grounds, it most likely does. There is one tradition in the Synoptic Gospels which makes a connection between the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel clear.

Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30

Here we have a parallel saying by Jesus, which, according to most (critical) commentators, is part of the so-called “Q” material—that is, traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The two ‘versions’ appear in very different locations of the Gospel narrative, but share the same basic meaning and significance—referring to the reward which will come to Jesus’ close disciples (i.e. the Twelve) for following him faithfully, to the end. The setting in Matthew is the discussion Jesus has with Peter and the other disciples (19:23ff) in the aftermath of the encounter with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (19:16-22). Both episodes are part of the wider Synoptic tradition, as represented by Mark 10:17-31 (cp. Lk 18:18-30). The Matt 19:28 saying is essentially ‘inserted’ between Mk 10:28 & 29; compare:

“And the Rock {Peter} began to give account [i.e. relate/say] to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘See, we released [i.e. left] all (thing)s and have followed you.’ Yeshua said (to him), ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. relate/say] to you: (that) there is no one who (has) released [i.e. left] house or brothers or sisters or mother or offspring or fields on behalf of me…'” (Mk 10:28-29)

“Then the Rock {Peter}, giving forth (an answer), said to him, ‘See, we released all (thing)s and followed you. What, then, will there be for us?’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. say/relate] to you: that you, the ones following me (will) …. judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael. And every one who (has) released [i.e. left] houses…on behalf of my name…'” (Matt 19:27-29)

The Matthean ‘additions’ are marked in blue—consisting of the saying in v. 28, and the additional words by Peter which allow for the saying to make sense in the narrative context. Here is the saying in full:

“You, the ones following me, in the (time of) coming to be (born) back (again), when the Son of Man should sit upon his seat (of rule) (in) splendor, you also will sit upon twelve (ruling) seats, judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea is clear enough—the reward of the Twelve will be to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Age to Come. The Greek word paliggenesi/a literally means “coming to be back (again)”, in the sense of coming to be born again, i.e. rebirth (or regeneration). It occurs only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Titus 3:5), where it carries the specific idea of spiritual rebirth (by the Spirit) for believers. Already in ancient Greek (esp. Stoic) philosophy, it was used in an eschatological sense for the renewal of the world at the end of the (current) Age. It also had the basic denotation of “rebirth” for the human soul, whether concretely (reincarnation/metempsychosis) or in a spiritual/symbolic sense (in the Mystery religions, etc). For Greek-speaking Jews, both aspects came to be combined into the idea of the resurrection which would take place at the end of the Age, following the time of God’s Judgment upon the world.

The parallel saying in Luke (22:28-30) is set during the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his close followers in Jerusalem. Again, this appears to be a Lukan ‘insertion’ into the core Synoptic narrative. It is actually part of a collection of teaching and instruction, given by Jesus to his disciples, which is unique to Luke’s Gospel in this particular context. Verses 24-30, with the joining v. 23, are included after the narrative corresponding to Mark 14:17-25 (22:14-22). Similarly, verses 35-38 come after Mk 14:26-31 (22:31-34). Whatever else one may say about it, the location of vv. 28-30 is striking, occurring just after the saying(s) of vv. 25-27, for which there is a Synoptic parallel (the episode of Mk 10:35-45 par), albeit in a different narrative setting. The dispute between the disciples in v. 24, along with the teaching (on discipleship) which follows in vv. 25-27, are juxtaposed with Jesus’ woe against the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-23). These verses appear after the dedication of the bread/cup, instead of before (as in Mark/Matthew). Note the way this juxtaposition appears in Luke:

    • Saying of Woe for the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-22)
      —the disciples begin to discuss/debate among one another as to who this betrayer could be (v. 23)
      —the disciples begin to dispute which one of them should be considered the greatest (v. 24)
    • Instruction for the disciples—the ideal/importance of humility and sacrificial service (vv. 25-27)

Whether or not this order of events is strictly historical, it certainly creates a powerful literary (and artistic) effect. The implication of the teaching in vv. 25-27 is that the disciple who rejects it, seeking his own interests and importance, is like the disciple who betrays Jesus. The saying corresponding to Matt 19:28 follows in vv. 28-30:

“But you, the ones having remained throughout with me, in the (time)s of my testing, I will also set through(out) for you—even as my Father set through for me—a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon seats (of rule), judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The italicized portions correspond most directly with Matt 19:28, the remainder being unique to the Lukan version. Some critical commentators would hold that the non-italicized words simply reflect the author’s adaptation of the “Q” saying to the context of the Last Supper. If so, then the reading “seats” instead of “twelve seats” is likely also an adaptation to account for the betrayal by Judas. A more traditional-conservative approach to the matter would, almost certainly, require that two distinct sayings, which just happen to be similar to one another, are involved.

Regardless of the historical-critical question, the essential meaning of the core saying in both ‘versions’ is the same. This raises an entirely different problem of interpretation, which I will address in the next note.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 3 (Matt 11:2ff etc)

Moving from the core Synoptic tradition (in Mark, cf. the previous note) to its development in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there are several areas to consider:

    1. The development of the immediate Synoptic tradition—i.e. of the Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    2. The “Q” material in Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35, and
    3. Details or traditions found only in Luke

We begin today with the first two areas, leaving the third to be discussed in the next note. Remember that we are now examining the specific theme, or component, in the Tradition of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One.

Luke 3:21-4:1ff & Matt 3:16-4:1ff

Both Luke and Matthew, to the extent that they made use of Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), have independently—(1) adapted the basic narrative of the baptism, and (2) incorporated so-called “Q” material.

(1) Matt 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22

Matthew generally follows Mark closely in narrating the Baptism, with two main differences: (a) the description in Mk 1:9 (v. 13) has presumably been modified to allow for the insertion of the exchange between John and Jesus in vv. 14-15; and (b) the form of the declaration by the heavenly voice (v. 17) is different. Both of these changes seem to have, as a major (if not primary) purpose, a depiction of the baptism of Jesus as a sign to be observed by all the people (i.e. all Israel). The statement by Jesus in verse 15 indicates that, by submitting to baptism by John, he is fulfilling the religious forms and symbols, etc, of the Old Covenant (“all the righteousness [of God]”), stretching back through the Law and Prophets to the birth of the people Israel (cf. 11:13 par). The form of the heavenly declaration in v. 17 similarly functions as a public assertion regarding Jesus’ identity—”This is my Son…” It moves from a ‘simple’ record of events to include information about how people (believers) should understand them.

Luke has modified the Synoptic narrative somewhat differently, through arrangement and syntax. First, he has essentially ‘removed’ John from the scene (vv. 18-20), leaving Jesus on the stage alone. Secondly, the distinctive syntax of vv. 21-22 (a single sentence in Greek), drives the description forcefully ahead to make the heavenly declaration the definite focus of the narrative. The Lukan syntax here is quite difficult to translate literally, since it involves (an extreme) form of the construction e)ge/neto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + a sequence of infinitives (a construction used frequently in the Gospel). Here is a an approximation:

“And it came to be, in all of the people being dunked (by John), and Yeshua (also) being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the holy Spirit’s stepping down [i.e. coming down] in bodily appearance as a dove, and (it was then that) a voice coming to be out heaven (said): ‘You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—in you I have good regard’.”

The three verbs in italics are all infinitives, which would typically be translated “to dunk”, “to step down”, and “to come to be”, but here have to be rendered differently, like participles or verbal nouns (gerunds), in order to make sense, and yet still capture the development of the sentence in its sequence, i.e.:

    • all the people (in their) being dunked
      • the Holy Spirit’s stepping/coming down
        • a voice out of heaven coming to be

The sequence builds, step by step, to the declaration by the heavenly voice, which emphasizes its significance and position in the Lukan narrative.

(2) Matt 4:1ff & Luke 4:1ff

Matthew and Luke each include so-called “Q” material following the Baptism account; this includes primarily the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), but also, as a way of transitioning to it from the Baptism, an expansion of the (Synoptic) narration in Mk 1:12, giving greater prominence to the role of the Spirit in relation to Jesus. Compare:

Mk 1:12—”And straightaway the Spirit casts him [i.e. Jesus] out into the desolate (land)…”
Matt 4:1—”Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit…”
Luke 4:1—”And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back…and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”

Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35 (“Q”)

This “Q” material, while unrelated to Jesus’ baptism as such, is important as another source for studying the relationship between John and Jesus. It is divided into three sections, each of which includes early traditional material, which has been joined together, based on common themes and language, to form a coherent whole. It may be outlined as follows:

    • John’s question to Jesus, with Jesus’ response (Matt 11:2-6)
    • Jesus’ testimony regarding John (vv. 7-15)
    • The (negative) reaction to John and Jesus, respectively (vv. 16-19)

For the purposes of this study, the first two sections have the greatest relevance, developing themes also found in the Baptism narrative.

Matt 11:2-6 (Lk 7:18-23)—The setting of the first section has John in prison, from whence he sends messengers (from among his disciples) to Jesus with an important question:

“Are you the one coming, or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?” (v. 3, Lk’s version [v. 19] is nearly identical)

As I discussed in the previous note, the use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) makes it all but certain that John is asking if Jesus is the Chosen/Anointed One (i.e. Messiah), sent by God. However, he probably does not have in mind the Anointed Ruler from the line of David, but rather a Prophetic figure-type—perhaps “Elijah” or “the Prophet (like Moses)”, or even the Messenger of YHWH from Mal 3:1ff (which seems most likely). On this, cf. Parts 2 & 3 from the series “Yeshua the Anointed” and the note on “The One Coming“. The plain sense of this question would indicate that John, at that particular moment in time, harbored some doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Chosen/Anointed one (“the one coming”) he had declared in his preaching (Mk 1:7-8 par, etc). Some Christians may be bothered by this idea, but it is straightforward enough, and does not need to be explained away.

Jesus’ response (Matt 11:4-6 / Lk 7:22-23) is essentially a quotation of Isa 61:1, along with allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5. This is significant, since here Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Isaian herald—the prophetic figure anointed by God (by/with the Spirit). The signs of his anointing are the miracles he works and the “good news” he proclaims to the poor, things characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and central to it. The same association is established even more directly in Lk 4:17-21ff, which will be discussed in the next note.

Matt 11:7-15 (Lk 7:24-30)—This second section is less uniform than the first, and may involve a collection of related sayings. Here Jesus gives testimony regarding the person and role of John the Baptist, identifying him specifically with the “Messenger” of Malachi 3:1ff (cf. above). Jesus does this first by stating that John is a prophet (v. 9a) and, indeed, exceedingly (more) than a prophet (v. 9b)—that is, something greater than a prophet. This is explained by the citation from Mal 3:1 which follows in v. 10 par, the same Scripture which is applied to John in Mk 1:2. In Matthew’s version of this material, Jesus is even more precise, declaring John to be “Elijah, the one being about to come”. This is an interpretation of Mal 3:1 based on 4:5-6 [Hebr 3:23-24]. Luke does not have this in his corresponding material, but it is established (indirectly) elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 9:12-13 par).

The logic of these “Q” sections, then, seems to be as follows:

    • John asks whether Jesus truly is the Anointed Prophet of the end-time (“the one coming”), i.e. probably the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff.
    • Jesus, in his response, redirects the question—(implying) that he is not this messenger, but is to be identified (instead) with the Messianic figure of Isa 61:1ff
    • In a separate tradition(?), Jesus turns the question around, identifying John as the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff, and, specifically, “Elijah”, the Prophet “who is coming”.

This will be discussed further in the next note, when dealing with the traditions and details only found in the Gospel of Luke.