Chapter 12 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

12:1-12 Essentials for Christian Service

In the face of Pharisee opposition (11:53-54), Luke now summarizes what Jesus said was needed for the disciples to engage in their mission. Their message must be openly transparent, as opposed to doctrine that is kept secret from the world (as in some forms of Gnosticism). Death is not to be feared, only hellish compromise with evil. Faith is in God who knows our situation, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be sufficient to guide and empower us.

12:1 The crowds were now becoming huge (literally myriads meaning tens of thousand) with the danger of people being trampled. Rather than being concerned for the crowds, Jesus warns his disciples of what is needed to meet the needs of the world. They had to "Beware of the yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6, 11-12). And one aspect of the Pharisaic yeast was hypocrisy. Our hypocrisy is still the main complaint people have against church people.

12:2-3 We are imperfect servants (like Peter, Thomas and Judas) and the attempt to paper over our faults will inevitably be exposed. Better be honest and admit our frailty. Nor is our teaching to be kept secret from the world. We should have nothing to hide.

12:4 We should not fear martyrdom. All that is lost when someone kills us is the temporary body we use in this world. But "apart from that" (not "after that") enemies cannot harm us.

12:5 What we must beware of is the person (not God or Satan) who "apart from death" itself can cause us (here exousia means ability, capability) to make shipwreck of our lives (as in Matthew 10:28). This is a common hazard in our day for prominent Christian workers - they do not deny the faith, but get trapped into immorality, drugs, alcoholism, or financial mismanagement. The translation "hell" is misleading. The word (as noted in the NRSV margin) is gehenna (ge hinnom, valley of Hinnom), which was the garbage dump below the south wall of Jerusalem. As cinders and rotting garbage were thrown into it, perpetual fires would burn on a dry day and maggots crawled when it rained (Mark 9:48). That awful dump was used to picture terrible earthly consequences, as when someone was thrown out from a wedding and pitched over the wall into the stinking mess below (Matthew 22:13). We are not to fear God (1 John 4:18) but we are to beware of the person who can plausibly turn aside from God's way (even Jesus had to rebuke Peter, Matthew 16:22-23).

A note on hell. Gehenna is metaphorical of earthly consequences, not a literal place of eternal torment. There is no evidence that Jesus used it to refer to God sending us to burn in hell. It is much simpler to view it as referring to those who lead us into the shipwreck of humiliating others (Matthew 5:22), adultery (Matthew 5:27-30), or child abuse (Matthew 18:6-9, Mark 9:42-48). The word hell (gehenna) is never used in Paul, or Peter or John's Epistles (James 3:5 refers to our tongues being set on fire). And the epistles never warn of eternal damnation (at first sight Jude 13 seems to suggest this, but the context in Jude 15 refers to earthly consequences). The idea of a place prepared by God for us to burn in for ever belongs to Islam, not in the love of God. Similarly the word Hades used to be translated "hell" but in every case Hades is the abode of the dead (Old Testament sheol). It simply means the death of the body, which is nothing to do with the eternal state (The Messiah's first act after his resurrection, when his corpse was still on the cross, was to empty sheol and end it for ever, Matthew 27:52-53, Ephesians 4:9, 1 Peter 3:19. The end of sheol is described in Revelation 20:14, took place in the past, not some time in the future).

12:6-7 People may kill our bodies, or we eventually die of other causes, but while we are alive we have the security that God knows every detail of our needs. If little birds are included in his concerns, he values us infinitely more as his children.

12:8-9 Matthew's Gospel has "whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:33), which suggests that if we reject God's Son, we remove ourselves from the Father's special care. And since angels are God's messengers and representatives (see comment on 1:26 concerning the angel Gabriel) Jesus warns us we can also remove ourselves from their protection by unbelief. Atheists do not report angelic intervention in their lives, except as reported in our day when devout Muslims are being brought to faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

12:10 Even more serious than speaking against the Son of God is an outright rejection of the Holy Spirit by calling his gracious work evil (see 11:15). For anyone who defines good as evil, it would be impossible to enjoy heaven (John 3:19, see C.S.Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1945).

12:11-12 But for those who look to the Spirit for wisdom and inspiration, he is the advocate (advocatus, one called alongside to help), in whatever persecution we have to face (see Matthew 10:17-20). . We will be given the words we need to defend ourselves and give our witness..

12:13-34 The hazard of concern about money in Christian service When someone asked Jesus to settle a dispute about the family inheritance, Jesus refused to intervene. Instead he used the occasion to explain how easily our work for the Kingdom is spoiled by our concern for money (as in the parable of the Sower, 8:14, 1 Timothy 6:10, 2 Timothy 4:10). And here Jesus used the parable of the rich farmer (which he probably used in other contexts) with teaching he gave in the Sermon on the Mount.

12:13-14 The death of the head of a family is a frequent cause of family quarrels about the inheritance. And here Jesus is asked as a Rabbi to intervene. But that kind of family counseling is not part of Jesus' agenda.

12:15 Instead he warns us to watch out for any sign of greed when possessions or money are involved. A good safeguard is to live simply, and avoid an abundance of possessions. To illustrate this Jesus told a powerful parable.

12:16-20 This rich farmer can only think of building greater barns (the Greek word includes what we think of as storehouses and warehouses) for his abundant crops. He looks forward to the day when he can relax and enjoy it all. As in his case, being hit with a heart attack or financial disaster is the only way of clarifying our mind to see what is important in life.

12:21 In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus' use of the word "treasure" shows how our treasure is a matter of the heart. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21). In this verse Jesus is not complaining about the rich, but those who are not rich towards God.

12:22 This section (12:22-31) is just about identical with the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-33) which shows that both Matthew and Luke used the same collection of Greek sayings of Jesus (usually called the document Q). It seems that Matthew the tax collector took down Jesus' teaching verbatim in Aramaic, and his notes were translated into Greek and incorporated in the two Gospels. Jesus tells us not to be anxious, and Paul wrote "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). But this does not means sitting idle. "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living" (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11).

12:23 Jesus has already said "Be on your guard against all kind of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (12:15). Now he adds that life is much more than constant worry about food and clothing.

12:24 We should consider how crows (birds of the air in Matthew 6:26) live their lives. They are not concerned about collecting food for the future in barns. But God has arranged for them go out and find what they need every day. How much more does he make provision for his children to receive and earn what we need.

12:25-26 The literal translation is "can you by worrying add a cubit (a forearm, approximately 18 inches) to your stature?" But this expression was also used metaphorically of adding an hour to one's life. Either sense reminds us that worry does not add to one's bodily size or to the length of one's life. Why then should we be anxiously worried about anything else? These verses demonstrate Jesus' deep understanding of human nature, our constant temptation to worry about food, clothes, money, and health.

12:27-28 The beauty of flowers is given to them. They do not have to spin and weave their glory, which is far more beautiful than the royal robes of Solomon. And, though we might on occasion be financially poor, God can make each of us beautiful in our own way. Jesus slips in "you of little faith" - all anxiety is lack of faith in a totally loving God.

12:29-31 Unlike other peoples (Gentiles in Matthew 6:32), we are not to fuss and worry. If we do our work in the Kingdom of the Messiah (put that first, Matthew 6:33), the Father takes care of his servants.

12:32 The Lord calls himself the shepherd of his flock (John 10:14, Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25, as in Psalm 23:1), but here he calls his few loyal disciples the "little flock." They are small in number but through them the Kingdom (12:31) will grow throughout the world.

12:33-34 Our treasure is not in our temporary possessions or bank account but in the final outcome of our lives in heaven. And it is easy to see what is important to us by our heart longings. What do we keep putting our trust in?

12:35-48 Readiness in the Lord's service  - "Be dressed for action" translates "let your loins be girded" which refers to the long garment which is tucked in around the waist to leave the legs free to work and run. In the west we are no longer able to picture the work of a faithful servant in his master's household. Here Luke gathers together various pictures of what that involves. We also see how a faithful slave or servant may be entrusted with greater responsibility as a steward in charge of other servants.

12:35-38 When they await their master, servants are ready dressed (their long garment tucked in to leave their legs free) and they have the oil lamps trimmed (see Mark 13:32-37). In our day dressed for action might be wearing the proper uniform, the appropriate work clothes, or the readiness to do the Lord's business.. It would never be the custom for a master to wait on his servants, but Jesus turns this around to suggest his pleasure when we do his work and are ready to do the next task in our service for his Kingdom (12:31).

12:39-40 Again Jesus uses a reverse metaphor, or parable with a twist in it (see 6:39, 7:41-42, 8:16, 10:33, 11:11-12, 21-26). The Lord is not a thief, but just as a thief may come at an unexpected time, so the Lord can call on us to serve him when we are least expecting it

12:41-46 Peter wants to know whether this teaching is for everyone or only for the twelve apostles? (Jesus's answer is almost identical with Matthew 24:45-51, and therefore using a common source, see 12:22). Whereas Matthew locates this section in relation to preparedness for the approaching fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:1, 45-51), Luke makes clear it refers to readiness for the Lord's coming in the crises of our lives at any time. He also uses the word manager (steward, 12:42) to introduce the idea of our stewardship in the work of the Kingdom (see 16:2, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 1 Peter 4:10). Rather than the literal "cut in pieces" (12:46), the second half of the verse ("put him with the unfaithful") suggests the metaphorical "dismiss him from service."

12:47-48 We cannot imagine the Lord giving us a literal physical beating, but it is clear there are metaphorical rewards for faithful service and bad consequences for those who misuse their stewardship. And the greater the responsibility we are given in the Kingdom, the more is required of us. We keep hearing of Christian leaders who misuse their stewardship, and suffer terrible consequences.

12:49-59 The inevitable divisiveness of Christian service  - Jesus does not promise that we will have an easy road with everyone's approval as we serve him. There will even be divisions in a family. Already there are signs of the judgment on Jerusalem, and in the light of that, people will be wise to settle their case with God.

12:49 John the Baptist had prophesied that a division was inevitable. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11-12). This must refer to his judgment on the Jewish religious establishment (see note on 11:50-51, 21:20-24, Matthew 23:32-36). Jesus is tempted to wish that was already happening, but he knows that he must first be rejected, crucified, and pass through the experience of a cruel death (see note on 9:22).

12:50 The use of the word baptism here is the same as in the metaphorical words to the sons of Zebedee. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (Mark 10:38-39). Baptism refers to going through deep waters. This use of the word connects with the baptism into Moses of the children of Israel in the terrible period before the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

12:51-53 As people respond to the Messiah or reject his invitation, the members of a household will be divided. This division may not be as outwardly obvious in our day, but it is just as painful for many in Christian service. Some are totally rejected by their family for following the Lord. This is particularly obvious in countries where there is no freedom of religion.

12:54-56. Here Jesus turns his attention from the disciples to the crowd, among whom were Pharisees (called hypocrites in 12:1, 13:15, Matthew 23:13-29). They could predict the weather from the clouds and the wind, but they had no sense of their impending doom in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus disciples would recognize the signs of the time (as in 21:20-21, Matthew 24:15-18, Mark 13:14-16), and in fact the Jewish historian Josephus records the flight of Christians who escaped from the beleaguered city. Luke will return to this topic later in the Gospel (21:7-36).

12:57-59 In the Sermon on the Mount, referring to anger and murderous thoughts, Jesus referred to the need to come to terms with an accuser in a civil law suit (Matthew 5:25-26). Here he uses the same idea as a metaphor to stress the far greater importance of the Pharisees coming to terms with God before their judgment in the fall of Jerusalem. The words about being thrown into prison and "you will never get out until you have paid the last penny" do not refer to paying for our sins in hell. They are metaphorical of the terrible consequences the Jewish leaders would face in that generation (AD 70, see 21:23 Matthew 24:21, 51, Mark 13:19).

Chapter 13  .....