A Downgrade of Humiliation


Context: In Luke 21, Jesus had instructed his disciples to be ready for both the coming judgment of Jerusalem and the final consummation of the age. He had given specific events they were to look for when Jerusalem would fall and warned them always to be prepared spiritually for the coming of the Son of Man 34, 35. They were to pray for perseverance in the trials surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem  36a, and to maintain spiritual readiness in order to “stand” when Christ returns  36b. In part, the preparation for both of these events involved a prior understanding that calamities come in this life for the two-fold purpose of

manifesting the approvedness of the faith of the elect and

giving a foreshadowing of judgment on unbelievers.

Setting of the rapidly following humiliation: In this life, therefore, his disciples must learn to seek within the humble the true strength and glory of Christian faith. –widow vs the rich [21:1-4] and Christ in his state of humiliation vs. the grandiose splendor of the temple [21:5,6 “adorned with noble stones and offerings.”]  This casting aside of earthly splendor and power in pursuit of his final state of humiliation was the source of the plots to put him to death, 22:2, and perhaps also for the betrayal of Judas. He simply could not embrace the truth that instead of liberty, there would be “wrath against this people” [21:23], that they would fall by the edge of the sword, would be led captive among the nations, and that Jerusalem would be “trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.” Jesus had no vision of an overthrow of the Gentiles, but seemed determined to pursue a course of action that would lead to even greater oppression at the hands of the Romans. Judas consented to deliver Jesus over to the chief priests at a time when the crowds would not pose a difficulty with the arrest [22:3-6].

Jesus Manifests his Sovereign control of these events 7 – 13: With the events that follow in rapid succession, it would be difficult for the disciples to think that anything other than chaos reigned. The things that happen to Jesus and the fear that gripped the soul of each disciple could make them think that nothing was stable, all was gone awry, Jesus’ plan had failed, and their hopes were come to nothing. So, just prior to this rapid decline of events, Jesus gave proof of his perfect knowledge and control of all these things. He asked Peter and John to set up the Passover. In order to do that, he gave instruction about their following a strange series of clues as to where they should set it up. If he had instructed them only about the house, one would think that he already had made the arrangements himself. But that they would enter the city and find a man carrying a water jug whom they should follow to this house, and his instructing them precisely what to say, all showed a degree of knowledge and sovereign prescience that went far beyond mere human prudence. Jesus was giving them, in his deep grace, a key by which they could recall later that Jesus pursued the divine purpose and accomplished it by his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. Later when he opened their minds to see that the Scriptures [24:26, 45f] had foretold all this, they would recall that he even controlled the man with the water jug and the owner of the upper room.

The perpetual sign of the Success of Jesus’ Plan: 14-23 – In the instituting of the “Lord’s Supper,” Jesus again gave his disciples a clear evidence that none of the rapidly approaching events were out of his control but were instead fulfillments of his commitments in the eternal covenant. He spoke freely of his coming death and even indicated that it would come, humanly speaking, as a result of the betrayal by one of them, [21]. The perfect integration of divine sovereignty with the necessary constituent element of human moral responsibility is seen clearly in Jesus’s words, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.” [22]. The coming of the Kingdom of God, in its full manifestation was yet future [18] and would not be made visible until some time after Jesus accomplished his purpose of dying. The eternal covenant by which his death was determined is called in this passage the “new covenant in my blood.” His part in this covenant [cf Hebrews 13:20] was to take our nature, emphasized by the reality of his body and blood and that true death could be imposed upon his person, and to take our place under the curse, indicated by his words that it is done for us, it culminates in the shedding of blood, and it is instituted at Passover, a time when only those covered by the blood of the Passover Lamb were rescued from the vengeance of the death angel. Also, Jesus looked forward to a time when the church would need a perpetual reminder that his work was completed during the time of his humiliation, done once for all, and we take the meal to “remember,” not to complete, to perpetuate, or even, at that moment, to participate in the atoning blood-shedding of Christ. The Supper preaches the completed gospel to us; Christ has suffered once for all, the just for the unjust, by bearing our sins in his own body on the tree; In Him we have redemption, through his blood, the forgiveness of sins [1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Ephesians 1:7]. Some say that a simple presentation of the Supper as a Memorial using bread and wine as symbols of Christ’s incarnational and redemptive identification with the people that he came to save [Hebrews 2:10-18] is a minimizing of the importance of this ordinance. I respond with two observations: One, to attribute anything salvific to the taking of the Supper minimizes the uniqueness and completed-ness of Christ’s on-the-cross suffering and the office of the Holy Spirit in applying its benefits by working faith by the hearing of the word in those that become believers. Two, an act of remembrance, by such vivid and sensory symbols, an event that was filled with divine wrath, divine righteousness, divine mercy, and overflowing grace is in no sense a mean or low thing. A proper “remembering’ is never merely perfunctory but is a profound mental and spiritual exercise that binds the believer more closely to an unalterable trust in Christ and Him crucified.

As the events become more concentrated and poignant for Christ, the issues seem more opaque to the disciples and their understanding more obtuse.

An argument over greatness 24-30

In verse twenty-three the disciples had been discussing which of them might actually betray Jesus. Jesus has to remind them that the world system of this age is far different from the truth that establishes the everlasting kingdom  of God. In this age, kingdom citizenship is manifest in humility and servanthood. That is the only way in which the Son of Man could redeem sinners. He had to be willing to follow a course that would increasingly put him at odds with the powers and values of this rebellious world order and to be brought finally to death. He was among us as one who serves, and that in the ultimate sense in that his service brings to us eternal life. Eventually, those that forsake this present age for the trials of Christ will find that positions in heaven are ordered according to God’s own determination so that the apostolic ministry is highlighted. It is foundational to the spread of the gospel and the perpetuity of gospel truth through the centuries. That will be a part of the order that is one of the delights of heaven. [cf Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; Titus 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:11-14]

Peter’s failure to grasp his own weakness – 31-34

It is significant that following the promise of authority in the Kingdom, Jesus points out that in the immediate pressures of the coming events Peter will deny him. But Jesus gives two elements of assurance to Peter of his recovery, and at the same time pursues the pervasive theme of his own control of all these tumultuous events. He has already told him that he will sit on a throne participating in the judging of the “twelve tribes of Israel,” and now he tells him that though Satan has asked that he might sift Peter like wheat, Jesus has prayed that for him that his faith would not fail. To show that the answer to his prayer was sure, he commanded Peter, “When you are turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Though Peter should already be aware that he has been targeted by Satan [Matthew 16] and that some of his most insistent words of loyalty and right perception have proven false, he nevertheless assures the Lord of his readiness to go to prison and death. Now Jesus tells him the precise nature of the way he will be sifted by Satan. Again the contrast between human misperception and Jesus’ divine understanding should be striking.

The disciples’ dullness about the coming confrontation with the world – 35-38

When Jesus was at the height of his popularity, the disciples went out and were received into the towns on their mission and lived by the good will of the people. Jesus now warns that such popularity will be exchanged for the depths of unpopularity and the scriptural picture of the culmination of his earthly ministry must certainly take place: “He was numbered with the transgressors.” He is now seen as a felon, worthy of death and soon will be led to a painful, miserable, and humiliating execution. His followers can no longer rely on the good will of people based on the popularity of Jesus, but must be ready to be self-sufficient: “Let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack.” Jesus’ reference to selling a cloak and buying a sword, was not meant to convey that they must take up arms literally to fight their way to safety, but that they must have sufficient gumption, courage, and spiritual preparation to defend the truth when it is attacked. Jesus words, “It is enough” meant something like this, “Let’s just drop the subject for now. You cannot receive it and you will have occasion later to learn what I mean.” When Boniface VIII built the famous “Two Swords Theory” about the temporal and civil authority of the Pope, he was even further from a right understanding of this exchange of words than the disciples were, and just as dull in his grasp of Jesus’ intent. From a human standpoint, this must have been a temptation to discouragement for Jesus, for he now entered into his most crucial hours—the very reason that he came—and his disciples, his own chosen vessels to bear the gospel message, do not have the foggiest notion of what is about to take place and the reason for it. They grasped Jesus meaning later, however, painfully illustrated in the immediate conflicts in the Garden of Gethsemane and more felicitously maintained in the instruction that Peter gives in 1 Peter 3:13-17 including “In your heart regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect . . .”

Darkness and Dullness – 39-46

Knowing that these next few moments would present the culmination of all temptations in his life before it could be said, “He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” Jesus stares immediately at the coming wrath soon to fall on him and even in tehse moments beginning to surround him. The writer of Hebrews would say, “In the day of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” [5:7, 8] He knew that the temptations of the time were great and thus warned the disciples that accompanied him there to “Pray that they would not enter into temptation.” As for him, the pressure of the consideration of what he must endure led to his setting forth the possibility that the coming cup would not be put to his lips. That cup was the fullness of divine wrath for sinners, a multitude that no one can number, from every tribe and people and tongue from Adam to the coming in of the last of the elect. This was not a mere symbolic manifestation of displeasure with no relation to the true nature of the deserved punishment, but would be the infliction by the Father to whom Jesus prayed of the full number of stripes deserved by all of those elect one for whom he died. Not one of them would be left out, and not one of their sins would remain unpunished. So horrific was the contemplation of it that his blood pressure cause ruptures in the system of capillaries and an oozing of blood though his pores mixed with sweat. While Jesus reeled under the indescribable pressure of contemplation, his weary disciples, still oblivious to the pungency of the greatest drama of the ages being played out in their immediate presence, slept. But Jesus, who for “the joy set before him” of redemption for his people and the honor of his Father fully vindicated, “Endured the cross” and did not count its shame as having any significance in light of the goal he would accomplish [Hebrews 12:1, 2].

Last Chance for a Military Messiah – 47-53

Jesus closed this section with the words, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” The arrest was not the moment for the rising up of the Messianic kingdom. Peter surged to the front with his clueless boldness, asking a question without waiting for an answer, and performed the aggressive action that Jesus would have forbidden. Judas’s kiss and Peter’s swashbuckling swordsmanship both showed the polarity of misunderstanding that surrounded the scandal of the cross [1 Corinthians 1:23]. This moment was the power of darkness, with his arrest by enemies, betrayal by a long-time follower, and utter confusion by the one whose pledges of loyalty unto death were so recent and whose preaching within two months would be the founding of the new covenant community for which Jesus went now to shed his blood. As ever, saturating his humiliation with mercy, Jesus restored the severed ear, and surrendered himself to the laughable and useless show of human power and authority surrounding him.

Peter’s Denial a fulfillment of Prophecy – 54-62

Again the events show that Jesus is in perfect harmony with divine sovereignty. What he has told Peter comes to pass precisely. The three confrontations did not jog Peter’s memory of what Jesus had said; so intimidated he was that he even brought down curses on his own head in his aggressive distancing of himself from the man on trial. Only when the rooster crowed and Jesus turned and looked, did Peter get it. Surely we can see that if anyone is brought to faith in Christ it must be an action of pure mercy and effectual grace.

The Jewish religious leaders set Jesus up for the death penalty – 63-71

While Jesus was held in custody in the High Priest’s house awaiting the assembling of the Sanhedrin, the men in charge of him mocked him, beat him, blindfolded him, called on him to prophesy.  When the council gathered, they evoked from Jesus a claim to be the Messiah, the Son of Man, the one that would be seated as the equal of God. Rather than investigate his claim in an earnest effort to determine from Scripture if it could be true, they pre-empted the process of evidence by immediate condemnation. His claim was worthy of death, since it could not be substantiated in their opinion, and they must proceed without hesitation place him in the hands of the governmental power with authority to carry out an execution.

Among others that each teacher will see, at least these following two observations emerge from this narrative. One, Jesus pursued the Father’s will in perfect obedience though he knew that it led him, not to the smile and celebratory embrace of his Father, but to the unsoftened wrath and displeasure of his Father as he put himself in the stead of sinners taking their guilt thus making himself the sole accursed one thus receiving the blows of punitive justice consequent to human sin. None encouraged him, they could not know how to do such a thing and would bristle against the truth that such sorrow was even necessary. Two, as then, even now a sinner does not grasp the central necessity of substitution in dealing with sin apart from the special illumination of the divine Spirit. We are just as blind to the point of how our immense guilt deserves God’s wrath and cannot be forgiven without a suitable ransom, a genuine substitute, through whom God can justly forgive and justify sinners.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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