Blogthru the NT – Part 2 (Luke)

4 02 2009

I’m going to continue posting some gleanings from my current bible reading programme. I’ve just finished reading Luke. I know that I havent posted on Mark yet. Maybe I will one day, but not today. Luke has very different emphasis to Matthew. While this may reflect the needs of the early church (as form and redaction critics might say) I doubt it is the sole reason for the differences. While I’m not keen to get into a discussion on the synoptic problem, I am aware that Luke was not writing history as a detached observer. Had his own intentions for writing. But this doesn’t mean he has written fiction. Ironically the more affected someone is by the events that have taken place the more they want the truth to be told. We have only to look to the Holocaust survivors to see that (see Blomberg 1997). Luke also needs to be analysed in terms of its other half: the book of Acts.

For Luke then it is best to start at the end. Take Luke 24 where Jesus has been raised from the dead and appears to the two men on the road to Emmaus. When Jesus asked them why they looked so sad, they asked him if he had been under a rock for the past few days. Evidently the passion was an event that caused a great stir amongst the population. One thing in particular these two people say stands out in verse 21, “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). When Jesus interpreted to them all the things from the scriptures concerning himself I’m willing to be he didn’t give them isolated proof texts. I’m bet he told them the story of the Old Testament, how it looked forward to the day when God would act decisively to redeem his people. Don’t you wish they had a DVD handycam there? Luke shows that Jesus is the fufillment of Israel’s hope. He was their messiah, the one who would defeat their enemies. But even this hope was redefined. The real enemy was not Rome, but Sin, the Satan and Death. Luke shows by Jesus’ life of complete obedience to God, defeat of Satan when tempted and his resurrection that none of these enemies could hold him down.

Jesus’ death, ressurection, and ascension form the hinge on which Luke-Acts turns. Luke climaxes here, and Acts moves the story forward, showing the practical outworking of God’s climactic action in history. From here we can see the already/not yet paradigm. Jewish thought divided history into two eras. This present age, and the age to come as echoed by Jesus in Luke 18:29-31. The present age was where Israel was oppressed in need of a messiah, the age to come was the culmination of Israels hopes. They would be vindicated as God’s chosen people, declared to be in the right. They would be his people and he would be their God. All of creation would be redeemed. All nations would serve Israel and be blessed by Israel. It would be an age characterised by a New Heart in the people (Ezek. 36) and the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people (Joel 2). The age to come also meant resurrection from of the dead. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the age to come entered into the present. But the entire creation had not yet been redeemed. Jesus was the “first fruits” of the age to come. What we have here is the age to come and the present age continuing side by side. The present age is dying, and on its way out. The age to come is growing and expanding until one day when Jesus returns to judge and remake the world. Then it will come in its fullness. Heaven will come to earth and everything will be put to rights (Rev. 21-22).

Until then we have the difficult task to taking the message of “Jesus is Lord” to the world. We are to make disciples of all nations. We are to proclaim that the age to come has dawned and that the present age’s time is up. But we are not alone in this. We have God’s empowering presence, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, with us. This is a big theme for Luke. John the baptist takes on the mantell of Elijah and is filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (1:11-16), Jesus is conceived by the Spirit (1:34-38). When Jesus is dedicated at the temple, the priest Simeon is full of the Holy Spirit and praises God that he has seen the salvation God has promised (2:22-39). At His baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God pronounces him to be His Son (3:21-22) Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam which has many creation overtones (3:23-37). Jesus is the new and last Adam. Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Satan (4:1-13). The common thread in the temptation is the charge “If you are the son of God”, could also be translated as “Since you are the son of God” (see Achtemeier 2001). Even the Devil recognises his identity and authority. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, from Israels story and shows himself to be the faithful Israelite. Jesus then teaches by the power of the Spirit in the synagogue (4:14-30) and drives out an evil spirit who too recognises his identity (4:31-43). While this short survey shows Jesus and the prophets are annointed with the Spirit, it is eventually all believers who are then empowered with the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). The Spirit empowers people for the task of taking this message to the world (Acs 1:7-8). This focus takes us back to the already/not yet theme.

One final thing I want to touch on is Luke’s focus on “the poor”. Matthews Beatitudes say “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” (Matt. 5:3), Luke’s say “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20). Why would Luke want to emphasise poor rather than just poor in spirit? Jesus has a particular compassion on the marginalised in society. He dines with “sinners”, tax collectors and prostitutes. The so called dregs of society. But often these people were not just poor in wealth. Tax collectors, like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) were wealthy but poor in social and religous standing because of their vocation. Meals were a way to display your social standing and status (Luke 14:7-9).  When Jesus dined with these people he cut accross traditional social boundaries. Status, position, and rank no longer mattered. Anyone who follows Jesus belongs at the table regardless of status or rank. Followers of Jesus should also invite those who cannot return the favour (Luk 14:12-14). Those who have been shown grace in Jesus must now model that grace to others by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this now by inviting people into our lives, our homes. Sharing meals and our time. By considering them our equals, and telling them the story of what Jesus has done. We invite these outsiders to be part of the kingdom of God, part of the renewed Israel. They, like us, become part of God’s story. In this we proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Well the more I’ve written today the more I realise I’ve left so much unsaid. Everytime I look at one scripture a few more pop into mind and I think of a few tangents I could go on, but this will have to do for today.

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3 responses

4 02 2009
Mason

Great thoughts on Luke here. I’m not one for the ‘pick your favorite verse’ type of thing, but if I had to pick just one Biblical author to have the works of, I’d be very prone to pick Luke-Acts.
Just a side note, I find it increasingly annoying that Luke-Acts are separated in our Bibles when they in reality tell one story starting with the birth of John and the Messiah, and ending with the spreading of this Gospel to the very center of Rome.
A semi-quick thought,

“Jewish thought divided history into two eras. This present age, and the age to come as echoed by Jesus in Luke 18:29-31. The present age was where Israel was oppressed in need of a messiah, the age to come was the culmination of Israel’s hopes.”

That’s a really great point, and once we know it’s there it permeates much of the NT.
I think that getting this concept right is especially important in relation to the term “eternal life” – zoe aion.
Most of the time this is spoken of as some sort of promise of heaven when you die (which coincides with many of the Platonic misreadings of the Christian hope) but I think a better reading is to see it as shorthand for “the life of the age to come” since it fits historically, and since aion is literally ‘age’ and only means eternal in some contexts. New un-dying life in the resurrection is ultimately part of that, but it seems to have little to do with heaven per-say, and as you point out in the Christ event this age to come is breaking through into today even as we await its consummation in the Second Advent/new creation.

4 02 2009
aworthydiscussion

Thanks Mason. When I first read “Zoe Aion” I thought you were quoting some female bible scholar LOL! My knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is very limited.

The now and not yet concept has helped me tremdously. I realise that while I am a new creation the old age continues alongside the present age. It gives me hope everytime I mess up, knowing that one day all things will be put to rights and are being put to rights as I go along. Since reading N.T. Wrights Jesus and the victory of God, I’ve got a new appreciation for the Gospels. If we judge theological books by how they stir our interest in the Bible then Wright scores highly. I can’t decide between my favourite Gospel, they all have such good features if I can use such a word. I would probably go with John because of its “footnote” qualities. Quite often the writer will say “We had no idea what Jesus meant until he was raised from the dead…”

4 02 2009
Mason

Good point about John, I do resonate with many of Luke’s theological points, but the main reason I was saying I’d go with Luke-Acts is because Luke in those two gives us more of the story of early Christianity than any other author on their own.

I tried to post the in Greek actually, but it changed it. Learning Greek has been amazing, but I’m at a loss with Hebrew.

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