Tag Archives: David Garland

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.

Commentary on Mark 6 (Death of John the Baptist)

The traditional view of the Gospel of Mark is that it was written by John Mark, a follower of the apostle Peter, during his missionary travels, between AD 50-70. Most biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and that Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from it when writing their accounts. Early church fathers wrote that Mark collected his stories about Jesus’ life from Peter.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains the purposes of Mark in writing his Gospel:

Mark’s opening verse makes the Gospel’s purpose clear: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1: 1). Mark very carefully chose his language, deliberately echoing the language of the imperial ruler cult, as seen in an inscription in honor of Caesar Augustus: ‘the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good news.’ Mark challenges this imperial myth, asserting that the good news for the world began with Jesus Christ, the true Son of God (see Mark 15: 39, where the Roman centurion admits upon seeing the impressive death of Jesus: ‘This man really was God’s Son!’).

From this extraordinary claim at the beginning of his narrative, to the sudden and dramatic discovery of the empty tomb, Mark takes pains to show that Jesus is truly God’s Son, despite rejection by the religious authorities of his time and his execution at the hands of the Roman governor. The Julian emperors, whose latest and most unfortunate manifestation at the time of the publication of Mark is the demented Nero, can provide no compelling candidates for recognition as the Son of God, whose life and death are truly of benefit to humankind. To the Roman world Mark proffers Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God and by doing so encourages the faithful to remain steadfast, and enjoins the critics and opponents of the Christian faith to reconsider.

As Jesus’ ministry continues, his forerunner, the man who baptized him in the Jordan River, is executed. Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s execution in chapter six, starting in verse 14.

In verses 14-16, Mark tells his readers that King Herod hears about Jesus and becomes concerned that he is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod assumes that a raised John the Baptist would have supernatural powers and be able to perform the kinds of miracles being attributed to Jesus.

There are other rumors about Jesus, however. Some say he is the second coming of Elijah (as prophesied in Malachi 4:5) and others say he is a new prophet sent by God to the Israelite nation. Herod, though, is convinced Jesus is the John the Baptist, back from the dead.

Before we continue, who exactly is Herod? The Herod of Mark 6 is more precisely named Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great (the Herod whom the magi visited when Jesus was born) and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 BC – AD 39). When Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, died in 4 BC, his kingdom was split into three parts by the Roman emperor. Antipas was given the portion of the kingdom that encompassed the regions of Galilee and Perea (see map below from Nelson’s 3-D Bible Mapbook).

map

Antipas married Aretas, the daughter of king of the Nabateans (region in yellow above). But while visiting Rome, Antipas became infatuated with the wife of his half-brother; her name was Herodias. He promptly divorced Aretas and married Herodias (who divorced her husband as well).

Stealing his half-brother’s wife was truly scandalous and the Jews in his kingdom were horrified. John the Baptist loudly criticized the marriage as an offense against God, citing passages such as Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21.

Antipas arrests John the Baptist and places him in prison at the fortress of Machaerus (in the southern portion of Perea). According to Mark, Antipas does this because of pressure from his wife, Herodias. She despises John and wants him executed, but Antipas is hesitant to do so because he sees John as a holy man.

That would change when Antipas throws a birthday party for himself at one of his fortresses, possibly Machaerus. During the festivities, Antipas invites his teenage step-daughter to dance for a room full of drunken men. The young girl is named Salome, and she is the daughter of Herodias and her former husband.

Antipas is so pleased with her performance that he rashly offers her whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. Only the Romans could divide his kingdom, so he is making a drunken promise that he can’t even keep.

Salome goes to ask her mother what she should request, and Herodias tells her to ask for John the Baptist’s head. At this point, Antipas will be publicly embarrassed in front of the Galilean nobility and military commanders if he refuses her request, so he gives the order and John the Baptist is executed.

David Garland comments, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary):

The account reeks of gross impiety. Birthdays were pagan celebrations. Drunken revelry, a princess dancing at a stag party (she must leave to consult her mother), and execution without a trial all smack of rank paganism. The grisly detail of John’s head brought to them on a platter caps off a banquet already polluted by excess.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that John the Baptist was executed by Antipas at Machaerus. Josephus, however, stresses that John was killed for political reasons. Antipas saw John as a growing threat to his rule. Craig Evans writes:

Josephus confirms that Herod imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, but his details differ as to why exactly John was killed (Antiquities 18.116– 119). At most points the two accounts can be reconciled, and where they cannot be reconciled there is no good reason to give Josephus preference. Although Josephus chooses to emphasize the political dangers that John posed to Herod, and Mark chose to emphasize the moral dimension, the two accounts are in essential agreement. Herod’s disgraceful dismissal of his wife, the daughter of the king of the Nabateans, and his unlawful marriage to Herodias his sister-in-law prompted John’s condemnation. John’s condemnation focused on the immoral and unlawful aspects (which Mark mentions), while Herod’s fears focused on the political dangers (which Josephus narrates). Later, Josephus himself mentions the inappropriateness of Herod’s divorce and remarriage (Antiquities 18.136).

After John is executed, his disciples retrieve his body and give him a proper burial, a preview of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus both in life and death.