Chapter 9 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

9:1-11 Here Luke summarizes the instructions that Jesus gave when he sent the twelves apostles out on their first mission (a fuller version is in Matthew 10:5-42). What interests Luke as a doctor is that the apostles were given "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (9:1). We have already commented on this power in five previous situations that Jesus faced (4:36, 5:17, 6:19, 7:6-8, 8:46), and we will be noting Luke's reference to "deeds of power" (10:13),and the Holy Spirit as the "finger of God" (11:20-22). Luke has also made clear that the power that enabled Jesus to do his work was not by his own strength and ability but by depending on the power of the Holy Spirit (4:14,18). This is expounded more fully in Paul's Epistle (Romans 1:4, 16, 8:11, 14:17, 15:13, 19). Similarly John made clear that it was power of the Wind of God that Nicodemus, the great Rabbi, lacked (John 3:7-8). This shows that the teaching about the Holy Spirit at the last supper was a reminder that the power the apostles had already experienced in their missions would take them through what they would soon face (John 14:29, 15:4,26, 16:7,12). We can conclude that the same power that Jesus called upon, and empowered the apostles (9:1), is available for us today. Which suggests that the powerlessness of our modern churches is due to relying on human means and techniques as alternatives to the power of the Holy Spirit.

9:1 When the seventy were sent out (10:1) they were sent in pairs (as in Mark 6:7). People had commented that "with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come" (4:36 as in 5:17). Now Jesus has imparted this same authority and power to the apostles for their mission. In the introduction to this section (above) we have seen how Luke identifies this power of the Lord to preach and to heal as the power of the Holy Spirit.

9:2 They were to proclaim the Kingdom of God (as in 4:43, 9:11). The good news (7:22, 8:9) of the Kingdom is that the Messiah King of the Kingdom is the eternal Son of God (see note on 1:35, 2:11, 3:23, he has taken birth in our world, and demonstrated his love by healing and blessing afflicted people, and assuring them of forgiveness (4:18-19,5:24, 6:20-21,7:22, 47).

9:3 The instructions are to travel as light as possible. And the reason is that the apostles are to stay in homes where they are welcomed and provided for (9:4). Mark's Gospel allows "except only for staff" (Mark 6:8), which may refer to a walking stick to help on rough roads, or to fight off wild dogs? Luke records that even a staff is mostly not needed.

9:4-5 Among very poor people the accepting of food and a bed for the night may seem like an imposition, but there are many reports of missionaries being invited to stay in a home, and as a result the whole family has come to faith. But where there is a bad welcome, the apostles are to move on. When the seventy were sent out they were told to give the same sign of shaking the dust off their feet (10:11), and Paul also continued the practice of shaking the dust off his feet in his missionary work (Acts 13:51). The symbolism was obviously understood among Jews, but it would mean nothing in our day.

9:6 The mission of the twelve was successfully completed (9:10). Jesus had concentrated on the synagogues of each town (4:15, 43, 6:6) and also visited some villages (8:1). But now many more remote villages were reached with the good news (compare Paul's method in Acts 19:9-10 & 1 Thessalonians 1:8). Meanwhile Jesus continued his own ministry in the cities (Matthew 11:1). Soon a further sending out of 70 missionaries would be needed (10:1), and they also "returned with joy, saying, Lord in your name even the demons submit to us" (10:17).

9:7-9 We noted that Luke recorded the imprisonment of John the Baptist (3:20) but did not give the circumstances of his death. But by now John has obviously been beheaded (as described in Matthew 14:10, Mark 6:27). We can imagine Herod being troubled with a guilty conscience, and one explanation given to him for Jesus's ministry was that he was a resurrection of John the Baptist. Herod was apparently unable to see the Lord at this time, and Luke tells us how on the day of the crucifixion Herod was glad when Pilate sent Jesus to him, and had him humiliated (23:6-12).

9:10-11 When the disciples came back to Jesus in Capernaum (see note on 4:1), he looked for quiet place in a home in Bethsaida, the town across the Jordan. But the crowd soon found him there, and Jesus preached and healed their sick (as in 4:40). To escape the crowd Mark tells us that Jesus then said "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile" (Mark 6:30-31). Obviously in the business of our lives we also need times of rest and renewal. But when the crowd found him there, he welcomed them and gave further teaching about the Kingdom (9:2).

9:12-17 The Feeding of the Five Thousand

9:12 Luke does not tell us of the move from Bethsaida to a deserted place, but he agrees with the other three Gospels that the feeding of the 5000 was not in the city. By the afternoon the twelve obviously needed some quiet, and they asked Jesus to send the crowd away to go and find food and lodging.

9:13 When Jesus told the disciples to provide food for the crowd (Mark 6:37, which was a challenge and test, John 6:6) the disciples made a quick calculation that it would take the equivalent of 200 days of wages to buy that much pita bread (Mark 9:37, John 6:7). When we face serious problems we also think up human solutions, instead of relying on his miraculous power. It is only John who remembered that the five little barley loaves and two fish were brought by a boy in his lunch bag, and his faith was greater than that of the apostles (John 6:9).

9:14-15 Jesus did not want the confusion of everyone milling around grabbing for food, and so he had the disciples organize the 5000 families (Matthew 9:51) to be seated in groups of fifty ("on the green grass" and in groups of hundreds and fifties, Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:40). Paul commented that "all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40).

9:16 Commentators on the liturgy of a communion service divide what Jesus did into five actions :seating, taking, blessing, breaking the bread, giving.

9:17 After the crowd "ate and were filled" the remaining broken pieces were collected in twelve picnic baskets (kophinoi). In the feeding of the 4000 (omitted as redundant for his purposes by Luke) seven large baskets (spuridas, which were big enough for Paul to be lowered from the wall of Damascus, Acts 9:25) were needed to collect the broken pieces of bread (Matthew 15:37, Mark 8:8).

9:18-27 Peter's Confession and Taking up the Cross

The fuller account of Peter's confession records that Peter said "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Luke gives the confession as "The Messiah of God" but he has already made clear that Jesus is the Son of God (1:32, 35,3:22, 4:3, 9,41, 8:28, see 9:35, 10:22, 20:13, 22:70) The Greek word Christos is correctly translated as "Messiah" (in NRSV 2:11, 26, 3:15, 20:41, 22:67, 23:2, 23:35,39, 24:26, 46, as in Matthew 1:1, 16,18 and throughout the Gospels. Inexplicably the translators revert to the Greek term "Christ" in the Epistles, Romans 1:1, 4, etc).

9:18-20 As Jesus was praying alone the Holy Spirit prompted him to challenge the disciples as to his identity. First he asks what the crowds were saying, then he becomes more personal, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter's confession is that Jesus is none other than the King Messiah, Lord of Hosts, spoken of by the prophets as reigning among the nations (see Isaiah 2:4, 5, 17, 3:1, 6:3, 7:18-20, 10:12,24, 13:9-13,14:22, etc.)

9:21-22 The disciples were not to talk about him as the Lord King Messiah, Lord of Hosts, but they were to announce his inevitable crucifixion and death as Son of Man. This is the first of three prophecies of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection (see 9:44, 18:32-33, Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34).

9:23 There is the paradox that on the one hand we have an awesome freedom (John 8:32, 36, Galatians 5:1) to engage in loving in any one of many different ways. On the other hand any kind of  loving (parents for children, children for parents, care for the oppressed, Good Samaritan love, church planting love like Paul, any service in a Christian congregation) is going to be very costly. The Romans forced prisoners to carry their own cross to the place of execution. As a result "taking up one's cross"  became a common metaphor for engaging in a costly course of action. The word "daily" suggests a daily commitment to the Lord's service.

9:24-25 In addition to the paradox of freedom (9:23), there is also the paradox that those who want to coddle themselves, and avoid any costly involvement, may survive comfortably for a while but ultimately they miss the joy of the Lord's service.

9:26-27 This is one of the verses that refer to the coming of the Lord (reigning in his kingdom) in the generation that ended in AD 70 (11: 51, 21:32, Matthew 23:36, 24:34, Mark 13:30). On the one hand the King is already present (10:9,11) but his coming to deal with Jerusalem and the world-wide growth of the church is still in the future forty years later (13:28-29, 17:20-21, 24-30, 21:27-28, see Matthew 24:31,28:18). The apostles will "see the kingdom of God" when they see the Messiah's intervention in the destruction of the temple and the world-wide growth of the church (see 21:31-32, Matthew 24:30-31)

9:28-45 The Transfiguration

9:28 Peter, James, and John (as in 8:51) were a kind of inner circle of close friends among the twelve apostles. Jesus invited them to pray with him (as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33).

9:29 Matthew reports that Jesus' face "shone like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). We are familiar with the ordinary experience of transfiguration when someone becomes radiant with happiness. And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai he "did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God" (Exodus 34:29). The sight was so awesome that whenever Moses talked to the Lord he had to cover his face with a veil (Exodus 34:33-35, see Stephen's transfiguration in Acts 6:15).

9:30 All three synoptic Gospels report that Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4). From the raising of Samuel by the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:11-14) we know that it was possible for the dead in sheol to be temporarily resurrected. In the case of Samuel this was an unwelcome disturbance (1 Samuel 28:15). If Moses and Elijah were raised from sheol, we can imagine it was a joyful anticipation of the resurrection from sheol that took place when Jesus died (Matthew 27:52, Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-19)when his dead body was still on the cross). But since the bodies of Moses and Elijah were never found, it seems more likely that they never descended into sheol (the abode of the dead awaiting the resurrection), but enjoyed the resurrection before their time (as did Enoch, Genesis 5:22-24).

9:31-32 Luke must have asked Peter what was the topic of this conversation, and Luke alone reported that "they appeared in glory and were speaking of his exodus (the victory of the new Exodus, 1 Corinthians 10:2-4, 2 Corinthians 2:14), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." Peter must also have explained that he and the other two apostles "were weighed down with sleep" but managed to keep awake, or be awakened, to see the transfiguration. The whole experience must have left an indelible impression on Peter (2 Peter 2:16-18).

9:33 All three synoptic Gospels report that Peter wanted to make "three dwellings" (nomadic tents, booths) presumably for the three persons to remain in shrines with them, but this was "not knowing what he said" (as in Mark 9:6).

9:34 The cloud (sign of God's presence) was even more terrifying (as 21:27, Acts 1:9, see also Exodus 13:21, 16:10, 19:9, 24:18, 34:5, Numbers 11:25, Revelation 1:7).

9:35 All three synoptic Gospels report the words from heaven, "This is my Son, my Chosen" ("beloved" in Matthew 17:6, Mark 9:7, as in 2 Peter 1:17). This repeats the words at Jesus' baptism, 3:23, Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11.

9:36 We can imagine the silence after these words, but Luke adds that at that time "they told no one of any of the things they had seen." Mark records "he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9). Presumably Peter recalled the occasion when Mark was writing his Gospel from Peter's point of view.

9:37 The mountain top experience was soon interrupted by the crowd as they came down. Mark records that "some scribes were arguing with the disciples" who had not gone up the mountain (Mark 9:14).

9:38-39 There was also a man whose only son was spirit possessed. Luke describes the medical symptoms as shrieking, convulsions, foaming at the mouth, being mauled (being dashed to the ground, Mark 9:18, epileptic falling into fire or water, Matthew 17:15).

9:40 The man had brought the boy to the disciples, but they were not able to help him (as in Matthew 17:16, Mark 9:18).

9:41-43 Jesus rebuked the disciples for being "faithless and perverse" and appears to have been very impatient with them. They should have been able to deal with the possessing spirit (see their lack of faith, Matthew 17:19-21, lack of prayer, Mark 9:28-29). He then told the man to bring the boy to him and immediately he fell into a severe convulsion. Mark adds that Jesus asked the father how long this had gone on, and he said "from childhood." The man then said "if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us" and Jesus said "If you are able! - all things can be done for the one who believes." The father cried out "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:21-24). Luke merely reports that "Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit," the boy was healed, and the crowd was astonished (as in 5:26,7:16).

9:44-45 The disciples might have been tempted to announce this great success, but Jesus immediately gave them the second warning of his imminent betrayal (see note on 9:22). The disciples could not understand, and were afraid to ask about this unwelcome outcome in their leader's ministry.

9:46-62 Following the King in his Mission

Luke concludes this chapter with examples of problems that disciples faced as they tried to follow Jesus.

9:46 Instead of grasping the way of the cross, the disciples argued about "which one of them was the greatest."

9:47-48 To cut this discussion off at the root Jesus took a little child, and said that welcoming a little child was like welcoming him, and welcoming him was like welcoming God the Father. That meant that "the least among all of you is the greatest" (see 22:26). Later Luke will note that the need to become childlike is an essential characteristic of the Kingdom (18:17, see Matthew 18:2-4, Mark 10:14-15).

9:49-50 The disciples also wanted to stop someone who was casting out demons in Jesus' name, but Jesus widened the circle of those doing the work of the kingdom to any who were doing kingdom work. This speaks clearly against the idea that people must belong to our denomination if we are to recognize the work they do.

9:51-54 Mark recalls that Jesus called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17) which suggests they were hot headed. Perhaps the disciples remembered Elijah calling down fire from heaven to protect himself from unlawful arrest (2 Kings 1:9-15). But here they wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village who did not welcome them. The Samaritans saw that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem instead of preaching among them (see John 4:39-41).

9:55-56 Although Jesus was their gentle teacher-shepherd he could also rebuke his disciples severely (as in Matthew 16:23). He made sure the disciples let the Samaritan village alone, and moved them on to another village (see 9:5).

9:57-58 We have distinguished disciples who came for teaching when convenient and "followers" who accompanied the Messiah and served in his mission. This man had not counted the cost of leaving home, and often not having a bed to sleep on.

9:59-61 Another felt the need to remain at home till his father died, and then he planned to become a "follower." And a third needed to attend a family reunion.

9:62 In a ploughing match it is impossible to plow a straight furrow if one looks back to see how well one is doing. The secret is to concentrate on a point twenty feet ahead. "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Note: The words of this section sound harsh, but when an Everest expedition is planned one man might say "I have a bad back, and I need a special mattress." Another says "My father is old, and I want to be with him in his dying days." Another explains "There is family gathering this summer, and I want to be there." On the one hand we do not blame those who have other priorities, but obviously they are excluded from the expedition.

The same principle applies to following a revolutionary leader who sets out to free his country from oppression. Extremism was also considered normal for artists, explorers, secret service agents and the like. Jesus' point is that service in the Messiah's mission requires priorities that others may consider unreasonable (see Paul's commitment, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, Philippians 3:8-11).

We do not exclude anyone from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), or the assurance of heaven, but many exclude themselves from the honor of serving the King in his Kingdom. A value judgment to choose his costly service does not condemn those who make other choices.

Chapter 10 .....