Rev. Dr. Edgar Mayer

Studies In Luke – Acts: The Travel Narrative – Lk 9:51-19:10 (5/2)

3.2.2 Lk 13:34-35 And Salvation For The Forsaken House

In Lk 13:34-35 Jesus announces: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" When Jesus finally receives the desired welcome and the disciples greet him in Jerusalem with the words: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" (Lk 19:38), what then happens to the forsaken house of Jerusalem? This question may be pursued because it illuminates Luke's strong focus on Jerusalem and its temple.

Luke's passion narrative clarifies that the forsaken house in Lk 13:34-35 may mean the temple in Jerusalem which experiences a transformation through Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem. When Jesus hears the desired welcome at the end of the journey he immediately proceeds to do something about the forsaken house of Jerusalem/the temple of Jerusalem: "And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them: 'It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer', but you have made it a den of robbers' And he was teaching daily in the temple ... " (Luke 19:45-48). Especially the words "My house shall be a house of prayer" prove to be programmatic for Jesus' intentions in Jerusalem. After his death, resurrection and ascension the temple has become what Jesus said that he would become – a house of prayer: "And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God" (Lk 24:52-53).

There is a problem, however. Through Jesus' passion the temple becomes a house of prayer but its future is ambivalent. Next to positive estimations of Jerusalem's temple, there are negative predicitons of judgment and destruction: " ... the day will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Lk 21:6; cf. 19:41-44; 21:20-24); "But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my had make all these things" (Acts 7:47-49). How can we unravel the apparent contradictions between the sustained positive focus on the temple where the Gospel narrative begins and ends, and the future destruction of the temple?

The following interpretation may be adopted. The temple of Jerusalem did become a house of prayer through Jesus' death and resurrection. However, the temple did not become the only house of prayer. The disciples also worshipped in their homes. Thus, the disciples could deal with the coming destruction of the temple because the temple was just one among many worship centres. The change of the temple from a den of robbers to a house of prayer in Luke's passion narrative is best understood as a paradigm for the renewal of the disciples' worship.

After Jesus' ascension the disciples by no means withdraw from the temple. They rather resist opposition and teach the whole people of Israel at the temple (Acts 2:46-47; 3:1-4:2; 5:12-16,17-42). An angel even commands them to instruct the people in the temple: "But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said: 'Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life'" (Acts 5:19-20). The disciples were so successful that their teaching in the temple reached all of Jerusalem: " ... yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching ... " (Acts 5:28; cf. 5:42).

By no means do the disciples withdraw from the temple. However, at the same time Luke is careful not to create false impressions. The temple is not the sole place of worship but worship also happens in private homes: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread at homes, ... " (Acts 2:46); "And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). Of course for the Christian Luke the equaling of temple and private homes was possible because the sacrificial side of temple worship which involved the slaughtering of animals ceased to be important.

From this angle we can understand the severe criticism of the temple in the speech of Stephen: "But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things" (Acts 7:47-49). The disciples did not withdraw from the temple but attack its exclusivity.

A careful reading of the trial and speech of Stephen in Acts 6:8-8:1 reveals Luke's understanding of the temple. Stephen faces the following accusation: "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us" (Acts 6:13-14). In this instance Luke uses the ambigious word "place/topos" for the temple (cf. Acts 21:28). He uses this word because in the subsequent speech of Stephen, he takes up the word "place/topos" and clarifies that not the temple but the entire land is the promised "place/topos" of worship.

Right at the beginning of Stephen's speech Luke instructs that the covenant with Abraham would result in the following blessing: " .. and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place/topos" (Acts 7:7). According to this rendition of salvation history the place/topos of importance is not the temple but the entire promised land. The place/topos of worship was not meant to be just the temple but the entire place/topos of the country. [To this effect Luke modifies Genesis 15:14 and Exodus 3:12, the Old Testament sources of Acts 7:6-7, so that the place/topos of the land becomes prominent.] Thus, the future destruction of the temple building can be dealt with, because worship is not restricted to a house made with hands.

4. Acceptance And Rejection Of The Traveling Jesus

The exegesis of Lk 9:51-56; 19:1-10 and 13:31-35 already pointed out how the theme of acceptance and rejection dominates the travel narrative. A summary description of the various other pericopes confirms even further that the traveling Jesus engages in mission work which makes people either accept or reject him. The brevity of the summary descriptions will fail to do justice to the wealth of material in the travel narrative, i.e. the narrative's teaching character for the post-easter church, but the dominant dynamic of acceptance and rejection will become clear enough.

5. The Typological Background Of The Travel Narrative

Now we investigate whether the travel narrative displays a suitable typological background which continues the typological chain of events in Luke 9–24: "Feeding with Manna" (Lk 9:10b-17); "Mount Sinai" (Lk 9:18-36); "Golden Calf" (Lk 9:37-50); "???" (Lk 9:51-19:10); "Exodus" which leads to the promised land (Lk 19:11-24:53). The writer contends that the Lukan travel narrative is meant to reflect the people of Israel's Old Testament wandering in the wilderness.

Dawsey suggests: " ... the impression of aimless wandering in Luke parallels the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness; the sense of timelessness and the indefinite geography of both end at Jericho; the conflict between Jesus and his followers in the travel narrative is reminiscent of the confrontations between Moses and the congregation of Israel; and a community of the elect arises in each narrative out of the midst of a large multitude of followers ... " [Dawsey, J.M.: Jesus' Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in: Perspectives in Religious Studies 14 (1987), 217-232].

Dawsey lists a number of pointers which at best can be called echos of the Old Testament wandering in the wilderness: the timelessness of the journey, the indefinite geography of both end at Jericho, the rejection of Jesus and Moses by the present generation, ... One may add that both the travel narrative and the Old Testament wandering in the wilderness begin with the calling of 70/72 disciples/elders into a supporting leadership role (Lk 10:1-20; Numbers 11; cf. the link between Lk 10:19 and Deuteronomy 8:15). The traveling people murmur against Jesus (Lk 15:2; 19:7) and Moses (LXX Exodus 15:24; 16:2,7,8; 17:3; Numbers 14:2,36; 16:11; Deuteronomy 1:27; Joshua 9:18) and the entire nation seems to be on the move also in Luke (cf. Lk 11:29-32; 19:37-40; 23:5): "In the meantime when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another ... " (Lk 12:1); "Now great multitudes accompanied him ... " (Lk 14:25).

Evidence for Luke's typological use of the Old Testament wandering in the wilderness remains scarce but nevertheless more circumstantial evidence can be found. Luke seems to understand the travel narrative, in fact the whole Christian way of life, on the basis of Isaiah 40:3-5 which is quoted at the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry: "He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation'" (Lk 3:3-6).

The quote from Isaiah 40:3-5 introduces the ministry of John' the Baptist in a programmatic way and continues to be foundational for the understanding of the Christian life. The Isaiah quote works with an image: People who repent, prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness. This image of the way in the wilderness seems to have become central to Luke's understanding of Christianity. He is the only New Testament writer who calls Christians followers of the "way/hodos" and he is the only one that identifies Christian faith and teaching with the "way" of the Lord (Acts 9:1-2; 18:25-26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

One may doubt that the programmatic character of Isaiah 40:3-5 embraces both the ministry efforts of John the Baptist and the post-easter church. After all John the Baptist seems to be only a precursor to Jesus and a more complete proclamation of the kingdom of God. However, Acts 18:24-25 may confirm the all-embracing significance of Isaiah 40:3-5 for John the Baptist, Jesus and all those that come after them: "Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way/hodos of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way/hodos more adequately."

It is strange that Apollos could teach about Jesus accurately even though he only knew the baptism of John (cf. Acts 19:1-5). However, according to Luke the truth about Jesus is found in the Old Testament Scriptures (Lk 24:27,45; Acts 17:2) and Apollos had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). Therefore, knowing only the baptism of John, Apollos was already a follower of the way/hodos and only needed to have the way/hodos explained to him more adequately. This shows that people on the same spiritual level as John the Baptist are included in the way/hodos of the Lord and that the image of Isaiah 40:3-5 ("A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The croooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.") may indeed have been foundational for the entire ministry effort from John the Baptist to the post-easter church.

If Isaiah's image of the way in the wilderness is foundational for the understanding of ministry and faith in Luke–Acts, then the same image also affects the Lukan travel narrative. On his journey Jesus calls people to repentance and thus prepares the way of the Lord in the wilderness. Those that welcome him are part of the way and those that reject him will have no part in the future coming of the Lord.

Reflecting on what we have observed above, Luke seems to have mixed Isaiah's image of the way in the wilderness with a more general understanding of the Old Testament wandering in the wilderness (the timelessness of the journey, the indefinite geography of both end at Jericho, the rejection of Jesus and Moses by the present generation, both journeys begin with the calling of 70/72, the traveling people murmur and the entire nation seems to be on the move). In conclusion one may admit that the markers for Luke' typological understanding of the travel narrative and other segments of Luke–Acts are not necessarily compelling but they are suggestive. [It is also interesting that the people at Qumran likewise used Isaiah 40:3-5 to understand themselves as people preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness. They were likewise followers of the "way" who combined a typological reading of Isaiah 40:3-5 with a typological reading of the Old Testament wandering in the wilderness.]

6. Conclusion

On his journey to Jerusalem Jesus engages in mission work which makes people either accept or reject him. Those that accept Jesus seem to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness (cf. the programmatic character of Isaiah 40:3-5) and will see God's salvation. Those that reject Jesus do behave like the people of Israel in the Old Testament who wander in the desert and reject Moses. Faint echos further support the connection of the Lukan travel narrative with the Old Testament wandering in the desert: the timelessness of the journey, the indefinite geography of both end at Jericho, the rejection of Jesus and Moses by the present generation, both journeys begin with the calling of 70/72, the traveling people murmur and the entire nation seems to be on the move. One may thus suggest a typological chain of events which spans from Luke 9 to Luke 24: Feeding with Manna" (Lk 9:10b-17); "Mount Sinai" (Lk 9:18-36); "Golden Calf" (Lk 9:37-50); "Wandering in the Wilderness" (Lk 9:51-19:10); "Exodus" which leads to the promised land (Lk 19:11-24:53).


Luke–Acts