New Lukan Themes

Earlier today a post gave the context of the Lukan narrative in which the entrance into Jerusalem marks the end of the travel dialogue. Every end is then a new beginning and so too here. In the chapters that follow mark a transition in themes that Luke emphasizes: Christology and Discipleship, Division in Israel, and Universal Salvation. The insights are from the scholar Joel Green.

(1) Christology and Discipleship. Given the great concern of the travel narrative overall with the resocialization of Jesus’ followers within the new community gathered around Jesus, the lack of interest in discipleship here may be surprising. However, following Luke’s presentation of the disciples’ incapacity to comprehend God’s plan in 18:31–34, the disciples have receded more and more into the background. Indeed, at this juncture whatever had earlier distinguished the twelve from the others has been blurred. Luke’s reference to “two of the disciples” (v 29) leaves open the question whether these are from the twelve, and his depiction of “the whole multitude of the disciples” (v 37) is reminiscent of the mass of Jesus’ followers and hangers-on in 6:17–19. This gradual deemphasis on the disciples is matched in the narrative by a crescending preoccupation with christology. Begun already in 18:35–43 with the acclamation of Jesus as the “Son of David” and continuing with the parabolic material in 19:11–27 is Luke’s renewed interest in portraying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, a king. This itself recalls the birth narrative, where Jesus’ identity was first broached so definitely by God’s spokesperson, Gabriel (e.g., 1:32–35). And this emphasis moves even more into the limelight here, above all with the acclamation of Jesus as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (v 38).

(2) Division in Israel. Early on, Simeon had foretold that Jesus would be the cause of division within Israel (2:34–35), and Luke has narrated the realization of this prophecy in both the Galilean and journey sections of the Third Gospel. The strength of the presentation of this motif in this narrative section is unprecedented, however. Division comes to the fore, first, in the different responses elicited by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: Some praised God for all the powerful deeds they had seen while others insist that Jesus silence his followers (vv 37–40). Second, in his oracle concerning Jerusalem, Jesus observes that Jerusalem had failed to recognize both the things that make for peace and the time of divine visitation (vv 42, 44). Finally, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and the people divide in their respective responses to Jesus, with the leaders looking for a way to execute Jesus (vv 47–48). With this, the opposition against Jesus has reached rare heights (though cf. 6:11; 13:31). Even this has been foretold, and related to Jesus’ advent in Jerusalem (9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31–33).

(3) Salvation to All. Soteriology, so important throughout the travel narrative (and, indeed, the theme of Luke-Acts as a whole), is not altogether absent from this narrative section, even if it is less explicit than has been the norm. As will become clear, the entrance of the king into Jerusalem has soteriological implications as it raises interpretive questions about the nature of his dominion. Of interest, too, is Jesus’ oracle concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, a statement that portends not only the end of the city itself but perhaps more importantly the end of its socio-religious role as the dominant “cultural center” within the world of the narrative. “Culture centers” are active centers of social order that “… consist in the point or points in a society where its leading ideas come together with its leading institutions to create an arena in which the events that most vitally affect its members’ lives take place.” Within the Lukan narrative, the Jerusalem temple is seen to serve a world-ordering function, particularly as its architecture provides a series of segregating zones that extend out from the temple mount to determine social relations and the experience of fictive kinship between Jew and Samaritan, Jew and Gentile, male and female, and so on. If Jerusalem is utterly destroyed (with no stone left on another, v 44), then its socio-religious role is also decimated. If Jerusalem is no longer the center of the world, then the status distinctions it embodied and propagated are no longer definitive. In this light, the citation of Isa 56:7 in v 46, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” sans the Isaianic phrase “for all peoples,” is telling, for it runs counter to the eschatological vision of all peoples coming to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and paves the way for a mission that is centrifugal rather than centripetal (cf. Acts 1:8).

Sources:

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) 680-82

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