He healed paralytics, made blind people see, raised the dead, forgave sins, empowered his followers to “preach the gospel and heal everywhere,” raised the curiosity of the mighty, and taught as if he had underived original authority over the words of God. Who was this Nazarene commoner? It seems an absurdity that receiving and confessing the identity of a person should be of such importance that one’s life hangs in the balance, but that is exactly the case with Jesus—not only for time, but for eternity.
I. In light of the stir about the identity of Jesus, he elicits a judgment from his disciples (9:18-20).
A. In an unusual juxtaposition of language, Luke wrote, “And it happened that while He was praying alone, his disciples were with him.” Is it possible to pray alone when friends are right there with you?
- If Jesus prayed alone when the disciples were with him, surely this says something about the consistency of the prayer life of Jesus and the absolute purity and undistractedness of his fellowship with the Father during times of prayer. This reality also should be probed for its theological implications.
- Praying alone in the midst of a group indicates that Jesus never was unaware of the uniqueness of his relation with the Father. As the Son of God, his eternal generation and singularity of essence with the Father meant that Father and Eternal Son knew with perfection and approved in detail every aspect of the will, knowledge, and purpose of the other.
- As son of Man, Jesus always stayed under the influence of the Father and manifest an unshadowed knowledge of his will, his words, and the precise purpose of his having taken on human flesh. Constant communication with the Father in the power of the Spirit was necessary for Jesus in the task assigned him in his human nature, described by the writer of Hebrews, “Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews 9:14).
- The following conversation with his disciples lets the reader know that Jesus was praying in the context of the covenant of redemption—“The Son of Man must suffer many things” (22). He was well on his way to the day of death on the cross for the sins of his people. Their view of his person must be sound, well established in their mind, heart, and conscience if they were to endure the days soon coming and be fit as the first proclaimers of gospel truth. They also must see the cross in its glory as the place of the union of God and man in reconciliation because the one who in his person was the union of God and man took the part of both in the redemptive work.
- Not only did he pray with such pure concentration, but he could move immediately into a discussion about the very issue that probably constituted the subject of his conversation with the Father. In this atmosphere of fellowship with the Father, Jesus began his probe of the disciples’ awareness of the true nature of his person. Only when they grasped this could he begin to unfold the redemptive sacrifice involved in his messianic work as well as what this would cost his disciples in terms of earthly position.
B. The disciples were able to repeat with precision what the crowds were saying about this extraordinary person, but they had formed a distinctly different judgment.
- Luke records three answers.
- Due to the likeness of Jesus’ message with that of John the Baptist and the baptisms done by Jesus’ disciples, some thought that this was John the Baptist risen from the dead (see 9:7-9 – Where we learn that this was the fear of Herod).
- Some believed that Elijah in person would come (as he indeed does in the next section of this chapter ), but Elijah was a nominative of identity, a typological figure, for John the Baptist (See Malachi 4:5).
- The message Jesus preached and the assumption of authority he communicated reminded some who heard him of other Old Testament prophets, and they speculated that “one of the prophets of old had risen again.” Given the nature of Joel’s message, some might have concluded that Joel had come back “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32). In fact, the message of Joel would be prominent shortly hereafter in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.
- Peter spoke with the right knowledge that Jesus was “The Christ of God.” In greater detail, Matthew 16: 15-20 develops this confession, as to its divine origin, and the conversation that followed, illustrating the lameness of human perceptions of divine truth apart from the clarifying energy of the Spirit according t the purpose of the Father. Luke does not include that conversation but in a rapid fashion records words and events that begin to circumscribe Jesus’ Messiahship and its implications with increasing clarity of meaning.
II. The cross for Christ means the cross for his followers [9:21-27]
A. The disciples were not at all expecting Jesus to announce this next bit of news.
- He immediately “warned and instructed them” not to reveal this to anyone. Much yet needed to be learned. Discerning the identity of the person was one thing necessary; embracing the nature of the work was another.
- The difficulty of putting together the reality of his person with the manner in which he would be received, in fact rejected, would take some time to process.
- Along with others, they anticipated a magnificent unveiling of his true identity, followed by a great consolidation of the various factions of Jewish life. Under his leadership they would seize their independence and the golden era of Jewish history would emerge. Instead, he revealed that his position as Christ meant that all the religious leaders, “elders chief priests and scribes,” would not join with him but conspire against him and kill him. His death would then be followed by a resurrection.
- Though they could not perceive it at this time, only after death and resurrection could the prophecies of Joel 2:28 – 3: 21 come to pass. They wanted judgment and glory now; that would have been fatal for all if redemption had not preceded.
- “Pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (28). Not without redemption.
- I will show wonders in the heaven and earth” the miraculous ministries of the apostles (31). Not without redemption.
- “Who ever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved . . . among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (32). Not without redemption.
- “I will bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations” (3:1, 2) Not without redemption.
- “There I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations; . . . For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (3:12, 14). Yes, but with a strikingly different outcome without redemption.
- “The Lord will be a shelter for his people” (16). Not without redemption.
- “You shall know that I am the Lord your God, . . . then Jerusalem shall be holy, . . . Judah shall abide forever more” (17, 20). Not without redemption.
- “I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the Lord dwells in Zion” (21). Not without redemption.
B. His rejection meant clearly that his followers would receive like treatment by the world.
- The world will not receive a message of the need for redemption; this involves a recognition of sin, the certainty of judgment for it, the provision of a substitute to receive the divine vengeance, and reception of this redemption through repentance. The religious leaders had not repented at the preaching of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ claims would be infinitely more offensive than his. John the Baptist pointed to another as the object of faith; Jesus pointed to himself.
- Verse 23 – Jesus taught them that even as he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, so too they must expect it. If one would follow Christ, therefore, he must count position in this world, and even life in this world, as loss for the sake of the eternal life that depends on the cross. We cannot receive a Christ who died for redemption if we refuse to assume for ourselves the transcendent importance of the manner of that redemption.
- Verses 24, 25 – A refusal of eternal life in order to gain the life of this world, will result in final loss of the divine glory when Christ returns. The options that Jesus established are pungent and can be asked of every person in every age: Lose your life for the sake of Jesus and gain eternal life; gain the whole world and lose your life eternally.
- Verse 26 – The glory of Christ’s return seems so remote that its attraction is less than the possibility of immediate satisfaction through worldly acceptance, comfort, and pleasure especially if one’s livelihood and/or life hangs in the balance.
- Jesus pointed to his person as the dividing line between eternal profit and eternal loss. The Christian will not be ashamed of Jesus in the work of redemption that he came to do. The Christian will not be ashamed to confess that he came to die as a substitute for sinners in order to pay the debt of wrath for their sins. The Christian will not be ashamed to affirm his resurrection, his ascension, and his present session as manifestations of his future rule over all.
- As we value his person, so must we value his words –“and my words”- for in his words he speaks the truth about himself. On the basis of this saying of Jesus, it would be difficult to give credible evidence of true saving faith in the person of Christ if, at the same time, a person denied the unwavering truthfulness of the words of Christ. In so doing, one would affirm the authority of the Bible in its entirety. Jesus spoke the worlds into existence, he spoke through the prophets, and he confirmed the truthfulness of the entire text of the Old Testament during his earthly ministry (Luke 24: 25-27; Matthew 7: 24-28; 22:41-45; 26: 24). How can we say we are not ashamed of him, if we do not treasure all his words.
- Those ashamed of Jesus and his words in this life will find that he will put them to shame before the whole world when he comes in his glory. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3: 36). None will deny his glory in that day, but every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10, 11). But to know his infinite value even in his state of humiliation, and to treasure his rejection, his cross, his suffering under divine wrath—this is the nature of saving faith.
- Only the one that has the glory of Christ pressed on the eyes of the heart by the Spirit will choose to lose his life that he might save it (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4).
C. Verse 27 – Jesus said that “some of those,” not all, standing with him would see the kingdom of God before they tasted death. Luke has mentioned the “kingdom of God” eight times prior to this. Jesus and his disciples preached the kingdom of God and Jesus had made the revealing assertion that “He that is least in the kingdom of God” is greater than John the Baptist (7: 28). It seems that Jesus means, in this case, at least this much: the kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s glory in the redemptive rule of Christ. An immediate foretaste of that glory will be seen by some standing with Jesus.
- It is possible that Jesus refers here to the beginning manifestation of the kingdom of God as the new People of God (Acts 2: 23, 24, 36, 42, 43;1 Peter 1: 8, 9, 18, 19, 23; 2: 9, 10). This was inaugurated visibly in the descent of the Spirit, the announcement that this was for all, even those far off, whom the Lord would call (Acts 2:39). More likely, in the light of Luke’s arrangement,
- Jesus looked toward the glory manifest in his transfiguration on the mountain when Peter, James, and John were with him. They recognized Moses and Elijah, probably a foretaste of the knowledge that al the redeemed will have of each other in the perfection of heaven. The Law and the Prophets were present in the persons of Moses and Elijah and they spoke to him about “his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” His death would be the accomplishment of the law and the prophets.
- How did his departure accomplish the law?
- He accomplished the law in its demand for both righteousness and condemnation.
- He was the perfect and final priest called for by the law.
- He was the unblemished sacrifice giving perfect manifestation of the meaning of all the sacrifices.
- As the law was intended to do, he gathered a holy nation, a people zealous of good works.
- How did his departure accomplish, bring to perfect fulfillment, the prophets?
- He fulfilled every messianic prophecy given by the prophets.
- As with Elijah in particular as a representative of others, the prophet presents clear opposition to corrupt worldly systems.
- The work of the prophets demonstrates the sustaining power of the word of God (“not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”).
- The prophet manifests the courage of heart and confidence in God to confront falsehood.
- The prophet—Elijah—is sustained in life by the power of God and ascends to heaven when his work is complete.
- “They saw his glory,” and the voice of the Father expressing his love for and pleasure in the Son. The full manifestation of these things will constitute the eternal blessings of the glory of the Kingdom of God. Here we have also confirmation of the words of Jesus, “Me and my words.” The Father said, “This is My Son, Chosen One; listen to Him.” (35).