March 23: Luke 9:26

Directly following the Passion prediction by Jesus (Luke 9:22, cf. the previous note), we find a sequence of five sayings (Lk. 9:23-27) which is very close to that in Mark 8:34-9:1 (par Matt 16:24-28):

    • “If any(one) wishes to come in back of [i.e. after] me, let him take up his stake [i.e. ‘cross’] according to (the) day [i.e. daily] and follow me” (v. 23, Mk 8:34 / Matt 16:24)
    • “Whoever wishes to save his soul [i.e. his life] will destroy it [i.e. cause it to perish], but whoever would destroy his soul [i.e. let it perish] will save it” (v. 24, Mk 8:35 / Matt 16:25)
    • “What [i.e. how] is a man aided [i.e. how does he benefit], gaining the whole world but destroying or injuring himself?” (v. 25, Mk 8:36 / Matt 16:26)
      [Note: a literal rendering here is somewhat misleading—the idiomatic language is that of commerce, i.e. financial profit vs. loss]
    • The Son of Man saying (discussed below) (v. 26, Mk 8:38 / Matt 16:27)
    • “There are some (indeed) standing on th(is) same (place) [i.e. here] who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see the kingdom of God!” (v. 27, Mk 9:1 / Matt 16:28)

It should be noted that Jesus need not have uttered all of these sayings together in sequence, on a single occasion. Early Gospel tradition developed largely by way of combining together sayings and teachings of Jesus on the basis of a common theme or wording. Here, the first four sayings all relate to what we might call the “cost of discipleship”, that is, of following Jesus. Originally, the sayings would have applied to those who would follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, but they soon were understood clearly in terms of being a Christian. The middle three sayings involved the idea of (heavenly) reward for following Jesus, certainly with the context of the divine tribunal and the end-time Judgment in mind. The eschatological emphasis is made abundantly clear in the last two sayings, though the apparent declaration of an imminent end in the final saying (less pronounced in the Lukan version) remains problematic for readers today.

It is the fourth saying which involves the expression “the Son of Man” [o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou], and this is what I will be looking at briefly in today’s note.

Luke 9:26 (par. Mark 8:38)

Here is Luke’s version of the saying:

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words, the Son of Man will feel shame on (account of) this (person) when he should come in his glory and (that) of his Father and the holy Messengers”

For comparison, here is the version in Mark 8:38 (differences between the two being italicized):

“For whoever would feel shame on (account of) me and my words in th(is) adulterous and sinful (period of) coming to be [i.e. generation], the Son of Man also will feel shame on (account of) him [i.e. that person] when he should come in the glory of his Father with the holy Messengers”

On the (critical) theory that Luke has utilized Mark’s version, the author may be seen as simplifying the first half (omitting “in this adulterous and sinful generation”), and modifying the second. The second half of Mark’s version is far less awkward; it also would seem to make much better sense for Jesus to say “in the glory of his Father, with the holy Messengers”. Luke’s version of that clause may be intended to express a clearer sense that Jesus himself would be coming in (his own) glory—”in his (own) glory, and (that of) his Father and the holy Messengers”. A more traditional-conservative explanation might resort to the idea that both versions are (somehow) accurate translations from an Aramaic original; but exactly how this might be is rather hard to envision. The corresponding saying in Matt 16:27 is quite different:

“For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his holy Messengers, and then he will give from (him[self]) [i.e. give over, give away] to each (person) according to his actions/deeds”

Only the first clause is shared by Mark (and Luke). It is possible that Mark’s version reflects a merging of two (originally) separate sayings; or, perhaps, Matthew (if the author is utilizing Mark) has modified or replaced the saying to better fit the context of the prior verses. Interestingly, Luke has a parallel (doublet) version of verse 26 in 12:8-9 (also in Matt 10:32-33):

“…every one who would give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on me in front of men, the Son of Man will give account as one [i.e. agree/consent] on him in front of the Messengers of God; but the one denying me in the eyes of [i.e. before] men will be denied in the eyes of [i.e. before] the Messengers of God”

This saying has the definite context of the heavenly court and divine tribunal (of the Last Judgment), with the holy Messengers (i.e. “Angels”) as witnesses. Here, however, it is not so clear that Jesus himself is meant to be taken as the same person as the “Son of Man”. If a saying such as that in Matt 16:27 were combined (in the early tradition) with a saying like Luke 12:8-9, it might well have resulted in an apparent conflate saying such as Luke 9:26/Mark 8:38. Consider that Matt 16:27 and Luke 12:8-9 are both clear and straightforward, expressing two different (but related) aspects of the end-time Judgment by God:

    • Matt 16:27—The Son of Man will appear in glory, along with the Angels, to oversee the Judgment, i.e., render to each human being according to his/her deeds in this life.
    • Luke 12:8-9—The human being appears in court (in Heaven), before the divine tribunal, and in presence of the Angels (members of the ‘Heavenly Court’); again the Son of Man oversees the Judgment. Here the basis of judgment is more clearly Christian—a person’s deeds are defined in terms of whether he/she publicly confessed or affirmed Christ, or, by contrast, whether he/she denied Christ. Very likely this test relates to persecution believers would face in their lifetime on account of Jesus.

It is readily apparent that Mark 8:38/Lk 9:26 combine both aspects:

    1. Mk 8:38a/Lk 9:26a generally matches the situation of Lk 12:8-9, though the test of affirming/denying Jesus is made only in the negative, as “feeling shame on (account of)” Jesus and his words (i.e. the Gospel).
    2. Mk 8:38b/Lk 9:26b corresponds with Matt 16:27a, emphasizing only the appearance of the Son of Man, in glory, along with the Angels at the end-time. However, the idea of judgment on the basis of a person’s deeds (Matt 16:27b) is clear enough from the context of Lk 9:23-25 par, and is defined in terms of faithfulness, devotion and perseverance in following Jesus.

In all of these instances, the Son of Man is present according to two distinct roles or images:

    1. Appearing in (Divine) glory along with the Angels at the end-time. The expression “in the glory of his Father” should be understood in two important respects:
      (a) The Son of Man functions as God’s own representative—that is, God himself is manifest to human beings at the end-time in the person of the Son of Man
      (b) There is an implication, at the very least, that the title “Son of Man” is related in some way to the “Son of God”
    2. As the One overseeing the end-time Judgment of God, which, according to Scriptural motifs and concepts, can be seen as taking place: (a) on earth (the “day of YHWH”, involving judgment/subjugation of the nations), or (b) in heaven before the Heavenly court and Divine tribunal.

Both of these roles will discussed in more detail later on. It is also worth noting here that, in these passages under examination (Luke 9:26 / Mark 8:38, along with Matt 16:27; Lk 12:8-9), it is not entirely clear that Jesus and the “Son of Man” are to be identified as the same person. This should be kept in mind, even though such an identification was, I believe, certainly made by Jesus himself (at the historical level) in at least a number of the Son of Man sayings, and was without question the understanding of early Christians and the developed Gospel tradition. These points and questions will be elucidated further in subsequent notes and articles.

Following the (eschatological) saying in Luke 9:27 (par Mk 9:1/Matt 16:28), all three Gospels record the Transfiguration episode. Even though this episode does not feature the expression “Son of Man”, it is vital to the structure of the Gospel narrative, leading (especially in the Lukan version) toward the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, and so will be examined in the next daily note.

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