Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins with Lk 9:51-56. As previously noted, Luke gives more prominence to this journey than the other Gospels, using it as the setting for all of Lk 9:51-19:27 (nearly ten full chapters), during which he places considerable teaching by Jesus, including a number of famous parables found only in Luke, as well as material found in different locations in Matthew. Let us consider these introductory verses in more detail.
Verse 51 provides the narrative setting, and displays several clear signs of Lukan composition. Two phrases in the first clause are particularly noteworthy:
- “the filling together of the days”—the verb being a passive infinitive of sumplhro/w (“fill together, fill up”), with the prefixed element sun- functioning as an intensive (i.e. “fill up completely”). The expression “fill up the days (or the time)”, using the simpler verb plhro/w (or the related plh/qw/pimplhmi), is an idiom found frequently in Luke-Acts (Luke 1:23, 57; 2:6, 21, 22; 21:21, 24; Acts 2:1; 7:23, 30; 9:23; 24:27). The phrase in Acts 2:1 is nearly identical with that here in Lk 9:51. It is a temporal phrase, indicating that a specific set time is approaching—”in the filling together of the days” (i.e., as the time was approaching).
- “of his being taken up”—the noun a)na/lhyi$ (occurring only here in the NT) is derived from the verb a)nalamba/nw (“take/receive up”), used specifically for Jesus’ departure (“ascension”) to God the Father in Acts 1:2, 11, 22 (also Mark 16:19; 1 Tim 3:16); in Lk 24:51 [MT] the similar verb a)nafe/rw (“carry up”) is used. Here in Lk 9:51 it refers to all the events which will take place in Jerusalem, up to and including the ‘ascension’. In this regard it functions similarly to e&codo$ (“way out”, i.e. departure) in 9:31.
If the first clause establishes the temporal and dramatic setting, the second clause sets the narrative in motion:
“he firmly set (his) face to travel into Jerusalem”
au)to\$ to\ pro/swpon e)sth/risen tou= poreu/esqai ei)$ )Ierousalh/m
The definite article before the infinitive specifies the travelling—i.e., “…to the journey into Jerusalem”. For the use of the verb sthri/zw in Luke-Acts, cf. Lk 16:26; 22:32; Acts 18:23. Here the expression may be derived from LXX Ezek 6:2; 13:17; 14:8.
In verse 52, we find an allusion to Malachi 3:1 as set in Gospel tradition: John the Baptist is the Messenger (Elijah, cf. Mal 4:5-6) who prepares the way for the Lord’s (i.e. Jesus’) coming. This is expressed in Mark 1:2-3 par, as well as Lk 1:17, 76ff; 7:27 par. Note the parallel:
Mal 3:1 [LXX]:
“…I set out forth [i.e. send out] from (me) [e)caposte/llw] my Messenger [a&ggelon]…before my face [pro\ prosw/pou mou]”
“and he set forth from (him) [a)pe/steilen] messengers [a)gge/lou$] before his face [pro\ prosw/pou au)tou=]”
From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative (and tradition), the disciples take over the role of “Messenger” from John the Baptist—cf. Luke 7:28 par; John 1:35-37; 3:28-30. Moreover, they go specifically “to make (things) ready” [e(toima/sai] for Jesus. Consider the development of Mal 3:1 in this respect:
- The original Hebrew—the Messenger turns (and faces) [hn`P*] the way, the use of the causative stem perhaps carrying the sense of turning things/people out of the way (i.e. clearing the way).
- The Greek LXX—the Messenger “looks upon” the way, using the verb e)pible/pw, with the sense of paying close attention to something, showing concern/respect for it, examining it, etc.
- Mark 1:2; Lk 7:27 pars—the Messenger “prepares” the way, that is, equips it for use, supplies/furnishes what is necessary, etc. The verb is kataskeua/zw (an intensive form of skeua/zw).
Now the other Old Testament passage applied to John the Baptist is Isaiah 40:3ff—the voice which declares “make ready the way of the Lord”. As with Mal 3:1, the Hebrew uses the causative (piel) form of hn`P* (“turn, face”); while both the LXX and the Gospels translate with e(toima/zw (“make ready”, imperative e(toima/sate)—the same verb used in Luke 9:51. In Mark 1:2-3, both OT references are combined, bringing together the verbs kataskeua/zw and e(toima/zw (“prepare…” / “make ready…”); the same combination is found in Luke 1:17, applied to John the Baptist. All of this simply reinforces the idea that the disciples are here fulfilling John’s role, as described in Mal 3:1 / Isa 40:3ff.
The disciples “prepare the way” before Jesus also in Luke 10:1, but more notably in the preparations made prior to Jesus’ (triumphal) entry into Jerusalem, as recorded in Synoptic tradition (Lk 19:28-34 par). In some respects, this provides an even closer parallel to Malachi 3:1, since the narrative depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem and coming into the Temple (19:45-48 par).
If Isaiah 40:3-5 is in mind in Luke 9:51-56, as seems likely (only Luke cites vv. 4-5, cf. Lk 3:5), then the narrative may also be illustrating the obstacles (Isa 40:4-5a) in the way—embedded within the phrase “…into a village of Samaritans” (v. 52). Here the “obstacles” and barriers are expressed in terms of religious and ethnic prejudice—i.e. between Jews and Samaritans (cf. John 4:9; Matt 10:5, and the general context of Lk 10:29-37; 17:11-19; John 4:1-42; 8:48; Acts 8:4-25). The precise history of the division and animosity between Jews and Samaritans remains uncertain, but the roots of it presumably go back to the different groups which settled in Palestine following the Assyrian/Babylonian exile (cf. 2 Kings 17:5-6, 24-40; Ezra 4). This prejudice and animosity is expressed two-fold in the narrative (verses 53-56):
- Verse 53: on the part of the Samaritans—refusal to offer hospitality
- Verse 54: on the part of the disciples—seeking revenge for this affront
The Samaritans’ refusal is based entirely on the religious/ethnic division: “they did not receive him because his face was (set toward) traveling to Jerusalem” (v. 53 [cf. v. 51]). However, it is the disciples’ (James and John’s) behavior in response which reflects an even more serious and egregious expression of prejudice (tending toward violence), all the more extreme in they way that their vengeance is couched in grand biblical imagery (echoing Elijah, cf. 2 Kings 1:10-12). The association with Elijah is made explicit in certain manuscripts of verse 54, which add “…even as Elijah did”. It is possible to outline verses 53-56 as a chiasm:
There is an interesting two-fold variant here in v. 55-56a (D Q Koine):
- Verse 55—Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples is enhanced with a harsh declaration to them: “and he said, ‘You do not know of what spirit you are'”. This indicates that their desire for (violent) revenge/punishment on the Samaritans does not come from the Spirit of God, but from another (evil) spirit (cf. Mark 8:33 par, also Matt 5:37; 6:13).
- Verse 56(a)—There is added a Son of Man saying by Jesus, similar to that in Luke 19:10 (cf. John 3:17): “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy the souls of men, but to save (them)”.
If original, this saying sets the “Son of Man” (identified with Jesus himself) in the context of suffering and sacrifice (with an emphasis on salvation). This would then be contrasted with the (Anointed) Prophet who brings judgment (cf. the reference to Elijah). In the same way, the Passion predictions—announcing the coming suffering and death of the Son of Man—appear to be offered (in part, at least) as an intentional contrast to the image and expectation of a glorious Messiah-figure. In Luke, the first Passion prediction follows Peter’s declaration of Jesus as “the Anointed One” (Lk 9:20, 21); the second Passion prediction follows the Transfiguration scene, where Jesus appears in glory with the Messianic Prophet-figures of Moses and Elijah and the voice from heaven declares him to be God’s “Son” and “the Elect/Chosen One” (Lk 9:30-35, 43-45). Before the Son of Man can appear in glory, he must first experience suffering and death.