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 The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary , 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.

How Does Jesus’ Prediction of the Destruction of Jerusalem Affect the Dating of Luke’s Gospel?

Liberal and skeptical scholars have long noted that Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 19:42-44 prove that the Gospel according to Luke must have been written after AD 70. How else, they argue, could the writer of the Gospel known about the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem? In fact, since most scholars believe Mark was the first gospel written, and Mark also mentions the destruction of Jerusalem, then all the gospels must have been written after AD 70.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, writing at Catholic Answers, frames the issue this way:

With their rationalist presuppositions firmly in place, modern biblical critics concluded that the entire New Testament could not have been composed before the year 70. The reasoning went like this: ‘Mark’s Gospel is the earliest Gospel. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. We know that people can’t foretell the future. Therefore this must have been written after the event and made to sound like a prophecy.’ This one conclusion—based on the assumption that seeing the future is impossible—is the basis for the continuing idea that the New Testament is a late-invented document.

Once this ‘fact’ was in place, every other piece of evidence relating to the dating of the Gospels had to conform to this single conclusion. So, if evidence was found that a particular Gospel was written earlier than A.D. 70, it could not be so, because everyone ‘knew’ that it all had to be written after A.D. 70. The authorship of the Gospels also had to be in question. If most the apostles died before A.D. 70, then it was impossible for them to be the authors of the Gospels.

What the critics fail to understand is that there are at least two other possibilities. First, Jesus may have been making an educated guess that Jerusalem would be destroyed due to her rebellious tendencies. The description of the siege in Luke 19 is applicable to almost any siege of a major city in the ancient near east.

Second, and more likely, Jesus was making a supernatural prediction. He could have had a supernatural vision of the destruction of Jerusalem which he then reported to his disciples, who then wrote the prediction down.

The only way critics can dismiss this second possibility is to deny the possibility that Jesus was given a vision of the future. But how can they possibly know that Jesus could not have received a vision from God? They cannot.

For many critical scholars, it is a philosophical presupposition that miracles cannot occur, that the supernatural does not exist, that a Creator God does not exist (i.e., that theism is false). But if a Creator God who interacts with the universe He created does exist, then it is entirely possible that Jesus received a vision from that God. Jesus repeatedly claimed to be an emissary from God, to have a special relationship with God, so if anyone was going to receive knowledge of future events, it would be Jesus.

In brief, the gospels cannot be dated by first assuming that theism is false. If there are good reasons to believe that theism is true (and there are many), miracles are possible. Since the New Testament is full of miracles, a scholar looking to date the NT documents simply cannot ignore the possibility that at least some of the miracles recorded actually did occur.

Commentary on Luke 19 (The Triumphal Entry)

As we pick up the narrative in Luke 19, Jesus and his disciples are traveling toward Jerusalem for his final Passover festival. The day of the week is Sunday and as Jesus and his party approach Bethany, a village just a couple of miles east of Jerusalem, Jesus sends two of his disciples into Bethany to get a young donkey. Jesus seems to have prearranged the borrowing of the colt with the owners.

The disciples bring the colt to Jesus and place garments on the colt to act as a saddle. Jesus sits on the colt and then his disciples spread additional cloaks on the ground for the donkey to walk on (see 2 Kings 9:13). The other Gospels mention that palm branches were spread out on the ground as well. David Garland, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book) , notes:

Luke omits the reference to palm branches found in Matthew and Mark, probably because his Gentile audience would not have recognized these as symbols of Jewish nationalism. Palm branches, praise, hymns, and songs are associated with the entrance of Simon Maccabeus into Jerusalem after his victory over the Syrians.

As they descend the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (see Psalm 118:26)! Since there are likely over one hundred disciples traveling with Jesus, they are making quite a ruckus. Some Pharisees who are on the same road into Jerusalem command Jesus to quiet his disciples, but he refuses to do so and says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

What is the meaning behind Jesus riding on a donkey and receiving shouts of praise from his disciples? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries , explains:

They praised God for all the mighty works that they had seen, i.e. those miraculous deeds that Jesus had done throughout his ministry which showed so plainly that he had come from God. Luke nowhere explains the enthusiasm, but Matthew and John both quote the prophecy that Zion’s king would come on an ass’s colt (Zech. 9:9). There can be no doubt but that the multitude saw Jesus’ entry to the city in the light of this prophecy and greeted him as king.

Now a king on an ass was distinctive. The ass was the mount of a man of peace, a merchant or a priest. A king might ride on an ass on occasion, but he would be more likely to appear on a mighty warhorse. Zechariah’s prophecy saw Messiah as the Prince of peace. The Galilean disciples, now streaming up to Jerusalem for the Passover, knew that Jesus had done many mighty works. They had for a long time watched and waited for him to proclaim himself as the Messiah of their hopes. Now they saw him as doing so. He was riding into the capital in a way that fulfilled the prophecy. He was showing himself to be the Messiah. They did not stop to reflect that he was also proclaiming himself a man of peace and giving no countenance to their nationalistic fervour. They wanted a Messiah. And now they saw one.

Regarding Jesus saying the very stones would cry out, Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary , writes:

The most likely [interpretation of the verse] is, ‘If the disciples would stop their praising of God and his Son, then the stones would take their place and cry out praise in their stead.’ Nothing can detract from this day. There may be an allusion here to Hab 2:11. Whereas earlier Jesus had given a command to silence, this day there was no silencing the welcoming of the Son of David, Israel’s King.

As Jesus approaches the city, he pauses and weeps. In verses 42-44, Jesus prophesies that the city of Jerusalem will be surrounded by an enemy army and besieged. Eventually the army will break through the walls and destroy the city and everyone inside it. This would all happen because Jerusalem rejected her Messiah, Jesus. Leon Morris remarks,

The Jerusalemites did not know the things that make for peace. There is irony here for the name ‘Jerusalem’ has ‘peace’ as part of its meaning (cf. Heb. 7:2). But those in the city of peace did not know what made for peace! Especially important in the Hebrew understanding of peace (which carries over into the New Testament) is its emphasis on peace with God, right relationship between the creature and the Creator, as a necessary ingredient in true peace. It was this that the people of Jerusalem had failed to realize. And their failure to get to grips with the message of God was now final. These things, Jesus says, are hid from your eyes.

Roughly forty years later, the Roman army besieged and destroyed Jerusalem in the war of AD 66–70. David Garland cites the Jewish historian, Josephus, as he describes the details of the war:

Josephus portrays in great detail the terrible and gruesome suffering of the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the three-year siege of the city. Many died by a terrible famine. Others were killed by desperate bandits within the city. Thousands were slaughtered by the Romans when they breached the walls. Josephus claims that eleven hundred thousand perished during the siege and ninety-seven thousand were taken captive. Though the number is almost certainly grossly exaggerated (it may have been between one-quarter and one-half million), these numbers reveal the horrible sufferings the city will experience.

When Jesus finally enters Jerusalem, he goes to the temple complex and drives out those buying and selling merchandise in the Court of Gentiles. Morris explains:

Jesus found traders in the temple. Some were changing money (only Tyrian coinage was accepted for the temple offerings, and other coins had to be changed into this currency); others were selling sacrificial animals. They were apparently plying their trade in the court of the Gentiles, the only place in the temple where a non-Jew could go to pray and to meditate. If the temple system was to carry on it was necessary that such facilities be provided. But it was not necessary that they should be in the temple precincts, and it is this to which Jesus took exception. He began to drive out those who sold. Luke does not mention those who bought nor the money-changers, but Matthew and Mark tell us that he dealt with them as well. Jesus upbraided the traders by pointing out the difference between their dishonesty (cf. Jer. 7:11) and the true nature of the temple as a house of prayer (cf. Isa. 56:7).

Jesus appears at the temple complex, during the next few days, to teach. Although the ruling Jewish authorities want him arrested and executed, his popularity prevents them from seizing him in public. They will have to find another way.

Did James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, Die for the Gospel?

In Matthew 20, Jesus confirms that his cousins, James and John, will suffer, and possibly die, for his sake. This raises the question of whether we have any historical documentation about the deaths of James and John.

With regard to James, the book of Acts, chapter twelve, actually records his death around the year AD 44.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Given that there are several Herods mentioned in the Bible, which Herod killed James? According to gotquestions.org,

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12). It was he who persecuted the church in Jerusalem and had the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, put to death by the sword. By the hand of Herod Agrippa I, James became the first apostle to be martyred.

With regard to John, the historical record is less clear. According to ccel.org, here is the most plausible account of what happened to John:

According to John’s Gospel (19:26-27), it was probably John who took Mary, the mother of Jesus as his adopted mother. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (AD 81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD 100.

John likely was assigned to slave labor in the mines of Patmos, so he did indeed suffer greatly. There is also a church tradition which claims that, at one point, John was thrown into a basin of boiling oil.

Both brothers, then, suffered greatly for proclaiming the gospel. James was the first apostle to be martyred and John, although he lived several more decades than his brother, was banished to work the mines on the island of Patmos.

Commentary on Matthew 20 (Jesus Foretells His Death)

As Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem at the end of his third year of ministry, Jesus reminds them in Matthew 20:17-19 what will happen once he arrives: “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This is the third time Jesus has explained that he will be tortured and killed in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast. Unlike the previous two warnings, Jesus adds that he will be mocked, flogged, and crucified by the Romans (Gentiles). In that day, it was illegal, according to Roman law, for Jews to execute anyone, so all executions had to be performed by the Roman government.

In verses 20-28, we see once again that Jesus’s disciples still do not comprehend what he is saying. Instead of asking questions about the nature of his death or resurrection, they are instead concerned about their place in his coming messianic kingdom.

The two brothers, James and John, go to their mother and ask her to intercede for them with Jesus. James and John are Jesus’s first cousins and their mother, Salome, is Jesus’s aunt. Salome and several other women are traveling with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Salome obviously believes that because of her close kinship with Jesus, he will grant her sons special privilege. Her request is that her sons sit at Jesus’s right and left hands when his kingdom begins.

In Matthew 19:28, Jesus had promised the twelve disciples that they would all occupy twelve thrones to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel when Jesus’s kingdom began in the future, so Salome is trying to secure the best two thrones for her sons, the thrones immediately to the right and left of Jesus’s throne. It seems likely that her sons put her up to this request.

Jesus responds by asking whether James and John are able to handle the suffering (the cup) that will come to them because of their allegiance to Jesus. They say they are willing to suffer. Jesus affirms that they will indeed suffer, but he tells them that it is not his decision who sits on his right and left, but God the Father’s decision.

The other ten disciples hear about James and John’s request and react with anger. Jesus gathers all of them together to explain what it means to be a leader in his kingdom, because they clearly do not understand. He reminds them that Gentile rulers oppress their people and exercise great privilege and authority.

In Jesus’s kingdom, the rulers will do just the opposite. Rulers must be servants and slaves of those whom they oversee. Jesus reminds them that he came to serve mankind, not be served. He came to offer his life as a ransom for those who would believe in him. The second half of verse 28 provides important insight into Jesus’s mission, as he, himself, understands it. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary , explains:

Verse 28b alludes to Jesus’ impending substitutionary and atoning death. This half verse preserves perhaps the most crucial teaching of Jesus about his self-understanding and conception of his mission, especially since a strong case can be made for the authenticity of this saying even using critical criteria. The word ‘ransom’ (lytron) would make a first-century audience think of the price paid to buy a slave’s freedom. ‘Life’ is the more correct translation here for psychē, which in other contexts sometimes means soul. Though it has been disputed, anti (‘for’) means instead of or in the place of. ‘Many’ refers to all who accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, made possible by his death, and who commit their lives to him in discipleship. Verse 28 as a whole probably reflects the language of Exod 30:12; Ps 49:7–9, and, most significantly, the suffering servant song of Isa 53:10–12. Jesus declares that he will die and thereby pay the penalty for our sins that we deserved to pay.

Why Don’t the Synoptic Gospels Recount the Raising of Lazarus?

Some critics have cast doubt on the veracity of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel because it is not recorded in the other three Gospels. John’s Gospel is believed to be the last Gospel written, so the critics allege that John invented the story to further his particular agenda. Andreas Köstenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) , argues against this viewpoint.

This critique is part of a larger argument against the historicity of John’s Gospel based on its omission of many events found in the Synoptics and its inclusion of material absent from the other Gospels. However, this critique is ultimately unconvincing. For no matter one’s theory as to how John composed his Gospel, it is apparent that he had a large amount of material from which to choose. If John was aware of the Synoptics as he was writing, which is probable (see Bauckham 1997a, esp. 147– 71; Köstenberger 2009, 553– 55), then he could reasonably be expected to assume much of the material they contain.

On the other hand, if John wrote without knowledge of the Synoptics, then it is likely that at least some of the differences can be attributed to the large amount of material from which he had to choose. This corresponds with what John later writes: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book’ (20: 30). Craig Blomberg rightly notes, ‘Any two ancient historians’ accounts of a given person or period of history differ from each other at least as much as John does from the Synoptics, when they do not rely on common sources for their information’ (Blomberg 2007, 207).

In addition, it stands to reason that John had his own theological emphases and unique perception of the significance of the events surrounding Jesus, not to mention his own individuality, style, interests, and distinctive eyewitness recollection from which to draw.

If the raising of Lazarus really did occur, why would the other Gospel authors fail to include it in their biographies? Surely an event of this significance would necessitate inclusion, the critics argue.  Köstenberger disagrees:

Why does an event require multiple attestations in the Gospels to be considered historical? Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs a host of miracles, including raising people from the dead (an admittedly rare feature), so critics certainly cannot legitimately argue that Lazarus’ resurrection fails to comport with the general Synoptic portrait of Jesus. Although it is impossible to know for certain why a given author selects or omits particular material in his or her account, one possible reason for the omission of the story of Lazarus in the other Gospels is their focus on Galilee (the raising of Lazarus takes place in Judea). Also, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham (2006, 184– 87) cites favorably G. Theissen’s theory of ‘protective anonymity,’ according to which the evangelists sought to shield individuals who were still living from persecution by not naming them. If Lazarus was still alive when the Synoptic Gospels were written, but died in the interim between their publication and the composition of John’s Gospel, this, likewise, may account for the Synoptic non-inclusion of the account and John’s inclusion of it. Lazarus’s death would have meant he no longer needed protection from persecution, so that John was free to include the account of his raising from the dead by Jesus.

Commentary on John 11 (Raising of Lazarus)

Jesus and his disciples have previously left Jerusalem to escape the hostility Jesus was facing there. Many scholars believe that they are staying in the region of Batanea, which is about one hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus receives word that his friend, Lazarus, is ill. Lazarus lives with his two sisters, Mary and Martha, in a town called Bethany, which is about two miles east of Jerusalem. When Jesus hears about Lazarus, he assures his disciples that through Lazarus’ illness, God will be glorified.

Two days later, Jesus announces that he is going back to Judea, the province in which Jerusalem and Bethany are located. His disciples, fearful for his safety, ask him why he is returning. He answers that Lazarus is dead and Jesus wants to go to him. Jesus adds, mysteriously, that he is glad he wasn’t there with Lazarus before he died, so that his disciples might believe. Thomas (one of Jesus’ disciples), not understanding what Jesus is talking about, resigns himself to go with Jesus, even though he fears that all the disciples may be killed by the Jewish authorities.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he learns that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The fourth day after death is an important milestone for Jews at this time. Jews believed a person’s soul would hover over the dead body for three days, trying to return to the body. After three days, when decomposition had set in, the soul would depart. In other words, there was no question that Lazarus was dead four days after he was buried. If it had been one to three days, there would have been some doubt as to whether he was actually deceased.

Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters comes to meet Jesus and bemoans the fact that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died. She has presumably seen Jesus heal sick people and she assumes he would have done the same for Lazarus.

Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, but she thinks he is referring to the future resurrection of all believers when the messianic kingdom begins. Jesus responds by saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he just said, and she replies, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Martha affirms her belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah, and as a man who has a unique relationship with God.

What does Jesus mean by saying he is the resurrection and the life? D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , writes:

Jesus has repeatedly mentioned resurrection on the last day (5:21, 25–29; 6:39–40). In this he has been in line with mainstream Judaism. But these references have also insisted that he alone, under the express sanction of the Father, would raise the dead on the last day. The same truth is now repeated in the pithy claim, I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus’ concern is to divert Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in him who alone can provide it. Just as he not only gives the bread from heaven (6:27) but is himself the bread of life (6:35), so also he not only raises the dead on the last day (5:21, 25ff.) but is himself the resurrection and the life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him.

Note that as soon as a person believes in Jesus, eternal life begins. That is why Jesus can refer to a person physically dying, but yet still living. Eternal life does not start after death, but immediately upon believing in Jesus. The person who has eternal life will never experience a permanent death.

Martha then returns to her home to get Mary, her sister, and bring her to Jesus. The mourners who are comforting Mary rise and follow them. Apparently Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were wealthy because quite a few people had come from Jerusalem to mourn with Mary and Martha.

Mary repeats what Martha had said to Jesus, that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if Jesus had arrived while Lazarus was alive. This time, however, Jesus reacts to her weeping, and the weeping of the mourners, with indignation and then weeping of his own. Why did Jesus react with anger and indignation, and then weeping?

Carson offers two interpretations:

Some think that Jesus is moved by their grief, and is consequently angry with the sin, sickness and death in this fallen world that wreaks so much havoc and generates so much sorrow. Others think that the anger is directed at the unbelief itself. The men and women before him were grieving like pagans, like ‘the rest of men, who have no hope’ (1 Thes. 4:13). Profound grief at such bereavement is natural enough; grief that degenerates to despair, that pours out its loss as if there were no resurrection, is an implicit denial of that resurrection.

Notice that nobody, including Jesus’ disciples, Martha, Mary, or the Jewish mourners understand who Jesus is and what his mission is. They accept that he can heal, but they do not even consider that he can raise a man from the dead. They do not fully understand that he has been sent by God to conquer sin and death. Gerald Borchert, in vol. 25A, John 1–11, The New American Commentary , agrees:

The other places in the Gospels where such a depth of Jesus’ emotions were expressed are specifically places related to his mission: the places where he groaned over the failure of Jerusalem to come to him (cf. Matt 23:37–39; Luke 13:34–35), where he prayed for his disciples’ safety and future (cf. John 17:9–26), and where he wrestled with his death and the disciples’ weaknesses (cf. Matt 26:37–41; Mark 13:33–37; Luke 22:40–46; John 12:27–28). Accordingly, I would maintain that Jesus’ weeping here is directly related to the failure of his followers to recognize his mission as the agent of God. God’s Son was in their midst. They really missed the point.

Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and instructs the crowd to remove the stone which is covering the entrance to the tomb. Martha, not understanding what Jesus is about to do, warns Jesus that removing the stone is a mistake because Lazarus’ decaying body will stink.

Jesus reminds her that because she believes in him, she will see the glory of God. Jesus speaks a short prayer to God the Father, thanking Him for hearing Jesus. He then yells at the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and the onlookers unbind him from his graveclothes.

Carson explains that the

corpse was customarily laid on a sheet of linen, wide enough to envelop the body completely and more than twice the length of the corpse. The body was so placed on the sheet that the feet were at one end, and then the sheet was drawn over the head and back down to the feet. The feet were bound at the ankles, and the arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth (soudarion, a loan-word from the Latin sudarium, ‘sweat-cloth’, often worn in life around the neck). Jesus’ body was apparently prepared for burial in the same way (cf. 19:40; 20:5, 7). A person so bound could hop and shuffle, but scarcely walk. Therefore when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, and the dead man came out, Jesus promptly gave the order, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

The Chronological Study Bible explains the significance of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the turning point in John’s Gospel. Not only is this miracle the last of the ‘signs’ emphasized by John . . . , it is also the climax of Jesus’ public ministry. Repeatedly John mentions how this miracle revealed Jesus and led people to believe (11: 4, 15, 25– 27, 40, 42, 45). Raising Lazarus from the dead dramatically concluded Jesus’ public ministry among the Jews (11: 54). While some came to believe in Him because of this great miracle, His opponents, alarmed at Jesus’ growing popularity, resolved ‘to put Him to death’ (11: 53). A threat of execution had already hung over Jesus (11: 8, 16), but now the religious authorities decided that His popularity threatened to provoke intervention by the Roman military. The priest Caiaphas advised that Jesus must die so that the Romans would not take away the privileges of the Jewish nation (11: 48). But John interprets the priest’s political calculation as an indirect prophecy that Jesus would die for the salvation of the Jews and of people everywhere who would believe in Him (11: 51, 52).

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan)

Jesus is teaching and, within the crowd, an expert in the Old Testament stands up to challenge him. He asks Jesus a common question among Jews of the day: What do I do to guarantee I will be accepted into the kingdom of God when the end of the age arrives?

This question most likely references the description of the end times in Daniel 12:2. Daniel wrote, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The lawyer wants to see how Jesus will answer this question, probably hoping to catch Jesus in an error.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks the lawyer what his reading of the Law is on this important subject. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which effectively command a person to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, provides some interesting background:

The expert’s answer consisted of two OT passages. The first (Deut 6:5) was called the Shema because it begins ‘Hear, O Israel.’ A devout Jew would repeat it twice each day (Ber. 1:1–4). In the Shema three prepositional phrases describe the total response of love toward God. These involve the heart (emotions), the soul (consciousness), and strength (motivation). The Synoptic Gospels all have ‘heart’ and ‘soul,’ Matthew omits strength, and all add ‘mind’ (intelligence). The second OT passage in the lawyer’s answer is Lev 19:18. It is found also in Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8. In Luke the two OT passages are combined into a single command, whereas in Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39 they are left separate. Whether these two OT passages were linked before Jesus’ time is uncertain. They appear together in the early Christian literature. That this twofold summary was basic to Jesus’ teaching is evident by its appearance in his parables (Luke 15:18, 21; 18:2; cf. also 11:42, where ‘justice’ equals ‘love your neighbor’).

Some Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus is advocating a salvation by works in this passage, but the commands to love God and love your neighbor are completely compatible and consistent with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Stein expands on this topic:

To love God means to accept what God in his grace has done and to trust in him. Faith involves more than mental assent to theological doctrines. Similarly, love is not just an emotion. Both entail an obedient trust in the God of grace and mercy. The response of love to God and of faith in God are very much the same. This intimate association between love and faith is seen most clearly in Luke 7:47, 50. For Luke, as for Paul, salvation was by grace (Acts 13:38–39) through faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), but this faith works through love (see Gal 5:6). At times the aspect of faith may need to be emphasized and at other times love.

Theologian Norman Geisler reminds us, in Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, that

True faith involves love, which is the greatest commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). Unbelievers ‘perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10). Paul speaks of ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).

The lawyer, however, demands clarification from Jesus on who exactly counts as a neighbor. Instead of giving the lawyer a direct answer, Jesus delivers a parable. In brief, a Jew traveling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. An Aaronic priest and a Levite both pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan stops to help him. The Samaritan also transports him to an inn and pays for him to stay several weeks until he heals.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was remote and dangerous. It was a 3,000 feet descent along a 17- mile road. There were plenty of places for robbers to hide.

Once the man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, a temple priest (a descendant of Aaron) happens by. Why did the priest fail to help the man? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, speculates:

Since the man was ‘half dead’ the priest would probably not have been able to be certain whether he was dead or not without touching him. But if he touched him and the man was in fact dead, then he would have incurred the ceremonial defilement that the Law forbade (Lev. 21:1ff.). He could be sure of retaining his ceremonial purity only by leaving the man alone. He could be sure he was not omitting to help a man in need only by going to him. In this conflict it was ceremonial purity that won the day. Not only did he not help, he went to the other side of the road. He deliberately avoided any possibility of contact.

A man from the tribe of Levi then comes upon the man, but he also continues without helping him. Robert Stein explains:

The Levite was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests in various sacrificial duties and policing the temple but could not perform the sacrificial acts. Luke was not suggesting that since the Levite’s duties were inferior to those of a priest he might have been more open to help because the problem of becoming defiled was less acute. Rather he was emphasizing that neither the wise and understanding (10:21) nor the proud and ruling (1:51–52) practice being loving neighbors.

Finally, a Samaritan man arrives and has compassion on the injured Jew. He binds his wounds and treats them with wine and oil. Wine was used for cleaning wounds, due to the alcohol in it, and the oil was used to provide pain relief.

The Samaritan goes even further, though. He places the man on his donkey and carries him to an inn where he can rest and heal. He offers enough money to the innkeeper for the man to be able to stay for several weeks.

The fact that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero in the parable is shocking to his audience. It is worthwhile to remind the reader of the history between the Jews and Samaritans. Stein writes:

The united kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death due to the foolishness of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12). The ten northern tribes formed a nation known variously as Israel, Ephraim, or (after the capital city built by Omri) Samaria. In 722 b.c. Samaria fell to the Assyrians, and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish peoples were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted, and the ‘rebels’ became ‘half-breeds’ in the eyes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. (Jews comes from the term Judea.) After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. When their offer of assistance was rejected, they sought to impede its building (Ezra 4–6; Neh 2–4). The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, but led by John Hyrcanus the Jews destroyed it in 128 b.c. (cf. John 4:20–21). So great was Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ (John 8:48; cf. also 4:9).

When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer who was the true neighbor to the Jew who had been robbed. The lawyer, without being able to say the word “Samaritan,” nevertheless identifies the Samaritan as the true neighbor.

The message is clear. The command to love our neighbor crosses ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Stein comments:

For most Jews a neighbor was another Jew, not a Samaritan or a Gentile. The Pharisees (John 7:49) and the Essenes did not even include all Jews (1QS 1:9–10). The teaching of the latter stands in sharp contrast with that of Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love everyone as we love ourselves, including those whom we consider our enemies.

Is Jesus Claiming to Be Eternally Preexistent in John 8:58?

Not according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus is not God, but the archangel Michael. Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes frame the issue well in their book When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations.

In John 8:58 (nasb) we read, ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”’ By contrast, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation reads, ‘Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”’ This indicates that Jesus was preexistent but not eternally preexistent (certainly not as the great I Am of the Old Testament).

Has the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) correctly translated verse 58? Have Christians been misunderstanding this verse for two thousand years? Geisler and Rhodes explain:

Greek scholars agree that the Watchtower Society has no justification for translating ego eimi in John 8:58 as ‘“I have been’ (a translation that masks its connection to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals his name to be I Am). The Watchtower Society once attempted to classify the Greek word eimi as a perfect indefinite tense to justify this translation—but Greek scholars have responded by pointing out that there is no such thing as a perfect indefinite tense in the Greek.

The words ego eimi occur many times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the New World Translation elsewhere translates ego eimi correctly (as in John 4:26; 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 28; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5; and 18:5, 6, 8). Only in John 8:58 does the mistranslation occur. The Watchtower Society is motivated to translate this verse differently in order to avoid it appearing that Jesus is the great I Am of the Old Testament. Consistency and scholarly integrity calls for John 8:58 to be translated the same way as all the other occurrences of ego eimi—that is, as ‘I am.’

Finally, as noted above, I Am is the name God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15. The name conveys the idea of eternal self-existence. Yahweh never came into being at a point in time, for he has always existed. To know Yahweh is to know the eternal one. It is therefore understandable that when Jesus made the claim to be I Am, the Jews immediately picked up stones with the intention of killing Jesus, for they recognized he was implicitly identifying himself as Yahweh.

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