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 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.

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