51 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, 52 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
Jesus now makes the decisive turn toward Jerusalem and the accomplishment of his exodus (v. 31 – a reference to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that will take place in Jerusalem, the city of destiny). The theme of the final journey is already in Mark (Mark 10:1, 32), but Luke has developed it to show Jesus’ commitment to the Father’s plan (9:62; 13:33). Luke keeps the reader alert to the journey theme (13:22; 17:11) and uses it to begin to assemble materials from Jesus on the nature of Christian discipleship.
Elijah. 51 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled… Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer  points out that the rejection at the beginning of the travel section corresponds to the rejection at Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:16–30). The rejection at the beginning of each of these major sections of the Gospel foreshadows the rejection that lies ahead in Jerusalem. But also, there is a prelude to the coming rejection: “when the days for his being taken up were fulfilled.” Just as Elijah set out for Gilgal, so also Jesus sets his face for Jerusalem. At the beginning of the account of Elijah’s death: “Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:1), the same language is used to now speak of Jesus. The Elijah motif serves both to prepare for Jesus’ death and ascension and to clarify the nature of Jesus’ mission. The term for the fulfilling of the days of Jesus’ ministry in v. 51 is repeated in Acts 2:1, and the reference to Jesus’ being taken up echoes not only Acts 1:2, “until the day when he was taken up to heaven,” but the Elijah motif. The term used in v. 51 for Jesus’ being “taken up” (analēmpsis) is also the noun form of the verb used of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:11, 22 (analambanō), suggesting not only Jesus’ coming death and resurrection but also the culmination of the story in Jesus’ ascension.
Why the Elijah motif? Isn’t this something we associate with John the Baptist? Malachi 3:1 declares that the Lord will send a messenger to prepare the way (see also Elijah in Mal 4:5). Immediately in this scene when we are told that Jesus sent messengers to prepare his way (v. 52). The first reference to Samaria occurs in this scene (cf. 10:33; 17:11, 16), but it foreshadows Philip’s work in Samaria in Acts, which results in Peter and John laying hands on the Samaritans. These incorporate other than the Elijah-as-herald motif, and rather point to Jesus’ death will result in his being “taken up.”
The beginning of the journey. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a march toward exaltation (“to be taken up”) in fulfillment of God’s plan. The earthly journey of Jesus serves also as the framework for the progress of the church in the time after the ascension. We find ourselves on the way toward Jerusalem with the Lord. But the march to glory, as Jesus has already warned, is a path through suffering. The disciples must expect to be treated no better than the Master. The cost of Christian discipleship is clearly stated as the journey gets underway.
The theme of the journey into discipleship is well-marked. Brian Stoffregen notes, in the first seven verses of the text, the Greek word poreuomai occurs five times. It is a word that means “to move, to go, to journey.” A translation of the portions of the verses where the word occurs:
- v. 51 — he resolutely determined to journey into Jerusalem
- v. 52 — and journeying they enter into a Samaritan village
- v. 53 — because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem
- v. 56 — and they journeyed into another village
- v. 57 — and as they journeyed on the way, a certain person said to him…
In addition, the word aperchomai meaning “to go, to depart,” occurs three times:
- v. 57 — “I will follow you wherever you go.”
- v. 59 — “Let me go first and bury my father.”
- v. 60 — “But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Our text relates two different scenes on this journey: in the village of the Samaritans (9:51-56) and on the road between villages (9:57-62). The first event is found only in Luke. Matthew (8:18-22) has a version of the second event, but with only the first two “would-be” followers. The third is unique to Luke. As regards the larger narrative (here to the end of Luke 18), the journey narrative will become the form upon which Luke describes what it means to be disciple to Christ.
Luke 9:51 days for his being taken up: the phrase tas hēmeras tēs analēmpseōs autou (“the days of his being taken up”) may be a reference to his death, but the use of the verbal cognate analambanō (“take up”) in Acts 1:11, 22 points to the inclusion of the resurrection/ascension events in this expression. In light of the influence of the Elijah traditions in 9:51–56, an allusion to the translation of Elijah is possible (cf. 2 Kings 2:10–11). he resolutely determined: prosōpon estērisen , literally “he set his face.” Alternatively, rather than determination, it is possible to understand a sense of judgment as this expression is used by the prophets (Isa. 50:7; Jer. 3:12; 21:10) and in Ezekiel in particular (6:2; 13:17; 20:46; 21:2). The text from Ezekiel have a reference to Jerusalem. Moreover, Jesus’ weeping over and words of judgment on Jerusalem (19:41–44) may also bring to mind Ezek. 21:2–6. This theme of judgment fits well with the wider concerns of Luke in this central section.
Luke 9:52 messengers: It is not said who Jesus’ messengers were, but probably they were some of the Twelve who went on ahead to prepare lodgings for the little band. A group of a dozen or so would strain the resources of a small village if they arrived unexpectedly; and, of course, there may have been more. Samaritan: Samaria was the territory between Judea and Galilee west of the Jordan river. For ethnic and religious reasons, the Samaritans and the Jews were bitterly opposed to one another (see John 4:9). Luke’s interest in the Samaritans is further reflected by their repeated appearances in the narrative (9:52; 10:33; 17:16), which climaxes in the reconciliation between the two groups in Acts 8 when the Jerusalem apostles testify to the fact that “Samaria had accepted the word of God” (Acts 8:14). Not only are the Samaritans symbols of the outcast in Luke’s theology, but also they represent Luke’s wider salvation-historical concerns, which point to the restoration of God’s people at the end of times. Jesus’ refusal to follow his disciples in condemning the Samaritans should therefore be understood within this wider perspective.
Luke 9:53 not welcome him because the destination … Jerusalem: Josephus tells us that Samaritans were not averse to ill-treating pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, even to the extent of murdering them on occasion (Bellum ii.232; Antiquities xx.118; this latter passage tells us that it was the custom of the Galileans to pass through Samaria at festival time).
- R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) 214-18
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 400-409.
- Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I–IX), Anchor Bible 28 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981) 827.
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970