Recording Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem (9.51-19.41), Luke reported Jesus’ interaction with both the disciples and the Pharisees.  In Jerusalem Jesus would demonstrate finally the reality of the kingdom.  His humble death on the cross would fulfill themes of His teaching in Luke 17-18.  In these chapters, Luke set forth Jesus’ messages concerning kingdom humility, the level of humility that accords salvation:

  1. Jesus taught His disciples and the apostles about humility (17.1-19).  Jesus’ disciples were told to display humility in their relationships with one another by rebuking one of their number who may have sinned, and granting unlimited forgiveness upon his repentance (vv. 1-3//Matt 18.6-7//Mark 9.42).  The apostles were warned not to place their faith in their faith, but in God—and get to work.  Although the apostles were in fact given the kind of super-natural authority that could even cause trees to be uprooted and moved, they were not to be impressed with the strength of their faith, or attempt to make claims on God’s favor (vv. 5-6//Matt 17.19-21//Mark 9.28-29).  Jesus warned them sharply, “When you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty’” (v. 10).  Perhaps to further caution against arrogance, Luke placed next Jesus’ interaction with ten lepers who cried out for mercy as He traveled between Samaria and Galilee toward Jerusalem (vv. 11-19).  After being made clean, only the Samaritan, a foreigner, humbled himself and expressed gratitude to the Master
  2. Jesus taught the Pharisees and disciples about the coming kingdom (17.20-18.8).  Though the Pharisees generally rejected Jesus’ claims to be the One ushering in the kingdom, they nonetheless inquired of Him what sign might signal its arrival.  Jesus established a new way of thinking about the kingdom, saying: “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’  For you see, the kingdom of God is among you” (17.20-21).  He went on to explain, even to the skeptical Pharisees, that the kingdom of God would come in phases (17.22-37//Matt 24.23-41//Mark 13.14-23).  During the initial period, He would suffer and be rejected (17.25), and people would go on about the everyday matters of life—like eating, drinking, commerce, and marriage—without giving Him a second thought (17.28).  But when the Son of Man returned, Jesus said, such severe judgment would come upon those who rejected Him that it would parallel the day when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by sulfur raining down from heaven (17.29).  Pressing the Old Testament illustration, Jesus warned that the severity of the judgment would be so cataclysmic that attachment to any earthly possession or relationship would lead to destruction—as was the case with Lot’s wife (17.32).  It may be that the disciples’ urgent question, “Where, Lord?” (17.37a), prompted Jesus to prepare them, and perhaps further generations, for these events by emphasizing the importance of persevering prayer (18.1-8); Luke commented that the parable of the unjust judge was told concerning “the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged” (18.1).  While the unjust judge granted the widow’s request because she continued to pester him, Jesus said “Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He delay to help them?  I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (18.1-8)
  3. Jesus taught the Pharisees and disciples about humility and salvation (18.9-42).  Luke reported that Jesus once spoke a parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (v. 9).  In the parable, a proud Pharisee prayed on the basis of what he (of his own opinion) was not: greedy, unrighteous, an adulterer or a tax collector; and his Jewish piety: fasting twice per week, and tithing of everything he received (vv. 10-12).  Despite the catalogue of the Pharisee’s virtues, Jesus commended the prayer of the repentant tax collector, “I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).  According to Jesus then, the Pharisee was not rejected for living a virtuous life, but because his list of virtues was too brief, it didn’t include repentance—the foundation of all godly living.  Likewise, if the tax collector prayed without repentance, he would not have enjoyed the righteousness of God either.  All of the Synoptics record in sequence (cf. Matt 19.13-30; Mark 10.13-31), Jesus’ blessing of the children (vv. 15-17), diatribe with the rich ruler (vv. 18-23) and instruction about possessions (vv. 24-30).  It may be that these three scenes have a singular point: the humility that accords salvation is exemplified by little children, humble and without pretense—those who come to it recognizing only their need, not their assets.  Thus Jesus’ word, “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (vv. 16-17), was in fact embraced by Peter and others, who had left everything to follow the Master; then Jesus said, “I assure you: there is no one who has left a house, wife or brothers, parents or children because of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more at this time, and eternal life in the age to come” (vv. 29-30).  This decisive humility was appropriate in light of the fact that Jesus Himself was on His way to Jerusalem, the place of His humiliating death, and ultimate resurrection (vv. 31-34//Matt 20.17-19//Mark 10.32-34).  The level of humility concomitant with salvation recognizes its need and Jesus as the One who can meet that need, and cries out for mercy—just like the blind beggar Jesus encountered outside Jericho (vv. 35-43//Matt 20.29-34//Mark 10.46-52)

Luke 17-18 points up the opposition Jesus faced from the Pharisees, and how He used their erroneous, selfish point of view as a foil for instruction about authentic discipleship.  Whether He was arguing with the leaders of Israel or performing Messianic signs of the kingdom, He demonstrated His supremacy in the revelatory acts of God.  His was a unique, elevated place in the storyline of Scripture:

  1. Jesus argued that the cleansed should give attention to Him, the One able to cleanse,  as opposed to the Mosaic code of cleanliness (17.11-19).  As Luke recorded, skin diseases were highly contagious and thus led to social, and religious, ostracism—according to the law: “Command the Israelites to send away anyone from the camp who is afflicted with a skin disease, anyone who has a bodily discharge, or anyone who is defiled because of a corpse” (Num 5.2; Lev 13.45-46).  Thus, once the Galilean Israelites noticed that they had been made clean, they rushed on to the priest in hopes that they could begin the ceremonial rite of cleansing, and be restored to the community (cf. Leviticus 14).  One of the ten lepers didn’t make it to the priest, though.  Luke reports that he returned, gave glory to God, and “fell facedown at His feet, thanking Him” (v. 16).  Jesus noted that the grateful one was the foreign one; while the nine should have followed his lead, they went on toward the priest.  Their sin was that they didn’t recognize the source of their healing, giving attention instead to the teaching of the law and the opportunities their restored status afforded them
  2. Jesus argued that the Pharisees should consider the dullness of those destroyed in the days of Noah and Lot, and be prepared for the day of the Son of Man (17.20-37).  God told both Noah (Genesis 6; cf. 2 Pet 2.5) and Lot (Gen 19.14) to announce the imminent judgment that was coming in their days—but Noah’s contemporaries and Lot’s nephews didn’t give the warning a second thought.  Jesus saw the same attitude in the Pharisees (v. 20).  They thought themselves exempt from even the possibility of condemnation, galaxies removed from the wicked of ancient times.  But Jesus knew they were as culpable as the residents of Sodom, and warned them to look at historical precedent and understand that their present course of pursuing earthly security would prove faulty in the day of His wrath.  His judgment would be swift, decisive, observable
  3. Jesus argued that salvation depended entirely upon faith and obedience to His word, not simply following the Mosaic law (18.18-23).  Previously Luke reported than an expert in the law approached Jesus asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10.25).  His question prompted Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan—and the proposition that loving one’s neighbor included loving one’s natural enemies.  The Rich Ruler approached Jesus with the same question, confessing to Jesus that He had kept the commandments of the Decalogue.  Jesus didn’t challenge his assertion, but said: “You still lack one thing: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow Me” (v. 22).  The Rich Ruler left “extremely sad,” Luke reported, “because he was very rich” (v. 23).  He didn’t trust Jesus, and obey His word—the only means by which one can inherit eternal life
  4. Jesus argued that the Old Testament predicted His suffering and death at the hands of Gentiles, and the fact that He would rise on the third day (cf. Ps 16.9-11; 22.1, 8, 18; Isaiah 53).  Although they did not understand it at the time—and wouldn’t fully until the coming of the Spirit (cf. Acts 2; John 2.22, 12.16, 14.26), He said:

“Listen!  We are going up to Jerusalem.  Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog Him, they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day” (Luke 18.31-33)

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