What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Verses like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” have led to confusion in the church. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine. They all possess the same attributes of deity. Then how can Jesus say the Father is greater than him?

The early church developed the doctrine of functional subordination to clarify the roles of the three members of the Trinity. Theologian Norman Geisler explains this doctrine in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation :

All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. It is a heresy (called subordinationism) to affirm that there is an ontological subordination of one member of the Trinity to another, since they are identical in essence . . . ; nonetheless, it is clear that there is a functional subordination; that is, not only does each member have a different function or role, but some functions are also subordinate to others.

The Function of the Father

By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.

The Function of the Son

The Son, on the other hand, is the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation. The Father sent, and the Son came to save us; the Father planned it, but the Son accomplished it on the cross. This is why it is a heresy (called patripassianism) to claim that the Father suffered on the cross—only the Son suffered and died.

Further, the Son is eternally ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from the Father, but the Father is never said to be ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from anyone.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

According to orthodox theology, both East and West, the Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father, but the Father never proceeds from the Holy Spirit—that is, the Father sends the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father. . . . Many Eastern Orthodox theologians are willing to say that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father indirectly through the Son, but they deny that the Son has authority to send the Holy Spirit on His own. Be that as it may, all agree that there is a functional subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Father.

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity. Paul wrote:

‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24, 28)’

Commentary on John 14 (Last Supper Discourse)

During the Last Supper, after Jesus tells the disciples that they will abandon him, he then gives hope to this scared and confused group. The first thing Jesus does is to reassure them that they must trust him just as they trust God. In heaven, Jesus will have rooms, or dwelling places, prepared for all his disciples. Jesus’ death and resurrection are what actually prepares heaven for his disciples. When Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the age, he will bring all of his disciples to their places in heaven.

Some of us have seen the verse translated as “In my Father’s house are many mansions” instead of “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Gerald L. Borchert, in , argues that this is a bad translation.

The Greek word monai was rendered in the Vulgate by the Latin mansiones, which came down through the Tyndale version to the KJV as ‘mansions.’ The use of the word ‘mansions’ here is unfortunate because it has become infused into popular Christian culture so that one can hear some Christians speaking about the fact that they have ‘a mansion just over the hilltop.’ Such a concept, unfortunately, supports the Western economic notion that following Jesus will lead to economic prosperity either in this life or in the life to come, especially if one must suffer in this life. But such a concept fails for several reasons. First, God does not promise economic prosperity. Second, the idea is a typical Semitic word picture describing a relationship of God with the people of God like the picture of heaven in Revelation 21–22. Third, and most importantly, monai does not mean a castle-like home anymore than mansiones in the Vulgate is to be interpreted in that manner. The word is derived from the Greek verb menein, ‘to remain,’ and monai means ‘dwelling’ or ‘abiding’ places. So if the monai are in God’s house, the NIV’s ‘rooms,’ or perhaps ‘apartments’ or ‘flats,’ would be much closer to the meaning of the text here.

Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to where he is going, but Thomas disagrees with Jesus and asks where it is that Jesus is going. The disciples are still struggling to understand Jesus’ mission. Jesus answers Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , explains what Jesus means:

Jesus is the way to God, precisely because he is the truth of God and the life of God. Jesus is the truth, because he embodies the supreme revelation of God—he himself ‘narrates’ God (1:18), says and does exclusively what the Father gives him to say and do (5:19ff; 8:29), indeed he is properly called ‘God’ (1:1, 18; 20:28). He is God’s gracious self-disclosure, his ‘Word’, made flesh (1:14). Jesus is the life (1:4), the one who has ‘life in himself’ (5:26), ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11:25), ‘the true God and eternal life’ (1 Jn. 5:20). Only because he is the truth and the life can Jesus be the way for others to come to God, the way for his disciples to attain the many dwelling-places in the Father’s house (vv. 2–3), and therefore the answer to Thomas’ question (v. 5).

Jesus is here making a very exclusive claim about himself. Carson unpacks the implications for us:

In the framework of this Gospel, this exclusivism is directed in at least two directions. First, it is constrained by the salvation-historical consciousness of the Evangelist: i.e. now that Jesus has come as the culminating revelation of the Father, it is totally inadequate to claim that one knows God, on the basis of the antecedent revelation of bygone epochs, while disowning Jesus Christ. Indeed, the test of whether or not Jews in Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, really knew God through the revelation that had already been disclosed, lay in their response to the supreme revelation from the Father, Jesus Christ himself, to which the Scriptures, properly understood, invariably point (cf. notes on 5:39–46). Second, even if John’s language utilizes metaphors and images common amongst the religions of the Roman world and well attested in diaspora Judaism, he does not mean for a moment to suggest that Christianity is merely one more religion amongst many. They are ineffective in bringing people to the true God. No-one, Jesus insists, comes to the Father except through me. That is the necessary stance behind all fervent evangelism.

In verse 7, Jesus then adds that if his disciples have seen him, then they have seen God himself. Philip, still not understanding Jesus, asks Jesus to only show them God the Father, and that will be enough. In verses 9-11, Jesus reminds them that while he has been with them, he has only spoken and acted exactly as the Father has willed. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” There is a unity of Jesus and the Father which the disciples should have seen.

In verse 12, Jesus curiously asserts that whoever believes in him will do greater works than he has done, and the reason for this is because Jesus is going back to the Father. What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with his followers doing greater works than him? Carson explains:

In short, the works that the disciples perform after the resurrection are greater than those done by Jesus before his death insofar as the former belong to an age of clarity and power introduced by Jesus’ sacrifice and exaltation. Both Jesus’ words and his deeds were somewhat veiled during the days of his flesh; even his closest followers, as the foregoing verses make clear, grasped only part of what he was saying. But Jesus is about to return to his Father, he is about to be glorified, and in the wake of his glorification his followers will know and make known all that Jesus is and does, and their every deed and word will belong to the new eschatological age that will then have dawned. The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ Jesus performed during his ministry could not fully accomplish their true end until after Jesus had risen from the dead and been exalted. Only at that point could they be seen for what they were. By contrast, the works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit, after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is constrained by salvation-historical realities. In consequence many more converts will be gathered into the messianic community, the nascent church, than were drawn in during Jesus’ ministry (cf. 15:26–27; 17:20; 20:21, 29). The contrast itself, however, turns not on raw numbers but on the power and clarity that mushroom after the eschatological hinge has swung and the new day has dawned.

In verses 13-14, Jesus instructs his followers to ask for things in his name. This is how they will perform their “greater” works. It is not that they will perform works that are more extraordinary than those performed by Jesus (i.e., walking on water, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead). Instead, according to Gerald Borchert, the

meaning of the statement must therefore arise out of the context of the discussion involving the fact that Jesus is speaking of his departure to the Father, namely, his death and resurrection. If that is the case, then, the basis for the ‘greater’ is rooted in the expansive implications of Jesus’ mission in light of his ‘glorification’ (cf. 17:1–2). Jesus’ departure is in effect the work of the ‘Lamb of God’ in taking away the ‘sin of the world’ (1:29) or the fact that he is the ‘Savior of the World’ (4:42). Accordingly, his death and subsequent resurrection are to be seen as drawing all people to himself (12:32). But strategically this work would also require the work of those who believe because their task would be to communicate to the world the forgiveness of sins (20:23).

The Book of Acts is, indeed, a historical record of the incredible works performed by the early church during the first thirty or so years after Jesus ascended to heaven.

In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Does this literally mean that we can ask for anything and Jesus will do it? No, obviously not. Jesus only prayed for the will of his Father, so we are expected to only ask for what is in the will of Jesus (which is also in the will of the Father). Borchert writes,

Jesus lived in the will of the Father, and the Christian is duty bound to live in the will of Jesus. Appropriate praying/asking here, therefore, must follow the same model Jesus exemplified. Mere reciting of the name of Jesus must not be understood as a mantra of magical power that provides the petitioner with his heart’s desire. A ‘name’ in the Semitic context carries a special sense of the nature of the name bearer. Accordingly, from Adam and Eve through Abram/Abraham to Jacob/Israel and Joshua/Jesus, names are purposive designations of important realities. So to pray in the name of Jesus implies that in the praying one recognizes the nature of the name the praying person is using.

As we move to verses 25-26, Jesus promises the disciples that after he leaves, God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The role of the Holy Spirit is to bring to remembrance everything that Jesus said to his disciples. Some Christians today mistakenly think that this verse promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything they need to know about Christianity without them having to carefully study the Scriptures, or that the Holy Spirit will bring them new revelation from God. Given the context of these verses, however, this promise was directed toward the disciples who had spent three years with Jesus, and no one else. Carson writes,

One of the Spirit’s principal tasks, after Jesus is glorified, is to remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching and thus, in the new situation after the resurrection, to help them grasp its significance and thus to teach them what it meant. Indeed, the Evangelist himself draws attention to some things that were remembered and understood only after the resurrection (2:19–22; 12:16; cf. 20:9). Granted the prominence of this theme, the promise of v. 26 has in view the Spirit’s role to the first generation of disciples, not to all subsequent Christians. John’s purpose in including this theme and this verse is not to explain how readers at the end of the first century may be taught by the Spirit, but to explain to readers at the end of the first century how the first witnesses, the first disciples, came to an accurate and full understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s ministry in this respect was not to bring qualitatively new revelation, but to complete, to fill out, the revelation brought by Jesus himself.

Jesus then promises his disciples peace and again tells them not be troubled or afraid. In verse 28, Jesus says, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” The disciples should be rejoicing that Jesus is returning to the Father because the father is greater. Jesus claiming that the Father is greater than him raises interesting questions. Andreas Köstenberger address these questions in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) :

Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults often cite this passage to support their claim that Jesus was not divine. Of course, this is no new controversy. The early church had to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against Arians who claimed Jesus was less than God. The root issue is how to hold together the twin truths of Jesus’ equality with the Father and his subordination to the Father, which are taught not only in John’s Gospel but throughout the NT.

On the one hand, Jesus is identified as equal with God (1: 1, 18; 5: 16– 18; 10: 30; 20: 28). On the other hand, Jesus obeys and depends on the Father (4: 34; 5: 19– 30; 8: 29; 12: 48– 49). Error is introduced when one truth is accepted while the other is neglected. Arians (and their modern-day theological counterparts) accept that Jesus submits to the Father and thus reason (incorrectly!) that Jesus must not be God. Gnostics, another early heretical group, recognized the deity of Jesus while reasoning (again incorrectly) that Jesus could not be fully human.

In the present passage, Jesus’ statement, ‘the Father is greater than I,’ is not meant to indicate ontological inferiority on his part. Jesus stated earlier in John’s Gospel that he and the Father are one (that is, one entity, part of one Godhead; 10: 30). Rather than indicating that he is not God or a lesser god, Jesus stresses his subordination to the Father, which, as the NT makes clear, is not merely part of his incarnate ministry but rooted in his eternal sonship (cf. esp. 1 Cor 15: 28; see Beasley-Murray 1999, 262; contra Morris 1995, 584).

Jesus ends chapter fourteen with his assurance that he is voluntarily submitting to crucifixion because he loves God the Father. Even though the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is responsible for what is about to happen, Satan has no legal claim over Jesus. In other words, Jesus is not fulfilling some obligation to Satan. Jesus is simply following the wishes of his Father.

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 3

 

The fifth verse to consider is John 19:31. “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.”

Again we come to the meaning of the phrase “day of Preparation.” Carson writes:

If paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) here refers to the same day as does its use in v. 14, and the reasoning in the notes on that verse are correct, then this sentence tells us that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day before (i.e. the (‘Preparation’ of) the Sabbath. The next day, Sabbath (=Saturday), would by Jewish reckoning begin at sundown Friday evening. It was a special Sabbath, not only because it fell during the Passover Feast, but because the second paschal day, in this case falling on the Sabbath, was devoted to the very important sheaf offering (Lv. 23:11; cf. SB 2. 582).

The sixth verse to consider is John 19:36. “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’”

Many Bible scholars tie the phrase “Not one of his bones will be broken” to Old Testament references to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12. The argument is that if Jesus is crucified on Passover, then this OT allusion makes more sense. Carson agrees that Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb throughout the New Testament, but that hardly means that his crucifixion had to be on Passover for the portrayal to make sense.

“Certainly these chapters in John are laced with the Passover motif—indeed, the same could be said for much of the Fourth Gospel, even if we dissent from those who argue that in John Jesus dies at the time the Passover lambs are being killed in the temple complex. Elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb slain for his people (1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).”

Finally, the seventh verse to consider is John 19:42. “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

Carson again notes that the day of Preparation should be understood as Friday, the day before the Sabbath. If that is the meaning of the phrase, then John’s Gospel exactly matches the chronology of the Synoptics.

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 2

The third verse to consider is John 18:28. “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.”

If the Passover meal was the night before, then why would the Jewish authorities be concerned about being defiled for the Passover meal? This verse seems to imply that the Last Supper occurred the night before Passover, or Wednesday night. Everything hinges on what the phrase “eat the Passover” means. Carson argues that “eat the Passover” could have another meaning.

It is tempting here to understand to eat the Passover to refer, not to the Passover meal itself, but to the continuing Feast of Unleavened Bread, which continued for seven days. In particular, attention may be focused on the ḥagigah, the feast-offering offered on the morning of the first full paschal day (cf. Nu. 28:18–19). There is ample evidence that ‘the Passover’ could refer to the combined feast of the paschal meal itself plus the ensuing Feast of Unleavened bread (e.g. Lk. 22:1: ‘Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching’). If then the Jewish authorities wanted to continue full participation in the entire feast, they would have to avoid all ritual contamination. Even if they contracted a form of defilement that could be washed away at sundown, it would preclude them from participating that day. True, the ḥagigah could be eaten later in the week, but the Jewish leaders, conscious of their public position, would be eager to avoid any uncleanness that would force them to withdraw from the feast, however temporarily. At this point, distinctions between defilement that lasts until sundown and defilement that lasts seven days become irrelevant.

This interpretation becomes very convincing if our treatment of 19:31 is correct. Morris (pp. 778–779) concedes that ‘the Passover’ can refer to the Passover plus the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but insists that ‘to eat the Passover’ cannot refer to all or part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from the Feast of Passover. The criticism has little weight: the interpretation here defended is not that ‘the Passover’ refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from Passover, but to the entire Passover festival. The Jews wanted to continue to participate in the entire feast; they wanted to eat the Passover.

The fourth verse to consider is John 19:14. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’”

If it is the day of Preparation of the Passover, then the Passover meal must not have occurred yet. But again, Carson argues that the phrase “day of Preparation of the Passover” has a different meaning than what we might think.

The precise referent of day of Preparation (paraskeuē) is disputed. If this refers to the day before the Passover, i.e. the day in which one prepares for the Passover, then John is presenting Jesus as being sent to execution about the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered. That would mean that the meal Jesus and his disciples enjoyed the night before was not the Passover supper; and that in turn brings us into sharp contradiction with the Synoptic witness, which makes it clear that Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover. The attractiveness of this theory, despite the clash with the Synoptists, rests in the assumption that John introduces this time factor here as a symbolic way of saying that the true Passover lamb was none other than Jesus himself: he was sentenced to be slaughtered just as the slaughter of the lambs began.

One would have thought, however, that if this were John’s intent he would have achieved much more dramatic power by inserting this time notice just after v. 16a. Moreover, a better way of reading the passage turns on recognizing that paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) regularly refers to Friday—i.e. the Preparation of the Sabbath is Friday. Despite the fact that Barrett (p. 545) confidently insists paraskeuē tou pascha must refer to the Preparation day of (i.e. before) the Passover, he does not offer any evidence of a single instance where paraskeuē refers to the day before any feast day other than Sabbath. If this latter identification is correct, then tou pascha must be taken to mean, not ‘of the Passover’, but ‘of the Passover Feast’ or ‘of the Passover week’. This is a perfectly acceptable rendering, since ‘Passover’ can refer to the Passover meal, the day of the Passover meal, or (as in this case) the entire Passover week (i.e. Passover day plus the immediately ensuing Feast of Unleavened Bread: cf. Jos., Ant. xiv. 21; xvii. 213; Bel. ii. 10; Lk. 22:1; cf. notes on 18:28). Hence paraskeuē tou pascha probably means ‘Friday of Passover week’ (cf. also notes on v. 31). In this view, John and the Synoptics agree that the last supper was eaten on Thursday evening (i.e. the onset of Friday, by Jewish reckoning), and was a Passover meal.

We’ll continue Carson’s analysis in part 3.

 

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 1

The Synoptic Gospels clearly indicate that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal together on a Thursday evening. During that year, the Passover ran from about 6:00 pm Thursday to about 6:00 pm Friday. The crucifixion occurred the next day, on Friday.

However, many scholars are convinced that the Gospel of John places the Last Supper on Wednesday evening and the crucifixion on Thursday. They typically cite seven verses in John that prove their case.

If John does move the Last Supper and crucifixion up by one day, then we would seem to have a contradiction between John and the other Gospels. The biblical scholar, D. A. Carson, however, argues convincingly in The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , that once these seven verses in John are interpreted correctly, the apparent contradiction evaporates. John agrees with the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels.

The first verse to consider is John 13:1. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

The argument goes that verse 1 of chapter thirteen introduces all the events from chapter thirteen through chapter seventeen, including the Last Supper. If that is correct, then the Last Supper must have happened before the Passover meal. Carson, however, argues that verse 1 does not introduce the entirety of chapters thirteen through seventeen.

[T]here is nothing in the words themselves to discourage us from taking the clause as an introduction to the footwashing only [verses 2-20], and not to the discourses that follow the meal. Chronologically, the opening words then place the footwashing before the Passover meal is about to begin (and v. 2, in the best texts, does not contradict this point); theologically, the clause alerts the readers to the Passover theme developed throughout the book (2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; cf. 18:28, 39; 19:14), inviting them to see in the footwashing an anticipation of Jesus’ own climactic Passover act as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29; cf. notes on 13:6–9).

The second verse to consider is John 13:29. “Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor.” Jesus has told Judas to leave during the Last Supper, and his disciples are wondering why.

Carson writes,

Many have taken these words as evidence that this meal took place twenty-four hours before the Passover. If not before the Passover, why send Judas out at this late hour? And if this were Passover night, would any shops have remained open?

But Carson finds these arguments unconvincing.

One might wonder, on these premises, why Jesus should send Judas out for purchases for a feast still twenty-four hours away. The next day would have left ample time. It is best to think of this taking place on the night of Passover, 15 Nisan. Judas was sent out (so the disciples thought) to purchase what was needed for the Feast, i.e. not the feast of Passover, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the ḥagigah), which began that night and lasted for seven days. The next day, still Friday 15 Nisan, was a high feast day; the following day was Sabbath. It might seem best to make necessary purchases (e.g. more unleavened bread) immediately. Purchases on that Thursday evening were in all likelihood possible, though inconvenient. The rabbinic authorities were in dispute on the matter (cf. Mishnah Pesahim 4:5). One could buy necessities even on a Sabbath if it fell before Passover, provided it was done by leaving something in trust rather than paying cash (Mishnah Shabbath 23:1). Moreover, it was customary to give alms to the poor on Passover night, the temple gates being left open from midnight on, allowing beggars to congregate there (Jeremias, p. 54). On any night other than Passover it is hard to imagine why the disciples might have thought Jesus was sending Judas out to give something to the poor: the next day would have done just as well.

We’ll continue Carson’s analysis in part 2.

 

Commentary on Matthew 26 (The Last Supper)

During the week before the Passover Feast, the Jewish authorities have been looking for a way to arrest Jesus and they finally find one. In Matthew 26, verses 14-16, Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, betrays him. Judas goes to the chief priests and offers to help them arrest Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. This amount represents about four months of wages for Judas. To put this in perspective, this would be the equivalent of about $18k for the average American worker today.

Why would Judas offer to betray Jesus? Scripture does not tell us directly, but we can guess. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary , offers the following: “Perhaps most plausible is an intermediate view, which sees Judas as growing increasingly disenchanted with the type of Messiah Jesus is proving to be, a far cry from the nationalistic, military liberator the Jews hoped would free them from Roman tyranny.”

On Thursday afternoon of the Passion Week, Jesus arranges for himself and the twelve disciples to eat the Passover meal that evening in a large upper room in a private home. Jesus and his disciples recline on three couches that form a U-shape (referred to as a triclinium). The food and wine are in the center of the U. The meal would only start after sundown because Passover begins after sundown.

Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) , explains how the Passover meal would have looked:

The ‘Haggadah of Passover’ was the set form in which the Exodus story was told on the first two nights of Passover as part of the ritual Seder (‘order’). The expression ‘Haggadah of Passover’ then came to be used for the entire Seder ritual as well as for the book containing the liturgy and ritual narration of the events of Deuteronomy 26:5–9 (first referred to in m. Pesah. 10). Central to the meal were three foods—unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and the Passover offering (lamb in temple days)—along with the four (traditional) cups of wine.

During the meal, each of the disciples would dip bitter herbs into a mixture of nuts, fruit, and vinegar to lessen their bitterness. Also, bread would be dipped in sauces. Just before the meal begins, Jesus announces to the disciples that he “who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” The mood of the meal turns to sorrow as each of the disciples asks Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” Judas asks Jesus if it is him, and Jesus answers, “You have said so.” It seems likely that Judas and Jesus’ conversation is private because the other disciples don’t seem aware that it is Judas who will betray Jesus. Otherwise, they surely would have confronted him during the meal.

In verse 24, Jesus affirms that the betrayal was prophesied in the Old Testament and is thus part of the divine plan. However, the person who actually betrays Jesus is responsible for freely choosing to do so. Judas will be damned because of his betrayal. Presumably, Judas leaves the meal at this point, although Matthew does not report it (his departure is reported in John). The other disciples still don’t suspect what he is up to.

Jesus then begins the Passover meal by breaking bread and saying a blessing over it, but he also gives a new command to the disciples: “Take, eat; this is my body.” Blomberg explains Jesus’ meaning:

A common loaf would be distributed to all. The unleavened bread originally symbolized the haste with which the Israelites departed from Egypt (Exod 12). For additional laws about how to celebrate the feast, see Lev 23:4–8; Num 9:1–14; and Deut 16:1–8. Jesus now invests the bread with new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively broken and literally killed in his upcoming death.

Deflecting intra-Christian debates about whether the bread is, in some sense, actually Jesus’ body, Blomberg writes,

As Jesus holds up a loaf and declares, ‘This is my body,’ no one listening will ever imagine that he is claiming the bread to be the literal extension of his flesh. Moreover, in Aramaic these sentences would have been spoken without a linking verb (‘is’), as simply, this, my body and this, my blood. As frequently elsewhere, Jesus is creating a vivid object lesson. The bread symbolizes (represents, stands for, or points to) his crucifixion in some otherwise unspecified sense.

During the Passover meal, four cups of wine would be consumed. Each had special significance, according to Michael Wilkins.

(1) The first cup initiated the ceremony with the Kiddush, the cup of benediction, a blessing over wine that introduces all festivals. (2) The second cup just before the meal and after the Haggadah of the Passover concluded with the singing of the first part of the Hallel (Ps. 113–114). (3) The third cup was drunk after the meal and the saying of grace. (4) The fourth cup followed the conclusion of the Hallel (Ps. 115–118) (m. Pesah 10:1–7).

Just before the third cup of wine was to be passed around, Jesus again gives a new command. Blomberg explains that the third cup is “tied in with God’s promise, ‘I will redeem you,’ in [Exodus 6:6c] and hence specifically to his original liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (m. Pesaḥ. 10:6–7).

Jesus ties the cup of wine to the blood he will spill on the cross. This blood sacrifice will result in the forgiveness of sins for many people (those who accept Jesus). This language echoes Isaiah 53, where Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, or the Messiah who will come. But Jesus is also announcing the beginning of a new covenant. Wilkins writes:

The traditional cups of the Passover celebration now offer another stunning illustration for Jesus to show that his sacrificial life is the fulfillment of all that for which the historical ritual had hoped. This is the new covenant that was promised to the people of Israel by God: ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ (Jer. 31:31, 34).

In verse 29, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not ever drink wine at another meal with them until the great banquet that accompanies the inauguration of the messianic kingdom at the end of the age.

The combination of eating bread and drinking wine, as Jesus directed during this Passover meal, has become known as the Lord’s Supper. Blomberg believes there are two key reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper:

One looks backward; the other, forward. First, we commemorate Jesus’ redemptive death. Second, we anticipate his return in company with all the redeemed. These two points remain central to all three Synoptic accounts and should form the heart of any theology of this ordinance.

After the meal, the disciples accompany Jesus out of Jerusalem and back east to the Mount of Olives, where they will spend the night. When they arrive, Jesus surprises them by telling the eleven remaining disciples that every one of them will abandon him because of the events that would transpire this Thursday night. When a shepherd is struck, his sheep will scatter. However, unlike Judas, the disciples will get another chance to renew their allegiance to Jesus after he rises from the dead and meets them in Galilee.

The disciple, Peter, once again sticking his foot in his mouth, insists that even though all the other disciples abandon Jesus, Peter will never do so. Jesus corrects Peter and tells him that he will deny Jesus three times before dawn breaks Friday morning (before the rooster crows). Peter, however, vows along with the other disciples that he would die before denying Jesus.  How is Peter’s denial of Jesus different from Judas’ betrayal Jesus to the chief priests? Blomberg writes:

Peter’s impulsive denial of Jesus is obviously not as treacherous as Judas’s premeditated betrayal, but Jesus has already said that any who disown him ‘before men’ he will disown before his Heavenly Father (10:33). So the difference between Peter and Judas lies primarily in their subsequent behavior. One may either deny or betray Christ and be forgiven if one genuinely repents. Without repentance (a change of heart followed by right action), both remain equally damning.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 3

Michael Wilkins, in , offers a twofold interpretation. He writes:

The identity of ‘this generation’ has vexed interpreters. Perhaps it is easiest to see a twofold reference, as Jesus has done throughout the discourse. The disciples to whom Jesus is speaking on the Mount of Olives is most naturally ‘this generation’ who sees the events of the destruction of the temple, which shows the applicability of the discourse to A.D. 70. Yet within the context of Jesus’ statements about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age, there must be primary applicability to those at the end of the age who see the events surrounding the abomination of desolation occurring. When these signs of the end of the age appear, those waiting for his arrival are to recognize that their redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). The generation that sees these things occurring will be the generation that sees the Lord appear.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) , offers the following suggestions:

This saying is consistent with the similar prediction in [Mark] 9:1 (‘There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’). It is apparent that Jesus’ generation expected to see the fulfillment of the things prophesied in the discourse. And indeed the predictions were partially fulfilled in the events of the first century. That generation saw the destruction of the temple and some of the signs, or at least events that paralleled the signs that will portend the second coming of the Son of Man. But Jesus’ generation did not see the second coming, nor did it see the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of the generation of the last time, not his disciples’ generation. Since ‘this generation’ in Mark refers elsewhere to those who are rebellious and blind (8: 12, 38; cf. Matt 11: 16; 12: 41, 42, 45), it could be used in that sense here, yielding the sense that wickedness will continue until the coming of the Son of Man. Another view is that ‘this generation’ refers to the generation that sees the ‘abomination that causes desolation.’ One further view is that ‘all these things’ refers only to the ‘signs’ of the end rather than to the end itself (Bock 2005, 523).

And finally, John D. Grassmick, in Mark, The Bible Knowledge Commentary , writes:

’Generation’ (genea) can refer to one’s ‘contemporaries,’ all those living at a given time (cf. 8:12, 38; 9:19), or to a group of people descended from a common ancestor (cf. Matt. 23:36). Since the word ‘generation’ is capable of both a narrow and a broad sense, it is preferable in this context (cf. Mark 13:14) to understand in it a double reference incorporating both senses. Thus ‘this generation’ means: (a) the Jews living at Jesus’ time who later saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and (b) the Jews who will be living at the time of the Great Tribulation who will see the end-time events. This accounts best for the accomplishment of ‘all these things’ (cf. vv. 4b, 14–23).

After my study of all these different viewpoints, I find myself leaning toward Brooks, Keener, and Blomberg. However, this is certainly not an issue to be dogmatic about. I have great respect for all these scholars, and it’s quite possible that other interpretations are correct.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 2

Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries , disagrees with the Brooks interpretation. He writes:

Some see a reference to the people then alive and see the fulfilment in the fall of Jerusalem. The context seems against this, unless, with Plummer, we see the fall of Jerusalem as a type of the end (so Fitzmyer). Many think that Jesus was prophesying the end of all things within a few years and that he was mistaken. In view of his explicit disavowal of knowledge of this point (Mark 13:32), this seems most unlikely. Moreover, as many critics have pointed out, it is impossible to hold that Luke who recorded these words understood them to mean this. In the early church it was often held that the generation of Christ’s followers was meant, so that the elect would persist right through to the end. Others see a reference to the Jewish nation (e.g. Ryle). Some have thought that Luke means us to understand the term in the sense ‘mankind’ (Leaney, Harrington). Lenski draws attention to the frequent use of ‘generation’ in the Old Testament to denote a kind of man, especially the evil (e.g. Ps. 12:7), but also the good (e.g. Ps. 14:5). Similarly Ellis points out that in the Qumran scrolls the term ‘last generation’ apparently ‘included several lifetimes’. It seems that it is something like this that Jesus has in mind. This unusual use of generation concentrates on the kind of people that would persist through to the end. The expression ‘means only the last phase in the history of redemption … The public revelation of the kingdom is just around the corner, but its calendar time is left indeterminate’ (Ellis; cf. Schweizer, ‘since Easter all belong to the generation of the eschaton’).

Robert H. Stein, in , prefers yet a third interpretation:

This expression has been interpreted as referring to (1) Jesus’ own generation, (2) the Jewish people, (3) humans in general, (4) the last generation in history, and (5) Luke’s contemporaries. (Compare how the Qumran community wrestled with the identity of the final generation in 1QpHab 2.7; 7.2.7 and how the ‘final generation’ referred to several generations.) Even though every other reference to ‘this generation’ in Luke can include Jesus’ own generation, it is quite unlikely that here Luke understood ‘this generation’ in this manner because that generation had essentially passed from the scene, and the parousia still lay in the future. The fourth interpretation is so bland as to be meaningless. As long as humanity is present when the Son of Man returns, this by definition must be true; for unlike people in the nuclear generation who wonder if humanity may destroy itself in nuclear war, Luke and his contemporaries had no doubt that the return of the Son of Man would take place in the presence of people. The second suggestion fails to take into consideration that the scene of the coming of the Son of Man is not the ‘land’ (Luke 21:23) of Judea but the ‘earth’ and the ‘nations’ (21:25), so that to restrict the audience here simply to the Jewish people would be to lose sight of the cosmic focus of 21:25–36. Furthermore why would Luke or his readers think that the Jewish people might be wiped from the face of the earth? The fifth suggestion is unattractive to many interpreters since it is obviously wrong. The Son of Man did not come in Luke’s generation. However, in the pursuit of Luke’s meaning one cannot rule out this possible interpretation simply because one does not like it. Nevertheless this interpretation would be strange if in his Gospel Luke was combatting a misunderstanding that the parousia already should have taken place. Luke probably would have been hesitant to date the coming of the Son of Man in such a way.

The third suggestion appears to be the best option. Elsewhere in Luke this expression is used to describe sinful humanity unresponsive to God and oblivious to the possibility of immediately encountering him (cf. 12:16–21, 35–40; 17:26–36). ‘This generation,’ which ignored the coming of the kingdom in Jesus’ ministry, continues in its rejection of the gospel message until the very end. Thus ‘this generation’ of 21:32 stands in continuity and solidarity with ‘this generation’ of Jesus’ day.

We’ll finish up with a couple more scholars in part 3.

 

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 1

In Mark 13:30, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32 record the exact same words. To which generation does Jesus refer? Biblical scholars have offered several theories, but I will survey several a handful of well-respected conservative scholars to give the reader some ideas for further research.

James A. Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary , writes that “this generation” refers to Jesus’ disciples and their contemporaries. “Jesus meant that some of the people of his generation, and more particularly some of his disciples, would not die until the things of [Mark 13:5–23] had happened, including the very significant destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.”

Brooks argues that the cosmic signs and Jesus’ second coming (verses 24-27 in Mark 13) “constitute the end, not things that must precede the end. Furthermore, the various items in vv. 24–27 together constitute one climactic event that takes place at one point of time rather than a series of events spread over a long period of time.”

Craig S. Keener, in , agrees with Brooks’ interpretation. He writes,

Whereas the signs Luke mentions mean that the kingdom is near (Lk 21:31; cf. 1 Clem. 23), ‘these things’ in Matthew 24 (cf. 24:2) apply to the desolation of the temple to occur within that generation (24:34). Though some (mentioned in Cullmann 1956a: 151; Mattill 1979a: 97; cf. Bonsirven 1964: 58) wish to take ‘generation’ (genea) as ‘race’ (cf. the distinct genos in 2 Macc 8:9; Jdt 9:14; 11:10), 23:35–36 leave no doubt that Jesus uses the term as normally (e.g., Jer 7:29) and as elsewhere in Matthew refers to the climactic ‘generation.’

Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary,  also agrees that “generation” refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. He writes about Matthew 24:34:

Verse 34 does not imply that Christ will return within the lifetime of his hearers or within some later period of thirty to forty years during which all the signs occur. Nor is it necessary to follow the NIV margin and translate genea as ‘race,’ referring to Israel, a much less likely rendering of the Greek than ‘generation.’ Rather, ‘all these things’ in v. 34 must refer to ‘all these things’ of v. 33, which show that Christ’s return is near and which therefore cannot include Christ’s return itself. ‘All these things’ will then refer to everything described in 24:1–26 but will not include the Parousia itself (described in vv. 27–31).

We’ll look at more scholars’ views in part 2.

 

Commentary on Luke 21 (Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple and His Second Coming)

Early in the Passion Week, as Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple precincts, his disciples comment on how majestic and beautiful the temple is. Robert Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary , remarks, “Under Herod the Great the temple experienced massive reconstruction, which began in 20 b.c. (cf. John 2:20) and continued until a.d. 63. This new temple exceeded even Solomon’s temple in beauty and size and justifiably could have been included among the seven wonders of the world.” The Jewish historian Josephus reported that massive white stones, some as long as 65 feet, were used in construction. These white stones gave the building a brilliant white appearance so that the temple looked like a snow-covered mountain.

Jesus responds by telling the disciples that one day in the future, the temple will be destroyed. The disciples then ask Jesus when the temple will be destroyed and what signs will forewarn them. Matthew and Mark report that the disciples asked this question as they sat on the Mount of Olives, after leaving Jerusalem for the day (recall that Jesus was teaching in the temple precincts during the Passion Week). The Mount of Olives overlooks Jerusalem and the temple from the east. The following verses have thus become known as the Olivet Discourse.

In verses 8-19, Jesus then describes a series of events that will occur before the destruction of the temple, but none of them are to be taken as signs that the destruction of the temple is imminent. These events include: 1) false messiahs, 2) wars, 3) earthquakes, 4) famines, 5) persecution of the disciples by Jewish and Roman authorities, 6) betrayal by family members, 7) and even martyrdom for some of the disciples.

Why would Jesus warn his followers about these events? Jesus knows that all these things will occur and he wants his disciples to know that God is in control of all of it. They are part of the divine plan. The disciples must not be led astray by the chaos going on around them. In verses 13-15, Jesus reassures his disciples that when they are brought before the authorities, it is their opportunity to bear witness to everything they have seen with respect to Jesus. Jesus himself will give them the words to speak so that nobody can refute them. In verses 18-19, Luke writes that those who stay faithful to Jesus to the end, despite persecution, are guaranteed eternal life.

One of the most challenging aspects of interpreting the Olivet Discourse is that Jesus is actually answering two questions: When will the temple be destroyed and when will the second coming of Jesus, and consequently, the end of the age (world) occur? These two questions are explicitly asked in Matthew’s version of the discourse. It is likely that the disciples believed that the destruction of the temple, the end of the age (world), and the return of Jesus would all happen in quick succession. Jesus, however, is telling them that the end of the world and his second coming will not occur immediately after the destruction of the temple. There will be a period of time between these two major milestones.

The events that Jesus predicts in verses 8-19 will not only occur before the temple is destroyed, but they will occur throughout the Christian era (i.e., from AD 70 to Jesus’ second coming). Thus, nobody can cite these kinds of events as an indicator that the end of the world is imminent.

Some might question whether the seven events listed above did indeed occur before the temple was destroyed in AD 70. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary , argues they did:

Various messianic pretenders arose, most notably Theudas (Acts 5:36; Josephus, Ant. 20.97–99, 160–72, 188, who describes other false claimants as well). The war of Israel against Rome began in a.d. 66–67 and was preceded by the growing hostility incited by the Zealots. Famine ravaged Judea, as predicted in Acts 11:27–30, datable to ca. a.d. 45–47 by Josephus, Ant. 20.51–53. Earthquakes shook Laodicea in a.d. 60–61 and Pompeii in a.d. 62 (cf. also Acts 16:26). Persecution dogged believers’ footsteps throughout Acts; internal dissension so tore apart the church at Corinth (1 Cor 1–4) that God even caused some to die (1 Cor 11:30). Numerous New Testament epistles were written primarily to warn against false teachers and perversions of Christianity, most notably Galatians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude.

In verses 20-24, Jesus finally describes the destruction of the temple. When Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, the time is near. The Roman army would indeed surround Jerusalem in AD 66. Jesus advises everyone in and around Jerusalem to flee the city into the surrounding mountains. The city walls will not protect them. Pregnant women and infants will suffer the most, as they are most vulnerable to the suffering caused by war. Jesus predicts that the armies surrounding Jerusalem will finally prevail and that a great number of Jews will die or be captured by the Gentiles. Once this occurs, the age of the Gentiles (the Christian era) will begin. The Gentile Roman army did indeed finally enter Jerusalem and burn the temple in AD 70.

In verse 22, Luke sees the destruction of Jerusalem as fulfilling OT prophecies. Robert Stein comments:

Luke may have been thinking of such OT prophecies that speak of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem due to its sins such as Jer 6:1–8; 26:1–6; Mic 3:12; cf. also 1 Kgs 9:6–9. Whereas the OT prophecies would speak of Jerusalem’s judgment as due to its sins, what those sins entailed is found in Luke-Acts. They involve oppressing the poor (Luke 18:7; 20:47); rejecting its Messiah (13:33–34; 20:13–18); not recognizing the time when God visited and the kingdom was offered to it (19:44); rejecting the gospel message (Acts 13:46–48; 18:5–6; 28:25–28); but above all official Israel’s involvement in the death of God’s Son.

Jesus then describes a future time when there will be cosmic signs: “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Stein writes,

This metaphorical imagery is frequently found in the OT. Such impressionistic language reveals that God is about to enter world history either for blessing or woe or for both. Again the signs associated with the Son of Man’s coming are cosmic, whereas those associated with Jerusalem’s fall are terrestrial, so that Luke kept these two events distinct. For Luke these ‘signs’ and the ones that follow do not provide a clock or timetable by which one is able to know the ‘times or dates’ (Acts 1:7) of the Son of Man’s coming.

How will Jesus’ followers finally know that the world is coming to an end and that the messianic kingdom is inaugurating? Luke writes, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is a clear allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel writes,

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

In verses 29-33, Jesus tells a brief parable about a fig tree and its leaves. When you see leaves sprouting on a fig tree, you know summer is near. Likewise, Jesus says, “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

So here is the challenge for us: what are the “things taking place” to which Jesus is referring? It cannot be his second coming, because that means the kingdom of God has begun. So, “things taking place” must be referring to everything else mentioned between verses 8-26. In verse 32, when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place,” the word “all” cannot be referring to his second coming. “All” must be referring to the other events which must occur before Jesus returns.

As we discussed earlier, all the events recorded in verses 8-24 did occur by the end of AD 70. The generation of Jesus’ disciples would have clearly extended to AD 70, so that generation indeed did not pass away until all had taken place.

The only question left to resolve is whether the events in verses 25-26 occurred before AD 70, after AD 70, or have yet to occur. It is here that biblical scholars differ greatly, for the answer weighs heavily in deciding which generation Jesus is referring to. This topic will be fleshed out in a subsequent blog post.

Regardless of the interpretation of verse 32, Jesus has clearly not returned in power and glory and so we, his followers, are still waiting for that day to arrive. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all exhort Jesus’ followers to be ready at any time for his return. Jesus tells his followers that only God the Father knows the day, so that everyone will be taken by surprise. There will be no warning, so we must all be prepared for his arrival.

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