June 1: Acts 28:31

The Note of the Day feature returns this summer beginning here in the month of June.

For the first daily note, I would like to look at the final word of the Book of Acts (28:31), which is also the final word of the two-volume work of Luke-Acts as a whole. This verse summarizes the missionary activity of the early believers—particularly Paul, whose missionary journeys climax with his arrival (under house arrest) in Rome. In this notice, the missionary work is described as consisting primarily of “proclaiming the Kingdom of God”. In this regard, the early Christian mission is a continuation of the disciples’ first mission (Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-12ff; see esp. 9:2, 60; 10:9, 11), which, in turn, is an extension of Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1; 11:20). The disciples and early believers thus function as representatives of Jesus, performing his work and acting with his authority. In this same way, all believers, to varying degrees, are to serve as a)po/stoloi—those “sent forth” in his name, as his representatives, to proclaim the Kingdom.

The statement in Acts 28:31 also makes clear that proclaiming the Kingdom is essentially synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In particular, note the parallel wording between 28:31 and 1:3, at the very beginning of Acts:

    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3)
    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God” (28:31)

By proclaiming and teaching about Jesus Christ, the disciples/believers are proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and working to establish it on earth. For this Lukan understanding of the Kingdom, see my recent study on Acts 1:6ff. In Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about the coming of the Kingdom, their eschatological expectation is given a thorough re-interpretation, effectively defining the Kingdom (and its coming) according to two central themes:

    • the coming the Spirit upon believers (v. 8a), and
    • the proclamation of the Gospel (v. 8b)

This dual aspect of the Kingdom-theme is developed and expounded throughout the entire narrative of Acts, culminating with Paul’s activity in Rome. Here is that summary statement in 28:31:

“…proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

But then, a final word is added—the adverb a)kwlu/tw$. This word is a bit difficult to translate. The prefix a)– is privative, meaning “without”. The base adverb kwlutw$ is derived from the verb kwlu/w which essentially means “cut short, curtail” (cf. ko/lo$). The verb can take on the more general active meaning “cut off, block, hinder”, with the privative adverb having the comparable meaning “without hindrance, unimpeded”. The adverb a)kwlu/tw$ is relatively rare, occurring only here in the New Testament; nor does it occur in the LXX, with the related adjective (a)kw/luto$) only used once (in Wisdom 7:23).

The occurrence of a)kwlu/tw$ at the end of the verse, indicates that it has an emphatic position. Indeed, there is doubtless considerable significance for the author in having this word close the narrative of Acts (and Luke-Acts as a whole). It brings the work to a close on a victorious note, indicating that, even under house arrest, Paul’s missionary work was continuing unimpeded, “without (any) hindrance”. The Lukan author was presumably aware of Paul’s subsequent imprisonment (and death), and yet the author chose to end the account of the early Christian mission here, at this point. Paul’s martyrdom surely would have provided a poignant and powerful conclusion to the human drama; however, the author has chosen to focus on the success of the mission, rather than the fate of the missionary.

In another sense, the closing word of Acts serves as an ideal for believers throughout the generations, and a goal for which we, as Christians, should fervently pray—namely, that the proclamation of the Gospel would proceed and continue “without hindrance”. While recognizing that believers, in whatever ways they/we are serving as missionaries, will face opposition and persecution, we may still ask of God that obstacles and impediments be removed, so that people everywhere may hear and respond to the good message (eu)agge/lion) of Jesus Christ.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Acts 1:3, 6)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

The Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme, including the specific idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God, finds its ultimate realization in the Book of Acts. This is true, even though explicit references to the Kingdom are relatively rare. The entire narrative of Acts, from its introduction (1:1-5ff) to the closing words (28:31), reflects the author’s understanding of the Kingdom.

We can see this in the introduction, or prologue, to the work (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence which effectively summarizes the Gospel and transitions to the opening of the Acts narrative (in 1:6ff). The sentence moves from the author’s words (to Theophilus, v. 1) to Jesus’ own words (v. 5), directly addressing his disciples regarding a central theme of the book—the coming of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the introductory sentence, is the author’s notice regarding the time Jesus’ spent with his disciples after his resurrection (v. 3). He was seen by them regularly over a period of forty days, during which time he would speak to them of “the (thing)s about the kingdom of God” (ta\ peri\ th=$ boulei/a$ tou= qeou=).

As was discussed in recent studies, the Gospel writer presents the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31) as a time of extensive teaching by Jesus, as he prepares his followers for what was to come in Jerusalem. At the same time, they were being prepared for the early Christian mission—the subject of the book of Acts, anticipated and prefigured at a number of points in the Gospel (most notably, the mission of the seventy[-two] disciples in 10:1-12ff). The period of instruction included a significant amount of teaching regarding the Kingdom of God—a fitting subject for instruction, given that proclamation of the Kingdom (and its coming) was central to the disciples’ mission (9:2, 60; 10:9, 11). In this regard, the disciples were simply continuing (and extending) Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1).

According to the Lukan author, the Kingdom of God was also the focus of Jesus’ teaching during the forty days of his post-resurrection period with the disciples. Again, this teaching is in preparation for the coming mission. The early Christian mission is anticipated by Jesus’ words in verse 5, echoing the declaration by John the Baptist (3:16 par) and applying it directly to the disciples in the present. The promise is that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them, immersing them with its presence and power, after which the disciples would be empowered to embark on their mission.

The narrative proper begins in vv. 6-8. Immediately preceding Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven (vv. 9-11), he gives one final bit of teaching to his disciples. Again, the teaching is in regard to the Kingdom of God, and it offers us important insight as to how the Kingdom is defined in Luke-Acts. Jesus’ words are prompted by a question from his disciples:

“in [i.e. at] this time are you (going to) re-establish the kingdom for Yisrael?” (v. 6)

The compound verb a)pokaqi/sthmi is somewhat difficult to translate. The basic meaning is “set down from”, specifically, set something down from what (or where) it was before—i.e., restore, re-establish. The Israelite kingdom that was lost (following the Exile) was expected to be restored at the end-time, in the Messianic Age. This was an important component of Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation during the first centuries B.C./A.D. It is reflected in the crowds’ acclamation of Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem (19:38 par), being anticipated by the earlier notice in 19:11 (cf. 2:25, 38; 17:20; 23:51).

The disciples’ question suggests that they still understood the Kingdom in similar socio-political terms. As the Messiah, Jesus was expected to establish the Kingdom on earth, as a restoration (in the New Age) of the old Israelite kingdom. In the Gospel, the author radically reinterprets this expectation regarding the Kingdom. To a large extent, this reinterpretation of Jesus’ Kingship (and identity as the royal/Davidic Messiah) follows the Synoptic Tradition, as we discussed at length in recent studies. However, the Lukan author goes somewhat further in re-framing Jesus’ Kingship—and thus, also the Kingdom of God—in particular, through the important twin themes of (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the coming of the Spirit.

While not entirely denying the validity of the disciples’ question, Jesus fundamentally redirects it (v. 7f), much as he does with the question regarding the Kingdom in 17:20-21 (cf. the earlier study on this passage). Ultimately, he presents his disciples with a very different understanding of the Kingdom (v. 8), defined in terms of the central (Lukan) themes mentioned above:

    1. the coming of the Spirit
      “but you shall receive power, (with) the holy Spirit (hav)ing come upon you…”
    2. the proclamation of the Gospel
      “…and you shall be my witnesses, both in Yerushalaim and in all Yehudah and Shomeron, and (even) unto the last (part) of the earth.”

This is how the Lukan author presents the Kingdom-theme, as the theme unfolds throughout the book of Acts. The Kingdom comes, and is established on earth, as believers proclaim the Gospel, and through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

As far as other explicit references to the Kingdom in the book of Acts, they generally follow the earlier references to the mission of the disciples (see above), and the central focus of that mission—viz., the proclamation of the Kingdom. The early Christian missionaries are engaged in a similar activity. Only proclamation of the Kingdom now means, precisely, the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. The first such reference to the Kingdom, in this context, is 8:12; later on, it is used on occasion to characterize the missionary activity of Paul (19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; cf. also 14:22).

The book of Acts concludes, much as it began (see above), with an essential reference to the Kingdom (28:31). It summarizes Paul’s missionary work (in Rome), and, by extension, the entire early Christian mission narrated in Acts:

“proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

Note the parallel with the earlier expression “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3, see above). Here we have “the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God”. This further confirms that, in Luke-Acts, proclaiming the Kingdom is virtually synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. It is a mission that continues to the present day; as believers proclaim the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is established on earth, thus fulfilling the petition from the Lord’s Prayer.

In the next few studies, we will turn our attention to the Gospel of Matthew, and the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer as it is presented and developed within the context of the Matthean Gospel.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew, cont.)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew, continued

In the initial portion of this article, we examined the “son of man” references that occur throughout the narrative sequence of the Gospel of Matthew. For the most part, the Gospel writer follows the Synoptic/Markan narrative (though with some re-ordering), and also includes a number of “Q” traditions (shared with the Gospel of Luke). The author’s treatment of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) similarly follows his use of this traditional material. The most original contributions are found in the way that Jesus’ declaration(s) in Mark 8:38-9:1 are adapted (16:27-28), and by the inclusion of the saying in 19:28 within the Synoptic tradition of Mk 10:17-30 par (cf. Lk 22:28-30).

If I may summarize the main results of our analysis of the narrative references:

    • The Matthean Gospel writer unquestionably saw the expression “the son of man” by Jesus primarily as a self-reference; the interchangeability between the expression and the personal pronoun (compare 16:13, 21 with Mk 8:27, 31), in the declarations by Jesus occurring at the heart of the Gospel, makes this especially clear.
    • In Matthew, as in Luke, the “son of man” sayings bring out the Gospel’s thematic emphasis on discipleship. Just as Jesus identifies with the human condition (and its suffering), so the disciple of Jesus must take on a similar cost (of hardship and self-sacrifice) in following him.
    • The suffering and death of Jesus is particularly in focus, but balanced (more so than in Luke) with an emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus.

The “son of man” saying in 19:28, in particular, blends together these last two thematic emphases.

The Matthean Sermon-Discourses

As was discussed, the Matthean narrative is punctuated by a series of Discourses (or ‘Sermons’), built up out of smaller discourse-sections, around which other teachings by Jesus (sayings, short parables, etc) have been added. The great ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) is the first of these Discourses, in which Jesus presents a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for anyone would be his disciple. In chapter 10, Jesus subsequently instructs his disciples in preparation of their mission. Further on, in chapter 13, Jesus teaches his followers about the Kingdom of God, and (in chap. 18) on certain social aspects of being his disciple—viz., on belonging to the Kingdom, and how one is to relate to fellow members of the Kingdom. Finally, in chapters 24-25, the disciples are given further instruction on their mission (i.e., the early Christian mission), in connection with the coming end of the Age (and the Judgment).

The most significant Matthean occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (in 16:27-28 and 19:28), as noted above, have an eschatological orientation. This is also true for all of the occurrences of the expression in the Sermon-Discourses—10:23; 13:37, 41; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31.

Matthew 10:23

As part of the discourse (chap. 10) in which Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission—and, by extension, all believers for the coming early Christian mission—he instructs them in regard to the hostility and persecution that they will experience (vv. 16-25). In the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mk 13 par), this persecution (vv. 9-13) is framed in eschatological terms, as part of the end-time period of distress (vv. 19, 24). Matthew’s version of that Discourse (see below) has only a shortened form of the section related to the disciples’ mission (24:9, 13-14), having transferred the portion corresponding to Mk 13:9-12 largely to the chap. 10 discourse. This means, however, that there is a definite eschatological aspect to Jesus’ instruction here in chap. 10.

When facing persecution, the disciples are told to move (“flee”) from one city to the next (v. 23a). Jesus then adds the following declaration:

“For, amen, I say to you, that you shall (surely) not complete (going through) the cities of Yisrael, before [lit. until] the son of man should come.” (v. 23b)

This saying, like the instruction regarding persecution, is rather out of place in the narrative context—viz., the disciples’ initial mission during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It is much more appropriate in the context of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f), set in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Indeed, the eschatological reference to the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) end-time appearance makes almost no sense here, from a narrative standpoint, occurring as it does before he has even once told his disciples of his impending death and resurrection. The arrangement of the material in chapter 10, however, is topical, not chronological.

In any case, the imminence of the son of man’s end-time appearance would seem to be expressed quite clearly by Jesus here in v. 23. The implication is that not all that much time will pass before his coming—indeed, some (if not many) of the first disciples will still be alive at his parousia. The declaration by Jesus in 16:28, in the Matthean formulation of the saying (cp. Mk 9:1), carries the same implication, as does the famous statement in 24:34 par. We have already discussed the “son of man” reference in 16:28:

“Amen, I say to you, that there are some of the (one)s having stood here who (surely) shall not taste death, until they should see the son of man coming in his Kingdom!”

However problematic these statements may be for later generations of Christians (and for many of us today), the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers is well-established, and we should avoid the inclination to try and explain away their belief in this regard. For a thorough survey of the subject, see my earlier article (and specifically the portion covering the Gospels) in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Matthew 13:37, 41

In chapter 13, the Gospel writer has expanded the collection of Kingdom-parables in Mark 4:1-34, by including a number of additional parables and sayings—vv. 24-30, 32, 36-43, 44-50, 51-52—and by omitting (or otherwise not including) one of the parables found in Mark (4:26-29). The parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30) functions as a corollary to the parable of the Sower. As in that earlier parable, an explanation by Jesus is recorded for the parable of the Weeds (vv. 36-43). In this explanation, it is declared that sower of the seed is “the son of man” (v. 37)—that is, Jesus, in his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel (of the Kingdom). As is clear from chapter 10 (see above), the disciples (and other believers) will be continuing this mission of Jesus. It is noteworthy that in Matthew, these parables come after the disciples’ mission, whereas in Mark, the parables (chap. 4) come before the mission (6:7-13).

It is also explained that the harvest, involving the separation of the weeds from the grain, represents the end-time ‘harvest’, when the righteous will be separated from the wicked (vv. 39-43). The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, was a natural metaphor for the end of the Age—e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Matt 3:12 par; Rev 14:14-20. The parable of the Net (vv. 47-50) has a similar eschatological message.

In any case, in the parable of the Weeds, it is “the son of man” who will do the gathering (i.e., separating out the righteous), through the mediation of heavenly Messengers under his command (“his Messengers”), v. 41. Much the same scenario is described in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:27; par Matt 24:34). This eschatological reference to the Messengers (angels) confirms that the “son of man” declarations in 16:27-28 refer to the end-time appearance of Jesus (from heaven), i.e., his parousia (cf. 24:3, 27, 37, 39).

Matthew 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44

The Matthean Gospel writer has also expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), adding to it other eschatological sayings and parables of Jesus, including a number of “Q” traditions (vv. 43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-39, 40-41, 28) which Luke locates at different points of the narrative (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27, 34-35, 37b). The expression “the son of man” occurs several times in this “Q” material (vv. 27, 37, 39, 44 par), and the references were examined in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings.

The fundamental point in these references is that the coming of the son of man will coincide with the coming of the end-time Judgment. His appearance will be sudden and unexpected (v. 44 par), like lighting flashes that instantly light up the entire sky (v. 27 par). Matthew includes the Noah/Flood illustration, but not the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-29, 32). It is difficult to be certain whether or not the latter was originally part of the “Q” tradition inherited by the Gospel writer; it seems likely that it was, though, as a natural pairing (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff), it might have been added at any point in the tradition. In Matthew, Jesus specifically utilizes the Noah/Flood reference as the type-pattern for the end-time Judgment, pointing out that the coming of the “son of man” will be just like the coming of the Flood (vv. 37, 39 par)—the righteous (believers) will be saved, while the rest of humankind will perish under the Judgment.

Naturally enough, Matthew also retains the climactic “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26f par (v. 30f), but includes certain details which are worth discussing briefly. The declaration in Mk 13:26 is preserved in v. 30b, with only slight variation:

“…they shall gaze with (open) eyes (at) the son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Mark has “in/with [e)n] the clouds”, while Matthew more clearly draws upon the ancient storm-theophany imagery, viz., of the deity coming (or ‘riding’) upon (e)pi/) the clouds. However, the precise wording here actually stems from Daniel 7:13 LXX, “upon the clouds of heaven” (e)pi\ tw=n nefelw=n tou= ou)ranou=). The Matthean version of the tradition thus conforms more precisely to the “son of man” reference in Dan 7:13f.

The Gospel writer has also included an additional detail, in v. 30a; prior to the actual appearance of the son of man:

“Then shall shine forth the sign of the son of man in heaven, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth shall beat themselves…”

There are differences of opinion regarding what is meant by the sign (shmei=on) of the son of man. It may simply refer to a brilliant theophanous light (the verb fai/nw literally meaning “shine”) that announces the son of man’s coming. Other commentators prefer to explain it is a visual symbol of something, such as Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., cross), or even as a representation of Jesus himself (crucified). If the Gospel writer understands the reference to the peoples “beating themselves” (i.e., in mourning) as an allusion to Zech 12:10, then they may, indeed, be responding to the fact that the “son of man” (i.e., the exalted Jesus) had been crucified (cp. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 similarly brings together Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10. If the death (crucifixion) of Jesus is being specifically referenced here, then it provides us with another indication of how the Matthean author has balanced two primary Gospel contexts where the expression “the son of man” is used: (a) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (b) his exaltation and (future) return in glory.

Matthew 25:31

The Gospel writer has further expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, by including three eschatological parables in chapter 25. Two of these (vv. 1-13, 31-46) are unique to Matthew, while the other (vv. 14-30) is similar to the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12-27 (and may derive from a common [“Q”] tradition). All three of these parables refer in some way to the end-time Judgment, but only the third (vv. 31-46) specifically has a Judgment setting. Indeed, it can only marginally be described as a parable; it is more akin to some of the visions in the book of Revelation, providing a vivid portrait of the end-time Judgment.

In any case, it is clear from the opening (v. 31) that the Judgment takes place only after the coming of the son of man (see on 24:30f above):

“And, when the son of man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him, then he shall sit upon (the) throne of his splendor, and the nations shall be gathered together in front of him, and he shall mark them off from each other, just as a herder marks off the sheep from the goats.” (vv. 31-32)

The idea of the separation of the righteous from the wicked was a central component of the Judgment parables in 13:24-30 (+ 36-43) and 47-50 (see above). Clearly, in this instance, though the holy Messengers (angels) are involved, it is the son of man himself who oversees the Judgment. The peoples (“nations”) are all brought together in front of him, as he sits upon his throne. As the exalted/heavenly ruler, the son of man (Jesus) will proceed to pass judgment upon humankind. Though it is not specifically indicated here, it is fair to assume that Jesus is acting as God the Father’s representative, acting with His authority, in overseeing the Judgment.

In all respects this scenario represents a more developed form of a line of tradition preserved elsewhere in the “son of man” sayings (16:27, etc), in which we find both the motif of the end-time Judgment, and the idea of the “son of man” appearing (in glory, with the angels) at the end-time.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 13:24ff; 16:16)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In examining the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition, 11:2), it is necessary to look at the specific idiom of entering the Kingdom. We may regard this language (using the verb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”) as traditional, even though its occurrence is relatively rare in the New Testament, and limited almost entirely to sayings by Jesus in the Gospels (Mk 9:47; 10:15, 23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 23:13 par; John 3:5). The concept of entering the kingdom (of God) is clearly related to, and largely synonymous with, that of entering into life (i.e., eternal life)—Mk 9:43, 45 (cp. v. 47); Matt 7:14 (cf. v. 21); Matt 19:17 (vv. 23-24); cf. also John 10:9.

There are four passages in the Gospel of Luke where this idiom occurs in Jesus’ teaching, and all four are located in the Journey period (9:51-18:31)—13:24-30; 16:16f; 18:16-17, and 18:24-25ff. The last two are part of the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 10:14-15, 23-25ff), and appear to be closely connected; in any case, the Synoptic (Markan) narrative has them follow in sequence. They function as teaching on the nature of discipleship, and provide two different lessons on what is required in following Jesus.

The Lukan presentation of this Synoptic material (18:16-17, 24-25ff) differs little from the Markan. The context makes clear that “entering the Kingdom of God” is defined in terms of following Jesus (i.e., being his disciple). This is particularly apparent from the juxtaposition between the question by the ‘ruler’ (Mk 10:17 / par Lk 18:18) and Jesus’ answer (“come, join with me on the path [i.e. follow me]”, Mk 10:21 / par Lk 18:22), along with the subsequent instruction to his disciples (Mk 10:23-25ff / par Lk 18:24-25ff). What Jesus particularly emphasizes is the cost of following him (cf. the sayings in Lk 9:58-62 par, at the beginning of the Journey narrative). This is very much in keeping with the Lukan thematic focus on discipleship (and the mission of the disciples).

A rather different lesson is taught in Mk 10:14-15 / par Lk 18:16-17. Only the person who receives the Kingdom, in the manner that a little child does, will be able to enter it:

“who ever would not receive [de/chtai] the kingdom of God as a little child, shall (surely) not come into it.” (Lk 18:17)

The idea of receiving (vb de/xomai) the Kingdom implies that the Kingdom is something that comes, or is currently present. Given the context of Jesus’ illustration (vv. 15-16), it is quite clear that the Kingdom is being identified implicitly with the personal presence of Jesus himself. The little children are responding to Jesus, with simple trust and acceptance, and thus are ‘receiving’ him. The true disciple will respond to Jesus in a similar way.

The introduction to the tradition (v. 15 par) presents this dynamic also in a slightly different way—with the image of the children coming (i.e., being brought) to Jesus. This emphasizes the active component of entering (coming into) the Kingdom. These two sides of the equation—the Kingdom coming in the person of Jesus, and of people coming to Jesus (and thus [in]to the Kingdom)—effectively summarize the dynamic of the early Christian mission, only with the disciples (believers) functioning as representatives of Jesus himself.

Luke 13:24-30

This apostolic mission is also prefigured by the Kingdom-parable in 13:24-30, part of a short sequence of parables (vv. 18-21ff). The particular narrative unit in vv. 22-30 is only found in Luke, though parts of it resemble other sayings/teachings of Jesus. The parable itself is prefaced by a narrative introduction (v. 22), followed by a question posed to Jesus (v. 23): “(is it that) only a few are being saved?”. Jesus’ initial response resembles the saying in Matt 7:13-14:

“You must struggle [vb a)gwni/zomai] to come in [ei)selqei=n] through the narrow gate, (in) that (there are) many, I say to you, (who) will seek to come in, and will not have the strength [i.e. be able] (to do so).” (v. 24)

The “narrow gate” represents the entrance to the Kingdom, which also connotes finding salvation (v. 23). In the early Christian (and Lukan) context, these concepts are defined in terms of responding to the Gospel and trusting in Jesus. The parable that follows implies that the window for responding will only be open for a limited time; at some point, it will be shut—i.e., the gate/door will be shut. There are some even who claim to be Jesus’ followers, and may have appeared to be his disciples, but who never actually entered the “narrow door” to the Kingdom—that is, never truly trusted in Jesus, nor were willing to take on the cost of following him. This part of the parable (vv. 25-28) also has parallels in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (7:21-23), and in the later parable of 25:10-12.

The universal, worldwide aspect of the early Christian mission—so vital a theme to the narrative of Luke-Acts as a whole—is alluded to in verse 29. People from different regions and nations, extending from the east to the west, all will come into the Kingdom of God, residing and feasting there at the King’s table.

Luke 16:16

The final Kingdom reference to be examined, and certainly the most difficult, is the saying by Jesus in Luke 16:16—a “Q” tradition which has a corresponding Matthean version (11:12-13). The two versions clearly derive from a single underlying tradition, but they differ in several important respects. Most notably, each version contains the verb bia/zw (“[use] force”), but the way it is used would seem to differ considerably. In Matthew, the emphasis is on the violence and persecution which the Kingdom of God experiences—beginning with John the Baptist and continuing through the early Christian missionaries (cf. the context of chapter 10). Here is how the Matthean version reads:

“from the days of Yohanan the Dunker until now, the kingdom of God is treated with force [bia/zetai], and forceful [biastai/] (men) seize it. For all the Foretellers and the Law foretold until Yohanan…” (vv. 12-13)

The Lukan version (16:16) has the same middle/passive verb form (bia/zetai). In Matthew, it is clearly passive (“is forced, treated with force”), with the Kingdom of God as the subject. In Luke, by contrast, the Kingdom of God is the prepositional object (viz., that into which people enter), and the singular/collective adjective pa=$ (“every[one]”) is the subject—viz., every one who enters the Kingdom. In this regard, it makes most sense to read the verb in the middle voice (though a passive reading is still possible):

“The Law and the Foretellers (were) until Yohanan; from then (on), (the) good message (of) the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and every(one) forces (himself) [bia/zetai] into it.” (v. 16)

The phrase “the good message…is proclaimed” translates the verb eu)aggeli/zw, which Luke prefers to the construction khru/ssw (“proclaim”) + the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”). The way the Lukan version is framed, the focus is on the period of the proclamation of the Gospel (after John the Baptist), and refers to people making their way into the Kingdom—which, in the Lukan context, can only mean trusting in Jesus and becoming his disciple. In this regard, the middle voice of bia/zw (“[use] force”) is best understood in relation to 13:24 (see above, par Matt 7:13-14), and the idea that the disciple must struggle to enter through the “narrow gate” of the Kingdom.

It is, however, possible to read the Lukan version with bia/zetai as a passive form, though a literal rendering of this (“everyone is forced into it”) could be very misleading. The meaning has been explained as “every one is pressed [i.e. urged to come] into it”, viz., by the proclamation of the Gospel. However, a better expository rendering of the passive verb might be: “everyone experiences force/pressure (as they come) into it”. This would be in line with the statement by Paul in Acts 14:22:

“it is necessary for us to come into [ei)selqei=n] the kingdom of God through (experience)s of distress”

Thematically, this statement reflects the Lukan emphasis on discipleship (and the mission of disciples), in at least three respects: (i) the focus on trusting in Jesus, and remaining faithful to him (v. 22a); (ii) the cost of being a disciple, which involves self-sacrifice, hardship, and suffering; and (iii) the real possibility of experiencing violence and persecution, particularly in connection with the Christian mission. The noun translated (in the plural) as “(experience)s of distress” is qli/yi$, which was commonly used by early Christians as an eschatological term, viz., for the end-time period of distress (cf. Daniel 12:1 LXX; Mark 13:19, 24 par, etc). As we have seen, there is a strong eschatological component to the Lukan presentation of the Kingdom-theme.

 

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Lk 12:31-32; 13:18ff))

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In the previous studies, we began examining the Kingdom-petition, in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, in its literary context. The Lord’s Prayer itself is part of a block of teaching by Jesus on the subject of prayer (11:1-13), set in the early stages of the period of the Journey to Jerusalem. During this long Journey account, as the Lukan author presents it (9:51-18:31), Jesus gives extensive instruction to his disciples, preparing them for what will come in Jerusalem.

In the literary context of Luke-Acts, this teaching also anticipates the early Christian mission, and implicitly prepares the disciples for the coming mission-work. The Lukan account of the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples, in 10:1-12ff, serves as a type-pattern for the early Christian mission (narrated in the book of Acts), and effectively frames the Journey narrative. The Kingdom-references in 9:60, 62 are part of this framing emphasis on discipleship, focusing on what is involved in being a disciple of Jesus.

If the disciples’ mission is centered upon proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God (9:2, 11, 60; 10:9, 11), then it is natural that Jesus would teach them about the Kingdom. And, indeed, there are several blocks of teaching in the Lukan Journey narrative in which the idea of the Kingdom plays a prominent role. The prayer-section (in 11:1-13) is one such block of teaching, largely due to the prominence of the Kingdom-petition in the Lord’s Prayer. Another section is 12:13-34, which deals primarily with the theme of how one should respond to earthly needs and goods. This section may be divided into several tradition-units, which could represent sayings/teachings by Jesus given on different occasions:

    • Vv. 13-15—An encounter-episode, warning against pleoneci/a, i.e., the desire to always have/hold more (things).
    • Vv. 16-21—The parable of the ‘Rich Fool’, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the things of God, rather than on earthly goods and riches (v. 21).
    • Vv. 22-31f—The folly in being preoccupied with, and worrying about, earthly needs and goods.
    • Vv. 33-34—Illustrative instruction, contrasting earthly and heavenly treasure.

The Kingdom-reference in verse 31 has something of a climactic position in this block of teaching, effectively summarizing the message of Jesus’ teaching, and serving as the principal exhortation and example for his disciples to follow. Verses 22-31 are part of the “Q” material, shared by the Gospel of Matthew, where it is included as part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (6:25-33). The Kingdom-saying (v. 33) similarly concludes this “Q” unit in Matthew. The Lukan version of this saying, more than the Matthean, provides an integral (and syntactical) contrast with the previous statement, in which Jesus describes how most people (“all the nations of the world”) think and act:

“For these (thing)s (are what) all the nations of the world seek after, but your Father has (already) seen that you have need of these (thing)s.” (v. 30)

The demonstrative plural pronoun tau=ta (“these [thing]s”) frames the sentence, giving it a double-emphasis. The pronoun refers to what Jesus has been discussing in vv. 22-29, how his disciples should not be worried or preoccupied about meeting the needs of daily life—food, clothing, etc—things which also embody the earthly goods that most people are eager to accumulate. The disciples are not to seek after such things, even insofar as they represent genuine earthly needs, since God (their Father) already knows (“has seen”) what they need, and they may trust that He will provide it for them. The climactic saying in verse 31 builds upon this teaching:

“(But) more than (this), you must seek His kingdom, and (then) these (thing)s will be set toward you.”

Again, the demonstrative pronoun tau=ta (“these [thing]s”) refers to the earthly/material goods necessary for daily life. These things will be “set toward” (vb prosti/qhmi) the disciples, if they seek God’s Kingdom. Some manuscripts read “the kingdom of God [th\n basilei/an tou= qeou=]” rather than “His kingdom [th\n basilei/an au)tou=]”, but the latter is more likely to be original in Luke’s version; it also effectively connects with the reference to God as the disciples’ Father in v. 30His kingdom, i.e., your Father’s kingdom. The conjunction plh/n is both emphatic and contrastive, meaning something like “(but) more than (this)…”, emphasizing the need for the disciples actively and intentionally to seek God’s Kingdom.

Jesus here does not indicate what God’s Kingdom is (i.e., what it consists of or involves), only what it is not. It is not made up of material goods or earthly things, nor is it centered upon acquiring such things, even when they may be necessary for sustaining and protecting life.

Following verse 31, the Lukan author includes an additional Kingdom-saying that is not part of the “Q” block (at least as it is found in Matthew):

“(So) do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father thinks (it) good to give to you the Kingdom!” (v. 32)

In addition to being given the necessities of daily life, if Jesus’ disciples seek the Father’s Kingdom, He will give them the Kingdom as well! This idea is related to the traditional motif of the righteous (or believers) inheriting the Kingdom (Matt 25:34; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21). There may also be present here the connotation of Jesus’ disciples being entrusted with the Kingdom, which could relate, not simply to future/eternal blessing for believers, but also to the Christian mission itself—viz., establishing and extending the Kingdom on earth through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Kingdom, in this regard, has been given to believers, who thus play a pivotal role in its coming.

If 12:31f emphasizes what the Kingdom is not, the parables in 13:18-19 and 20-21 give us some idea about what the Kingdom is. These two parables are also part of the “Q” tradition, being found also in Matthew (13:31-33). The Matthean Gospel sets them in the same literary context (chap. 13) as the Synoptic/Markan Kingdom-parables (Mk 4:1-34); Luke also includes some of this Markan material (8:4-15). In the case of the mustard-seed parable, it would seem that it was preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan (Mk 4:30-32) and “Q” lines of tradition. The same parable is also found in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (§20).

The emphasis in both of these Kingdom-parables is on the growth and spread of the Kingdom. There is a slow, but natural process to this growth, and ultimately the spread is extensive and pervasive. In the first parable (vv. 18-19), “a man” sows a tiny mustard-seed into his garden. Based upon the parallel of the Sower-parable in Mark 4:3-9ff (par Lk 8:4-8ff), the “seed” may be interpreted as the word of God, understood in terms of the Gospel, while “the man” who sows it is the person proclaiming the Gospel—whether Jesus or (by extension) his disciples. Based on the literary context of 10:1-12ff, the Lukan author surely would have had the mission of the disciples (i.e., the early Christian mission) in mind. Over time, and as a result of its natural growth, the seed grows into a great tree with many inhabitants, much like the spread of early Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world.

The second parable (of the leaven, vv. 20-21) makes a similar point, emphasizing how the proclamation of the Gospel does its work even when “mixed together” with other ingredients (flour, etc). In this sense, the growth and spread of the Kingdom occurs in a quiet, ‘hidden’ sort of way, which often cannot be perceived until the leavening/fermenting has taken place. Here, the effect of the Kingdom (and the early Christian mission) on society is being illustrated, something which the Lukan author also narrates, as part of his account, in the book of Acts. For another version of the leaven parable, cf. the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (§96).

The missionary figure in the first parable was “a man”, while in the second parable it was “a woman”. I do not think that this distinction is entirely coincidental. It seems likely that the Lukan author would have intended, in a subtle but significant way, to emphasize the role of female disciples of Jesus, and their work in the early Christian mission. Apart from the notice in 8:1-3 (note the context of the Kingdom-parable in 8:4-9ff), the author gives emblematic prominence to the figure of Mary (1:38ff; 2:19, 51; Acts 1:14), and clearly highlights, however quietly, in the Acts narratives the significant role women play (1:14; 2:17; 9:36ff; 16:13-15; 18:18, 26; 21:9).

Following these two parables, the author presents another short block of teaching by Jesus (vv. 22-30), framed as a distinct narrative episode during the Journey, and governed by the “narrow door” teaching in vv. 24ff. It contains two Kingdom-references (vv. 28-29), which clearly allude, within the Lukan context, to the early Christian mission throughout the Greco-Roman world. People will come from east and west, north and south, enter the Kingdom of God, joining in the feast held at God’s table (v. 29).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Lk 11:2, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
(Luke 11:2)

In the previous study, we began exploring the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (and its Kingdom-petition). An important aspect of the Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme is the way that the Gospel writer shifts the emphasis from Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom to the proclamation by the disciples. As we saw, the two mission-episodes (9:1-6; 10:1-12ff) play a central role in the framework of the Lukan narrative. The first of these episodes, which is part of the Synoptic tradition (Mk 6:7-13 par), comes toward the end of the Galilean period, while the second (the mission of the seventy[-two]), which is unique to Luke, occurs at the beginning of the Journey to Jerusalem.

The mission of the seventy(-two) disciples, sent out by Jesus as a continuation of his own mission, serves to frame the entire Journey narrative. The journey to Jerusalem has an important place in the Synoptic narrative; however, its role is transitional, serving primarily to join the Galilean and Jerusalem sections of the narrative. In Mark, the journey is essentially limited to chapter 10. However, by contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the Journey covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), thus forming a major division of the narrative in its own right. For the Lukan author, the Journey becomes the setting for a wide range of traditional material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus—some of which occur in an entirely different location in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (or in Matthew). The arrangement of the material is primarily literary, rather than historical and chronological.

Given the emphasis on the disciples’ proclamation of the Kingdom, it is only natural that Jesus would take time to teach his disciples about the Kingdom. And, indeed, there are a number of Kingdom-teachings that can be found throughout the Journey narrative, as Jesus prepares his disciples for what will take place in Jerusalem. This teaching, in light of the framing episode of the disciples’ mission (10:1-12ff), also anticipates the early Christian mission narrated in the book of Acts. As we shall see, the Lukan author interprets the coming of the Kingdom largely in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4) represents the first Kingdom-teaching of the Journey narrative, following closely as it does after the mission episode (10:1-20). It is part of a block of teaching (11:1-13) by Jesus regarding prayer. I have discussed this section previously in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature, and will not repeat that exegesis here. The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer is also part of a section on prayer (6:5-15), but in a very different location and narrative context.

It is worth considering the components of the Lukan block, isolating the elements and individual traditions according to the following outline:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Two additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13):

The two sayings in vv. 9-13 follow the same order in Matthew (7:7-11), indicating that they were joined together at an early point in the tradition, perhaps having been originally spoken together (at the same time) by Jesus himself. The differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of these sayings are relatively minor, except for the Lukan reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 13), the significance of which will be addressed below.

As for the Lord’s Prayer itself, the Lukan version (vv. 2-4) is noticeably shorter than the Matthean version (6:9-13), as also the version in the Didache (8:2), which is likely dependent on Matthew. The Lukan version has five petitions (governed by verbal imperatives), while the Matthew/Didache version has seven. Luke’s version also has a shorter invocation—simply “Father!” (vocative Pa/ter). As the phrase o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$ (“[who is] in the heavens”) is distinctive to the Gospel of Matthew, it is assumed by many commentators that the phrase here in the Prayer is a Matthean addition, and that Luke has the more original form.

The genitive pronoun h(mw=n (“our”) is far more likely to be original, since addressing God as “our Father” appears to have been common among Jews at the time—a usage that was continued by early Christians. It is found in the New Testament only in Paul’s letters, but as a fixed formula that would scarcely have been original to Paul (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 2 Thess 1:1-2; 2:16; Philem 3; also Eph 1:2). Even so, if the modifying pronoun was originally part of the invocation in the Prayer, it is not at all clear why Luke would have omitted it (especially considering the wording present in verse 13).

The reference to God as Father has an added significance within the Lukan context of the Prayer. Indeed, the theme of God as Father is central to second “Q” saying (vv. 11-13 par), which here concludes the block of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer. The illustration involves a human father’s relationship to his child, and how a loving father will give “good gifts” to his child when the child asks for them. Jesus’ application of this illustration involves the rhetorical qal wahomer (“light and heavy”) principle—viz., what applies in a lesser case should apply all the more in a greater case. What is true (in a positive sense) of a human father will certainly be true in the case of God as our Father. The Matthean version of the saying (7:11), which is no doubt closer to the original, brings out the parallel:

“If, then, you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring [i.e. children], how much more will the Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

The “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/) would correspond to the third petition in the Lukan Lord’s Prayer (v. 3), and to the last three petitions (vv. 3-4) generally. Interestingly, Luke has apparently modified Jesus’ saying, so that it provides, instead, a climactic reference to the Holy Spirit:

“…how much more will the Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!” (v. 13)

Otherwise, Luke’s version of the saying is close to the Matthean; the latter may have adapted “out of heaven” ([o(] e)c ou)ranou=) to the more distinctively Matthean “in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). It is not entirely clear whether the phrase e)c ou)ranou= (“out of heaven”), as Luke presents it in context, refers to the location from which God responds, or whether it means specifically that God will send the Spirit “from heaven”. The latter interpretation would anticipate the sending of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:2ff).

This reference to the Spirit has profound implications for the Lukan understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, and the Kingdom-petition in particular. In light of the way that the motif of God as Father frames the pericope, it is likely that the climactic reference to the Spirit functions in a similar manner. If there is a parallel, it is to be found in the first two petitions of the Prayer:

    • “May your name be made holy”
      a(giasqh/tw to\ o)noma/ sou
    • “May your Kingdom come”
      e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

The formal pattern of these two petitions indicates how close in thought and conception they are: i.e., the coming of His Kingdom is parallel to the making holy of His name. In Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the name of God represents God Himself—His manifest presence, character, power, and authority. A particular application of the name—for example, as it is called upon the people of Israel, or the Temple in Jerusalem—implies that the person (or thing) over whom God’s name is called belongs to Him. There is thus a conceptual relationship between God’s name and His kingdom—His name represents His dominion, all that belongs to Him, and which is under His authority.

There is a similar parallel between God’s name being made holy (vb a(gia/zw) and His kingdom coming (vb e&rxomai). The establishment of God’s kingdom (on earth) means that His dominion will be made complete and will be treated (by human beings on earth) with the honor and sanctity that it deserves.

The leading motif of “making holy” (in the first petition) guides the thought of the entire Prayer. Consider how the five petitions may be structured and outlined:

    • Petitions 1 and 2, regarding God and His Kingdom
      • Petition 3, regarding the earthly needs of human beings
    • Petitions 4 and 5, regarding the deliverance of human beings from the dominion of sin and evil

From an eschatological standpoint, the coming of God’s Kingdom marks the end of the wicked/evil kingdom(s) which dominate the current Age. The deliverance of human beings (spec. the righteous) is a natural consequence of the coming of God’s Kingdom upon earth at the end-time.

While Luke certainly preserves the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom theme, he expands the interpretation of it, particularly in light of the early Christian mission (see the discussion above). Here, the idea of the coming of the Kingdom blends with the theme of the coming of the Spirit. Given the climactic position of the Spirit-reference in verse 13, and the intentional Lukan adaptation of the underlying tradition, there can be little real doubt that the Gospel writer is implicitly interpreting the Kingdom petition in light of the coming of the Spirit.

We will be discussing this interpretive development in greater detail as we proceed; however, it is worth noting here a provocative variant reading of the Kingdom-petition in verse 2. In at least one minuscule manuscript (700), instead of e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“May your kingdom come”), the text reads:

e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”

The reading in manuscript 162 is similar; and a comparable reading is known to have been extant in Greek manuscripts in the 4th-5th centuries, as attested from quotations by Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus Confessor. Even earlier, Tertullian conceivably could be alluding to a Spirit-petition present in texts of Lk 11:2 (cf. Against Marcion IV.26), though this is not certain. It has been explained as a gloss, perhaps deriving from liturgical tradition, that inadvertently crept into the text. Cf. UBS/Metzger, p. 130f, who cites a similar prayer-petition from the Greek Acts of Thomas §27.

Whatever the origin of this variant reading, I would maintain that, at least in terms of the implicit identification of God’s Kingdom with the Holy Spirit, it corresponds with the Lukan interpretation. To be more precise, from a Lukan theological standpoint, there are two main components of the Kingdom as it begins to be established through the early Christian mission: (1) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (2) the coming of the Spirit. This understanding of the Kingdom is established at the beginning of the book of Acts (1:3-5, 6-8), and then is expounded throughout the remaining narrative.

References above marked “UBS/Metzer” are to Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament [4th revised edition] (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft / United Bible Societies, 1994).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 11:2)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In these studies on the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we have been exploring the place of this Kingdom-theme within the Synoptic Tradition. In particular, our recent studies (during Holy Week) examined this theme in light of the Triumphal Entry scene (Mark 11:1-10 par)—which marks the beginning of the Jerusalem period of Jesus’ ministry, in the Synoptic narrative—and the identification of Jesus as the Davidic/royal Messiah. In these chapters (Mk 11-13 par) covering the Jerusalem period, culminating with the Passion narrative (chaps. 14-15 par), the Kingdom-theme is developed in a number of important ways, as we saw. The results of that analysis will be utilized in the studies that follow, helping to guide and inform our approach, and to aid the resultant exegesis.

Now, however, we will be taking a new course, as we examine the Kingdom-petition in the context of each Gospel’s version of the Lord’s Prayer—both the Matthean (6:9-13) and the Lukan (11:2-4). In each Gospel, the Prayer occurs at a different location and context within narrative. Some traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to take the view that Jesus gave roughly the same Prayer (and prayer-instruction) on different occasions; however, most commentators would hold that the two versions of the Prayer represent alternate versions of the same tradition. This means, certainly, the same historical tradition; yet, it can also indicate the same literary source—that is, the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke, and which is customarily thought of as comprising a single written document.

Whatever its source, the Lukan version of Prayer, being noticeably simpler and shorter, is often regarded as being closer to the original—that is, both the original “Q” tradition, and to the Prayer as it was originally spoken and taught (presumably in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. For this reason, among others, we begin with the Lukan version of the Prayer, and its Kingdom-petition (11:2).

Before looking at the immediate context of the Prayer, it is worth considering the structure and scope of the Lukan narrative, in relation to the core Synoptic narrative, and how this affects Luke’s treatment of the Kingdom-theme.

As I have discussed, the Synoptic narrative is rather clearly divided into two parts: (1) the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and (2) his time in Jerusalem. In Mark, this two-part division is reflected in the Gospel’s basic structure: (1) the Galilean period (chapters 1-9), and (2) the Jerusalem period (chapters 10-16). Peter’s confession (of Jesus as the Messiah, 8:29-30) and the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8) mark the climax of the Galilean period. In this first period, Jesus is presented primarily as a Messianic Prophet, according to the pattern of Elijah and Moses (cf. the Transfiguration scene), and also the Isaian herald (of 42:1ff and 61:1ff, etc). By contrast, in the second part of the Gospel (the Jerusalem period), the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic King (from the line of David). This is introduced at 10:47-48, upon Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, and then comes fully into view with the Triumphal Entry scene, after which it dominates the remainder of the narrative.

The Gospel of Luke follows this Synoptic/Markan framework; however, the Lukan narrative has greatly altered its structure. In Mark, the period from the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, covers less than two chapters (9:9-10:52), with the journey to Jerusalem itself essentially comprising chapter 10. This narrative is framed and governed by the three Passion-predictions of Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), which rather evenly divide the material.

In Luke, by contrast, the journey to Jerusalem covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), being expanded by the inclusion of a considerable amount of material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus. Some of this material is unique to Luke’s Gospel, while other portions derive from the Synoptic/Markan tradition or from the “Q” material shared with Matthew. A number of traditions occur at earlier points in the narrative (i.e., set in the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. The Lukan author has set all of this material during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—thus portraying the journey as time of intensive teaching, when Jesus gave instruction and training to his followers.

The Lord’s Prayer, in chapter 11, occurs at a relatively early point in the Journey narrative, apparently not long after the journey to Jerusalem commenced (9:51ff). There are several important Kingdom-references in this material, prior to the Prayer petition in 11:2. It will be worth examining these briefly.

Luke 9:27

To begin with, the Galilean period concludes with a key Kingdom-declaration, in 9:27, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“there are some of you, standing at this very (place), who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God!”

In this, Luke is following the Synoptic/Markan tradition (Mk 9:1; par Matt 16:28), though the author seems to be downplaying the eschatological aspect of the tradition in his version of the saying; compare the Markan version:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (9:1)

Matthew’s version makes the reference more clearly refer to the resurrection (and/or future return) of Jesus:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom!” (16:28)

The Lukan version, in context, seems to relate this promise of seeing the kingdom of God (on this idiom, cp. John 3:3), with the disciples who witness the Transfiguration scene (which immediately follows in the narrative, vv. 28-36). The parallel with the wording in v. 32 is particularly telling:

    • “…until they should see the kingdom of God” (v. 27)
    • “…and they saw his glory” (v. 32)

The appearance of the kingdom of God is thus implicitly connected with the appearance of Jesus in his Messianic glory. As noted above, in the Galilean period of the narrative (which climaxes with the Transfiguration) the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic Prophet (cf. verse 35, and the figures of Moses/Elijah). Jesus’ role as Prophet is essentially fulfilled with this scene and the attendant glory that is revealed about him. As for Jesus’ role as Messianic King, his glory will not be revealed until after his death and resurrection.

This point is instructive for what I regard as the dual-nature of the Kingdom in the Lukan Gospel (incl. the book of Acts). On the one hand, the Kingdom is manifested in the person of Jesus, during the time of his ministry on earth; yet, on the other hand, the Kingdom is to be realized fully only after the resurrection—and when the exalted Christ returns to earth at the time of the Judgment. This will be discussed further as we proceed in our study.

As we turn to the Journey period in the Lukan narrative (beginning at 9:51ff), there are several episodes, or blocks of material, which introduce (again) and develop the Kingdom-theme.

Luke 9:60, 62

Following the initial episode (9:52-56) of the Journey narrative, the Gospel writer includes a cluster of three sayings by Jesus, all dealing with the theme of discipleship, and of the costs involved with following Jesus. The first two sayings (vv. 57-60) are part of the “Q” tradition, being found also in Matthew (8:19-22), but at a very different (earlier) point in the narrative. The third saying (vv. 61-62) occurs only in Luke. In each instance, the saying by Jesus comes in response to a would-be disciple; the person’s interest in following Jesus is tested by the idea of the hardship and sacrifice that discipleship requires.

The prospective disciple in the second saying requests that, before following Jesus, he first be allowed to bury his deceased father (v. 59). Jesus’ response to him is famous for its apparent harshness:

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead! But you, going forth, must give throughout the message (of) the kingdom of God.” (v. 60)

Similarly, the would-be disciple in the third saying wishes first to bid farewell to his home and family, before leaving to follow Jesus (v. 61). This seemingly reasonable request also meets with a sharp response from Jesus:

“No one casting (his) hand upon the plough, and (still) looking to the (thing)s behind, is (very) well-set for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

The point in both sayings is that social and family obligations must take second place to the priority of following Jesus. In the first of these two sayings, following Jesus involves proclaiming the Kingdom; in the second, it implies belonging to the Kingdom. The two ideas are certainly related, in the sense that being “well-suited” for the Kingdom (so as to belong to it) means one is also equipped to serve the Kingdom—viz., by proclaiming its coming to people everywhere.

Luke 10:9-11

This theme is developed in the next episode of the Journey narrative (10:1-12ff)—the Mission of the seventy(-two) disciples. This episode, which occurs only in Luke, is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 6:7-13 par, which is part of the Galilean Period narrative, and so occurs, toward the end of that narrative, in Luke’s Gospel (9:1-6). In that earlier episode, it is the Twelve—Jesus’ inner circle of close disciples—who are sent out, as an extension of his own mission (Mark 3:13ff par). And, indeed, like Jesus himself, the missionary disciples are instructed to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, both through their preaching and through the performance of healing/exorcism miracles (Mk 3:14b, 15). On the performance of such miracles as a sign that the Kingdom has come, see the recent study on Lk 11:20 par.

The Lukan version of the Mission episode emphasizes the proclamation of the Kingdom (9:1), corresponding to Jesus’ own proclamation (4:43; 8:1). The inclusion of the second Mission episode, involving a larger group of disciples, is important to the Lukan narrative for a number of reasons. First, it further establishes and develops the Kingdom-theme in the Journey narrative; second, it emphasizes Jesus’ activity in teaching his disciples; third, it draws greater attention to the idea of the disciples’ mission as an extension (and continuation) of Jesus’ own; and, finally, it foreshadows the role of the early believers in the book of Acts, in their activity of proclaiming the Gospel and performing (healing) miracles.

As to the third point, the wording in 10:9 and 11 is significant. In verse 9, Jesus instructs the disciples that, as they perform healing miracles, they should announce that “the kingdom of God has come near [h&ggiken] upon you”. This use of the verb e)ggi/zw matches that of the declaration by Jesus at the beginning of his mission, according to the Synoptic tradition (cf. the earlier note on Mark 1:15). Luke only alludes, indirectly, to that tradition (in 4:43 and 8:1), without using the verb e)ggi/zw, which he introduces here. As the declaration characterizes Jesus’ own mission, so it also does for the disciples’ apostolic mission—as indicated by the repetition in verse 11: “…know that the kingdom of God has come near!”

The Lukan narrative increasingly understands the coming of the Kingdom of God in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel. This becomes a dominant theme in the book of Acts, but it begins to take shape already here, with the two Mission episodes, at the end of the Galilean period and the beginning of the Journey period. In Jesus’ own ministry, the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”) is used to characterize his announcement of the coming of God’s Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par); however, increasingly for early Christians, the word (and the related verb eu)aggeli/zw) referred to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ—viz., the message of who he was and what he did (and what God did through him). Note how Luke frames the first Mission episode, bringing out this interpretive emphasis:

    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim [vb khru/ssw] the kingdom of God” (9:2)
    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim the good message [vb eu)aggeli/zw]” (v. 6)

There is thus a clear parallel between the Kingdom of God and the Gospel, even though Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zw rather than khru/ssw + eu)agge/lion. For some reason, not yet completely explained, the Lukan author seems to avoid the noun eu)agge/lion, preferring instead the verb eu)aggeli/zw.

With this background in view, we shall turn next week to the Lukan Lord’s Prayer itself, examining the context of the Prayer, and the place of the Kingdom-petition within it.

Saturday Series: John 20:23

John 20:23

The final sin-reference in the Gospel of John comes near the end of the Gospel, in the commission-scene of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples, 20:19-23. As is typical, the Gospel writer has taken an established historical tradition and has developed it in the light of the distinctive Johannine theology. In this instance, however, the brevity and terseness of the material creates particular challenges for interpretation, especially with regard to the sin-reference in verse 23.

The core Gospel tradition is centered in verses 19-21. Here, the Johannine tradition is comparable to that in Luke 24:36-40; this is one of several points in the Resurrection-narrative material where the Lukan Gospel (at least in the ‘non-Western’ witnesses) and Johannine Gospel closely resemble each other, indicating that they share a common source of tradition. Both Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:19-23 blend the resurrection-appearance of Jesus with a commissioning of his disciples (implying the impending departure of Jesus, to the Father in heaven). At the historical level, this may involve the compression and telescoping of several events into a single narrative episode. The same sort of thing occurs in the Matthean Gospel (28:16-20) and in the ‘long ending’ of Mark’s Gospel (16:14-18).

John’s account is the briefest of the four, particularly in comparison with the Lukan episode, with which it otherwise has certain features in common (see above). This means that Johannine stylistic and theological development of the material is, here, relatively slight. Given the dramatic preparation for the moment in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), the brevity of the narrative is rather surprising.

Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples is presented in just three verses; there are three components to the commission, one in each verse:

    • The saying in verse 21, announcing the disciples’ role in continuing the mission of Jesus
    • The giving of the Spirit in verse 22, which enables the disciples to continue Jesus’ mission
    • The saying regarding sin in verse 23, which must, by its context, refer to the nature and content of the disciples’ mission.

Each of these components, in its own way, reflects the Johannine theology and mode of expression; they also, in their narrative context, relate back to Jesus’ teaching in the Last Discourse. In particular, the giving of the Spirit represents the fulfillment of the promises in the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15); it is thus here the central component of the three:

    • The announcement of the disciples’ mission (v. 21)
      • The giving of the Spirit (v. 22)
    • The nature/content of the disciples’ mission (v. 23)

In terms of linguistic style and syntax, the declaration in verse 21 is the most Johannine:

“Just as the Father has sent me forth, (so) also do I send you.”

Similar language and sentiment can be found throughout the Last Discourse, and in the chap. 17 Discourse-Prayer—see especially verse 18, where the symmetry is more precise:

“Just as the Father (has) sent me forth into the world, (so) also I (have) sent them forth into the world.”

The disciples of Jesus thus are obligated to fulfill the duty and mission given to them by the Son (Jesus), just as the Son fulfilled the duty/mission given to him by the Father. The missions are similar and related; indeed, one should view them as stages in a single continual (and ongoing) mission. The Spirit will enable the believers to perform this continuing mission, while Jesus himself will continue to be present, teaching and guiding the disciples (believers) through the Spirit.

Given the importance of this missional emphasis throughout chapters 13-17, it is surprising that the description of the mission itself, at the moment of the commissioning, is so brief, and is limited (in the narrative) to the sin-reference of verse 23 (compare Lk 24:47-49; Matt 28:19; [Mk 16:15-18]). Here is the verse in question:

“For whomever you would release the(ir) sins, they have been released, (and) for whomever you would hold (them) firm, they are held firm.”

In considering this seemingly ambiguous statement, a number of questions arise, which must be addressed if we are to understand and interpret the verse correctly.

First, we have the use of the noun hamartía (“sin”). Here it occurs in the plural (tas hamartías, accusative), literally “the sins”. The only other instance of the plural in the Gospel is at 8:24 (twice). In our studies on the subject of the Johannine view of sin, I have discussed repeatedly how the Gospel writer evinces two very distinct, but related, understandings of sin: (1) sin in the conventional sense of ethical-religious misdeeds or wrongdoings, and (2) sin in the specific theological/Christological sense of refusing (or failing) to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. The latter has priority, representing the great sin; as long as a person commits the great sin of unbelief, it is impossible for all other sins to be removed.

We have seen how, in using the singular of hamartía (“[the] sin”) the author can play on both levels or aspects of meaning—sin in the general sense, as well as the great sin of unbelief. However, the noun in the plural seems to limit the focus to sin in the general sense—that is, of ethical-religious wrongs committed by a person (of various sorts). As I discussed in earlier study on 1:29, this was also the focus of the singular of the noun in the Lamb of God declaration. Thus, the first and last sin-references in the Gospel deal with sin in the general/conventional sense of the term.

In the declaration of 1:29, it is stated that the Lamb of God “takes (away)” sin. In the context of the Johannine theology (and the Gospel narrative), this can only refer to trust in Jesus, and in the life-giving (and cleansing) power that comes through participation in his sacrificial death. Here, now, at the end of the Gospel, the idea of the removal of sin reappears, but in connection with the mission and ministry of believers. Before addressing the particular interpretive difficulties relating to this connection, let us examine the verbs used (and their tenses) here in verse 23.

Syntactically, the sentence in v. 23 can be divided into two parallel statements, employing a contrast between the verbs aphí¢mi (a)fi/hmi) and kratéœ (krate/w). The verb aphí¢mi literally means “send away”, sometimes with the specific nuance of “release”. It is often used in the context of forgiving sin, and thus of removing sin and its effects (guilt, punishment, etc). The verb occurs frequently in this context elsewhere in the New Testament (and in the Synoptic Gospels), but nowhere else in the Gospel of John. Though the verb is used 13 other times in the Gospel, this is the only instance where it is directly connected with the idea of sin. The only other such Johannine usage is in 1 Jn 1:9 and 2:12.

The verb kratéœ means “take/grab firm hold”. Its use here in the context of sin is a bit puzzling, since, though the verb occurs 47 times in the New Testament, this is the only instance where it is used in reference to sin. It is also the only occurrence of the verb in the Gospel and Letters of John; thus it is by no means a Johannine term, and was likely included here as part of an inherited Gospel tradition (saying of Jesus). Given the meaning “hold firm”, the contrastive parallel with aphí¢mi strongly suggests that the nuance “release” for that particular verb is being emphasized, and so it should be translated.

Here, then, are the two statements, in parallel:

    • “for whomever you would release the(ir) sins,
      they have been released”
    • “for whomever you would hold (their sins) firm,
      they are held firm”

The disciples are given the ability to perform these two actions (“releasing” and “holding firm”) regarding sin. Before considering how this treatment of sin relates to the disciples’ mission, some comments on the tense (and mood) of these verbs is required.

In each statement, the first occurrence of each verb is in a subjunctive form, but with a difference in tense: aphí¢mi in the aorist (aph¢¡te), and kratéœ in the present (krat¢¡te). It is hard to know to what extent the author (or Jesus as the speaker [translated into Greek]) intends a distinction between the tenses. If a distinction is intended, it is relatively subtle (and difficult to translate in English). The aorist could be taken to mean that the effect of the action (i.e., “releasing” the sin/guilt from a person) occurred at single point or moment in the past, while the present tense of the action (i.e., “holding firm” the person’s sin/guilt) is something that continues in the present (elsewhere in the Gospel, in Johannine terminology, this is often expressed by the verb ménœ [“remain”, see 9:41]).

The use of the subjunctive indicates the occasional nature of the action (i.e., “whenever you would do {such}…”). The preceding conditional particle (án), along with the indefinite pronoun, confirms this emphasis: “for whomever you would do {such} regarding their sins…”.

The use of the perfect tense in the second phrase indicates that, for an action which takes place at a moment (in the past), the effects of it continue into the present (and future). Each of the forms is a passive perfect, which is best explained as an example of the so-called Divine passive (passivum divinum)—that is, where God is the implied or assumed actor. The action has the same force in each instance: “has been released” (aphéœntai), “has been held firm” (kekrát¢ntai). For the first verb, there is some textual confusion, with a good number of manuscripts reading either a present or future tense form (aphíentai, apheth¢¡setai); however, the perfect tense is almost certainly correct, and is in better keeping with the Johannine theological orientation and emphasis.

How do these actions relate to the disciples’ mission? Here, the evidence seems to cut different ways. On the one hand, the missional focus, in the context of the Gospel narrative (and specifically the Last Discourse), suggests that the actions would be centered on the proclamation of the Gospel. Based on a person’s response to the message regarding who Jesus is, one is either “released” from sin or “held firm” in it. When one trusts in Jesus, this results in the removal of sin (1:29); whereas, if one refuses to trust, the person’s sin remains (9:41). In this setting, the verse 23 declaration would mean that the disciple, in continuing the mission of Jesus, has been given the authority to ‘pronounce’ whether a person’s sin has been released/removed or whether it remains firmly in place.

The pronouncing action by the disciple/believer is tied to the effecting action performed by God (indicated by the passive perfect verb forms). This has been compared with the declarations in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18; many commentators see some relation between these Matthean formulations and Jn 20:23, perhaps even that both ultimately derive from a common historical tradition.

While the missional setting in the Gospel narrative (especially the context of the Last Discourse) suggests that verse 23 relates primarily to the proclamation of the Gospel (and of a person’s response to it), other factors have led commentators to the view that verse 23 has discipline within the Christian Community in view. It must be admitted that the Gospel context of v. 23 argues against this particular approach; however, given the apparent parallels with Matt 16:19 and 18:18 (especially the latter saying), it needs to be considered a bit further.

The strongest support for verse 23 referring to action within a Community setting comes, not from the Gospel, but from 1 John—particularly the section 1:5-2:6 dealing the believer’s relationship to sin. As noted above, this passage (and the verses following) contains the only other Johannine use of the verb aphí¢mi in reference to sin—that is, to the forgiveness and removal of sin and its effects. These occur in 1:9 and 2:12, respectively. The first reference is at the heart of the 1:5-2:6 passage, and is worth quoting:

“If we confess/acknowledge our sins, He is trust(worthy) and right(eous), (so) that He would release [aph¢¡] our sins and cleanse us from all lack of right(eous)ness.”

The idea that this cleansing comes through the blood of God’s Son Yeshua (v. 7) ties this Johannine reference to the Gospel declaration in 1:29 (see the discussion above). The use of the verb homologéœ (lit. “give account as one”) indicates a communal (public) setting for the believer’s confession. In such a setting, it is probable that designated ministers and/or the congregation as a whole would respond in some way to the member’s confession, perhaps affirming the release/removal and cleansing of sin, as stated in verse 9.

Certainly, being free of sin is an important characteristic of the true believer, according to the author of 1 John. Indeed, one who belongs to the Community of true believers is one whose sin has been “released” (again the use of aphí¢mi, in 2:12). Given this importance of the matter, it would be surprising indeed if other believers were not to play some key role in the handling and treatment of sin within the Community. An indication of this is seen in 5:16-17, where the author briefly touches upon the practice of believers praying to God on behalf of a fellow believer who has sinned (or is sinning). The context of 1 John clearly indicates that such prayer is part of the love that true believers show to one another, following the example of Jesus himself. In this way, believers are likewise continuing Jesus’ mission.

This evidence from 1 John at least raises the possibility that Jn 20:23 could refer to activity of disciples/believers within a Community setting, as well as in the primary missional setting indicated by the Gospel narrative.

Next week, in these series of studies, we will turn to the sin-references in the Letters of John, of which we have already had a glimpse above.

 

November 17: John 15:16 (4)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and (that you) should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain”
kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte kai\ o( karpo\$ u(mw=n me/nh|

Picking up on our discussion from the previous note, the idiom of bearing fruit (vb fe/rw + obj karpo/$), as it applies to the disciple of Jesus, refers principally to the fulfilling of the mission given to the disciple. As I discussed, in the Gospel context, this means the continuation (and extension) of Jesus’ own mission—the mission of the Son, for which the Father sent him from heaven (to earth). Within the framework of the Johannine theology, this mission is rooted in the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that Jesus has given to disciples/believers, which itself follows the duty that the Father gave to the Son. The two-fold duty is: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”, 8:31; 15:7), and (2) to show love to one another, following the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”, 15:9-10).

In the qualifying phrase that follows, here in v. 16, Jesus adds the purpose that the fruit the disciple ‘bears’ should remain (vb me/nw). This important Johannine keyword has been discussed repeatedly in prior notes; it is especially prominent in the Vine-passage (15:1-17), where it occurs 11 times (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). It defines the believer’s fundamental identity, as belonging to the Son (Jesus), and of being/staying in union with him. The verb, with its basic meaning “remain, abide, stay”, carries both the sense of residing and of enduring.

The Johannine use of the verb entails both sides of the believer’s relationship with the Son: the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer. This aspect of reciprocity is very much emphasized in the Vine illustration—see esp. the formulations in vv. 4 and 7:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you” (v. 4)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v. 7)

But what does it mean for the believer’s fruit to remain? There are two references elsewhere in the Gospel that may shed some light on this question. The first is the statement by Jesus in 4:36:

“The (one) harvesting receives a wage, and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life], (so) that the (one) sowing and the (one) harvesting might rejoice as one.”

This verse was examined in an earlier note, where I pointed out the eschatological background and orientation of these harvest illustrations in the New Testament. The time of harvesting, indeed, serves as a natural image for the end of the current Age. The expression “into/unto the Age” refers to this eschatological perspective (viz., the ushering in of the coming New Age), while the related expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/) refers to the Divine/blessed life that the righteous will experience in the Age to Come.

The Gospel of John retains this eschatological point of reference, but gives to it a deeper theological and spiritual meaning. Now, the “life of the Age”, or simply the shorthand term “life” (zwh/), refers to the life (and life-giving power) that God Himself possesses, and which is communicated to believers through the Son (Jesus). The Son possesses the same life that belongs to God the Father, it being given to him by the Father (cf. 3:34f; 5:26; 6:57); the Son, in turn, is able to give the life to believers. This happens even in the present, prior to the end-time Judgment—the one who trusts in Jesus has already passed through the Judgment, and now holds eternal life (see esp. 5:24).

The passage 4:31-38 shares with 15:16 (and with the Last Discourse as a whole) the theme of the disciples (believers) sharing in the mission of Jesus, and continuing it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel message, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, believers serve as a witness to who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent by God the Father, who makes the Father known. The Gospel is rooted in Jesus’ own words (in the Discourses, etc) regarding his identity, and by the witness of the earliest disciples (and subsequently, by other believers) that confirms his word. Believers who are faithful to this witness thus “remain in his word”. It is a message—the word of Jesus—that leads to eternal life for those who trust in it.

The second reference of note is the opening declaration of the Bread of Life Discourse (chap. 6):

“You must not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining [me/nousan] unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man shall give to you” (v. 27)

The motif of ‘food that remains’ is clearly parallel to that of ‘fruit that remains’. Thus, there is good reason to conclude that this abiding fruit, like the abiding food, refers to the eternal life that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers. This life is possessed (“held”) by believers even in the present, but only if one remains in the Son will this life remain.

It is possible, I think, to isolate three distinct strands of meaning that inform the motif of bearing “fruit that remains” in v. 16:

    • It is an extension of the broader concept of the believer remaining in Jesus, and Jesus in the believer. Through this abiding union with the Son, believers are also united with the Father, realizing their/our identity as His offspring (1:12-13, etc).
    • In particular, it refers to the eternal life from the Father that is granted to believers through the Son, being communicated by the Spirit.
    • It also relates to the discipleship-theme of believers’ role in continuing the ministry of Jesus—witnessing to the message (the words and example) of Jesus that leads to eternal life for all who trust in him.

November 16: John 15:16 (3)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“…(so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit”
i%na u(mei=$ u(pa/ghte kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte

In the previous note, we examined the idea that Jesus set (vb ti/qhmi) the disciples, whom he chose, in a special position (in relationship to him). Now, in the next clause, he expresses the purpose of this placement—the purpose being indicated by the governing particle i%na (“[so] that…”). The particle governs two phrases, represented by two verbs. Let us consider each of them.

1. u(pa/gw. This verb means “lead (oneself) under”, that is, hide oneself, go out of sight, disappear; often it is used in the more general sense of “go away”. It is a common verb, used primarily in narrative. While it occurs in all four Gospels, it is most frequent in the Gospel of John (32 times, out of 79 NT occurrences). It is another distinctive Johannine term; even though it can be used in the ordinary sense (of a person going away), e.g., 4:16; 6:21, etc., it tends to have special theological (and Christological) significance as well.

In particular, it is used in the specific context of the exaltation of Jesus—that is, his death, resurrection, and return to the God the Father (in heaven). Specifically, the death of the Son (Jesus), and his return to the Father, represent dual-aspects of a departure-theme that runs through the Gospel, becoming most prominent in the Last Discourse, as the death of Jesus draws near. The verb u(pa/gw is used to express this idea of the Son’s departure. It features in the Sukkot Discourse-complex (7:33; 8:14, 21-22; and note the ironic foreshadowing in 7:3), before being reprised in the Last Supper scene (13:3). Its introduction at the beginning of the Last Supper narrative sets the stage for the theme in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), where it occurs repeatedly—13:33, 36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 16, and here in 15:16.

There are several other references where the verb carries an important, but somewhat different, nuance:

    • 3:8—where it is used of the invisible coming and going of the Spirit, and of the one who is born of the Spirit (i.e., the believer)
    • 6:67—it is used (indirectly) of disciples who had been following Jesus, but who now ceased (i.e., went away), thus demonstrating that they were not true disciples
    • 12:11—here it is used in the opposite sense, of people who “go away” to follow Jesus, trusting in him
    • 12:35—its proverbial use in connection with the light-darkness motif, has to do with whether a person can see (i.e. know) where he/she is going; the person who has the light, and who can see, is a true believer and disciple of Jesus

Based on this evidence, the theological usage of u(pa/gw in the Gospel can be summarized as two-fold:

    • It refers to the departure of Jesus (the Son), back to the Father, with the completion of his mission
    • It is used (in various ways) to characterize the activity and identity of the true disciple/believer

These two aspects help us to understand the significance of the verb here in v. 16, in the context of the Last Discourse. This significance is rooted in the principal idea of the disciple/believer as an appointed representative of Jesus, one who is sent forth (i.e., the fundamental meaning of the term a)po/stolo$ [apostle]) to continue his mission. The two aspects of u(pa/gw are thus thematically related here:

    • Jesus goes away, back to the Father, having completed his (part of the) mission
    • The disciples (believers) go forth, in Jesus’ name, to continue the mission

2. fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring”)—This verb is used here with the object karpo/$ (“fruit”), as it is throughout the Vine-passage (vv. 2, 4-5, 8); the same expression, “bear fruit”, is used in 12:24 (discussed in an earlier note). In prior notes, I have mentioned that this idiom is to be understood principally in terms of the mission of believers, insofar as they/we are following in the example of Jesus (and his mission). This line of interpretation is more clearly established here, with the strong (if allusive) connection of v. 16 to the historical tradition of the calling of the (Twelve) disciples. The Twelve were specifically chosen to represent Jesus, continuing (and extending) his mission over a wider geographic territory. The same idea applies to the addressees of the Last Discourse—which includes the Twelve (sans Judas), but also encompasses all those who are true disciples/believers.

And what is the mission for believers? From the Johannine standpoint, it is essentially equivalent to fulfilling the two great duties (e)ntolai/) Jesus has given to us: (1) keeping/guarding his word(s), and (2) showing love to one another, according to his example (of sacrificial love); these two duties are defined by the phrases “remain in my word” (8:31, cf. 15:7) and “remain in my love” (15:9-10)—which are aspects and components of the general command “remain in me” (15:4ff). The first duty, guarding the word(s) of Jesus entails the proclamation of the Gospel, since the “word” of Jesus is largely synonymous with the Gospel message. This is particularly so in the Johannine context, where the “word(s)” of Jesus (esp. the great Discourses) are centered on his identity as the Son of God, the heavenly/eternal Son sent to earth by God the Father, and all that this theological affirmation implies.