Jerusalem and the Unity of Believers (part 1)

As indicated in the previous days’ notes on the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-13), the setting of Jerusalem holds a central place in the narrative, both as a location and a theological motif. Indeed, the first chapters of Acts—up to and including the death of Stephen (chapters 1-7)—are devoted entirely to the early Christians living and ministering in Jerusalem. Only with the onset of severe persecution (Acts 8:1-4ff), do the disciples spread outward into the surrounding territories and nations—this notice is emphasized again in Acts 11:19, in order to introduce the Christians of Antioch and to set the stage for Paul’s missionary journeys. Once the Pauline narratives begin, the Jerusalem Church largely fades from view, only to reappear associated with two important episodes: (1) the ‘council’ held in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss the role and place of the Gentile mission, and (2) the arrest of Paul upon his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21, extending to the middle of chap. 23).

A proper understanding of the significance of Jerusalem in the early chapters of Acts, I believe, requires that one study the role it plays in the Gospel as well. Since, by general consensus, the third Gospel and Acts (as a 2-volume work) were written by the same author (trad. Luke), one would expect a fair degree of continuity in thought—both theological and artistic expression—in the two books. What follows is a summary of Jerusalem as a narrative setting and theological/spiritual theme in the Gospel of Luke. It is necessary to compare that which Luke has inherited as part of the wider Synoptic tradition with those elements unique to his Gospel.

Jerusalem in the wider Synoptic tradition

Within the Gospels of Matthew and Mark there are relatively few references to Jerusalem. Let us begin with:

1. What Matthew and Mark share in common. This is fairly simple:

    • General summary references to people coming from all around (including Jerusalem) to see Jesus—Mark 1:5; 3:8 (par Matt 3:5; 4:25, and, adapted somewhat in Luke 5:17; 6:17).
    • Reference to religious leaders (Scribes [and Pharisees]) coming from Jerusalem to see/question Jesus—Mark 3:22; 7:1 (par [latter reference only] Matt 15:1; no parallel in Luke)
    • The journey to Jerusalem, including a prediction by Jesus of his Passion which will take place there—Mark 10:32-33 (par. Matt 20:17-18, with a similar notice earlier in 16:21; partial parallel Luke 18:31 [cf. below])
    • Beginning with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1ff; par Matt 21:1ff; Luke 19:28ff), Jesus remains in Jerusalem (or nearby Bethany) until his death and resurrection. All of the events of the Passion take place in Jerusalem; however, according to Matthew and (apparently) originally in Mark (cf. 16:1-8), Jesus’ (first) resurrection appearance to the disciples does not take place in Jerusalem, but rather in Galilee (Matt 28:7, 10, 16ff; Mark 16:7), contrary to what is narrated in Luke and John.

2. Details unique to Matthew. Apart from several minor additions to the Synoptic narrative (Matt 16:21; 21:10, etc), and a unique proverbial reference in Matt 5:35, there are only three significant episode or sayings involving Jerusalem:

    • The Infancy narrative (setting of Matt 2:1-8, 16), related to both the visit of the Magi and the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem in chapter 2.
    • The Jerusalem Temple setting in the Temptation scene—Matt 4:5ff (shared by Luke 4:9ff).
    • Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem—Matt 23:37ff, included at the end of the “Woes” against the religious leaders (Scribes and Pharisees) in chapter 23. The saying is part of the so-called Q tradition, for it also found in Luke 13:34f.

Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke (beyond the Synoptic tradition)

This can be outlined as follows:

    • Jerusalem as a setting in the Infancy narratives
    • The expanded Journey to Jerusalem
    • Eschatological predictions by Jesus, set during Passion week
    • Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus

Jerusalem as a setting in the Infancy narratives

There are three episodes, each of which draws significantly upon Old Testament narrative and imagery:

  1. The angelic annunciation to Zechariah (Luke 1:5-23). This takes place while Zechariah is serving in the Temple (v. 8ff); indeed, the author has taken care (in v. 6) to emphasize that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both “just” (di/kaioi) and “without fault” (a&memptoi) in observing God’s commandments, and this faithful religious service in the Temple is a vital motif. The appearance of the heavenly Messenger, announcing the birth of John (vv. 11-17), like the announcement to Mary in 1:26-38, follows a pattern of similar angelic annunciations in the Old Testament, which I discussed in treating this passage in an earlier Advent season note.
  2. Jesus’ parents with the child in the Temple precincts (Luke 2:22-38). In establishing the setting for this narrative, the Gospel writer has combined (or conflated) two separate details: the purification offering for Mary following childbirth (v. 22a, cf. Leviticus 12), and the consecration of the firstborn (v. 23, cf. Exod 13:2-16) which Luke narrates (whether at the historical or literary level) as a presentation/dedication of the child before God (v. 22b, such as in 1 Sam 1:22ff). There are three important themes in this passage:
    a) The faithfulness of Joseph and Mary (similar to Zechariah and Elizabeth) in fulfilling their religious duties (cf. v. 39). That is, they represent devout, just/righteous Israelites.
    b) The encounters with Simeon (vv. 25-35) and Anna (vv. 36-38), two aged figures (in many ways parallel to Zechariah and Elizabeth) who reflect and represent devout, faithful Israelites—those who are looking toward receiving “the help/comfort of Israel” (v. 25) and “the ransom/redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38), two expressions with strong Messianic and eschatological resonance.
    c) The central prophecy (oracle) of Simeon (vv. 29-32), which predicts the child Jesus’ future role as savior and light to both Jews and Gentiles (the second prediction in vv. 34-35 is darker and more difficult to interpret). Simeon’s oracle draws upon language especially from several key passages in so-called deutero-/trito-Isaiah (chs. 40-66). I have also discussed Lk 2:22-38 in some detail in an earlier Advent note.
  3. The child Jesus in the Temple precincts (Luke 2:41-51). This dramatic and challenging narrative centers upon the climactic words of Jesus to his parents (v. 49): “did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?” The centrality of the Temple is the key to this episode, which I have discussed in prior notes.

The Journey to Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of John, which depicts Jesus making a number of different trips to Jerusalem (for the holy/feast days), the Synoptic Gospels record just one journey—that made prior to the events of Jesus’ Passion. In Mark and Matthew, this journey is mentioned only briefly, encompassing less than a single chapter (Mk 10:32-52; Matt 20:17-34). However, in the Gospel of Luke, this journey has been framed quite differently, extending from Lk 9:51 (which follows the corresponding point of Mk 9:41) all the way to Lk 18:15 (which corresponds again to Mk 10:13)—in other words, in place of the Mk 9:42-10:12, we have Lk 9:51-18:14 which comprises: (a) material located elsewhere in Matthew/Mark, and (b) sayings and parables only found in Luke. This enhances the journey scene greatly, for it depicts Jesus preaching and teaching extensively. But there are other important ways that the journey to Jerusalem is heightened. Note the following details and specific references to Jerusalem:

    1. In the transfiguration scene (Lk 9:28-36), the significance of the journey is foreshadowed in verses 30-31, where it is mentioned that Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah (a detail unique to Luke’s account), speaking “of his way out [e&codo$, “exodus”, i.e. departure] which he was about to complete in Jerusalem”.
    2. In Lk 9:51, the journey is effectively inaugurated with the statement that Jesus “set his face/sight strong(ly) toward traveling [or, to travel] into Jerusalem”. This is mentioned again in verse 53, and it is the reason (i.e. his intention to go to Jerusalem) that he found no welcome in the Samaritan village. Though Samaritans are involved, this can probably be taken as a literary foreshadowing of the hostility Jesus would face in Jerusalem.
    3. This Lukan material covering the journey (Lk 9:51-19:27), is punctuated by three summary references to his journeying to Jerusalem: Lk 13:22; 17:11; and 19:11 (cf. also v. 28). The first two of these can be coordinated with a specific saying or prediction by Jesus regarding Jerusalem, and each can be related to significant eschatological teaching. Note how these correlate to divide the material:
    • Lk 13:22: “And he traveled (lit. passed [through]) accordingly down through the cities and villages, teaching and making passage into/unto Jerusalem”
      • Lk 13:34-35—a lament for Jerusalem (corresponding to Matt 23:37ff), which emphasizes the persecution/killing of prophets (cf. also the separate saying in Lk 13:33), with an eschatological prediction of judgment (v. 35)
    • Lk 17:11: “And it came to be in (his) passing (through) into/unto Jerusalem…”
      • Lk 18:31-33—the third (Synoptic) passion prediction by Jesus (par. Mk 10:32-34; Mt 20:17-19), which, unlike the two previous predictions, specifically mentions Jerusalem. In context here, it may also be worth noting the eschatological material (partially found in a different location in Matthew) earlier in Lk 17:20-37.
    • Lk 19:11, 28: these two narrative statements bracket the parable of the ten minas (19:12-27), effectively concluding the travel narrative, and leading into the Triumphal entry (19:28ff). Note the eschatological context of v. 11, similar to that of 17:20-37 above.

Eschatological predictions by Jesus

These are recorded as being uttered by Jesus in or near Jerusalem during Passion week (punctuating the narrative at three points):

    1. Lk 19:41-44 (just following the Triumphal entry)—a lament over Jerusalem with a (graphic) prediction of its destruction
    2. Lk 21:20-24 (partway during Passion week)—Jesus specifically (and again graphically) predicts the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, details not found elsewhere in the so-called Eschatological (Olivet) discourse shared by all three Synoptics (Mk 13; Matt 24), which only refer more generally to the suffering and travail of the time (but with destruction of the Temple indicated, Mk 13:2 par).
    3. Lk 23:28-31 (on the way to crucifixion)—a lament for the women/mothers of Jerusalem, for the great suffering they are about to endure during the siege/destruction of the city (implied).

Clearly, by combining and inserting this material as he has done, the Gospel writer has interwoven the fates of Jesus and Jerusalem in a most dramatic and moving way.

Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew (and as one can infer from Mark 16:1-8), the Gospel of Luke records the first resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples as taking place in Jerusalem. The traditions in Luke are partially confirmed by the Gospel of John (Jn 20:1-10, 19-20), and, it would seem, from the long ending of Mark (Mk 16:9-13), though text-critical questions make it difficult to establish both parallels decisively. There are two main episodes:

  • The appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35)—this extended, highly dramatic narrative is set in proximity to Jerusalem (v. 13, 18), and contains several key themes and motifs found throughout the Gospel and which are developed in the next episode.
  • The appearance to the Twelve (eleven) and larger group of disciples, along with their commission (Lk 24:36-53). This can, in turn, be divided into three parts:
    1) The appearance scene itself, vv. 36-43—this has a parallel in Jn 20:19-20.
    2) The exposition/commission by Jesus, vv. 44-49
    3) Jesus’ blessing and departure, vv. 50-53
    The last two sections are the most original to the Gospel of Luke, and each contain a key reference to Jerusalem:
    • VV, 47-49: the emphasis on Jerusalem as the beginning point of the Gospel proclamation, with the clear directive for the disciples to remain in the city until the coming of the Spirit (“power from out of the height”). This commission is tied in closely to an exposition of the Scriptures (vv. 44ff), in which Jesus “opened their mind/understanding” to recognize that the events of his suffering, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of Scripture (note the similar description and language in 24:25-27, 32).
    • V. 52-53: following the departure/ascension of Jesus, these two short verses narrate:
      • The disciples’ return to Jerusalem (see Acts 1:12 for the same motif)
      • That they were in the sacred place (the Temple) “through (it) all” (dia\ panto/$, i.e. continually), blessing/worshiping God. For similar references in Acts, see 1:14; 2:1, 42, and esp. 46-47 (which refer to their presence in the Temple precincts). Luke clearly intends to depict the early Christians as faithful and devout in matters of religion (like Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives), by their presence in Jerusalem and association with the Temple—the new believers in Christ represent a continuation (and fulfillment) of the Old Testament patterns of religion.

(The article is part of the periodic series Jews & Gentiles and the People of God.)

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