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BI 1073 Story of Jesus / Lipscomb University

Unit 4B

Nearing Jerusalem


 Read Luke 17:1-4

  • The word translated “stumbling blocks” in Greek, skandalon, literally means a trap or snare, figuratively a cause of ruin.
  • Notice that Jesus first mentions rebuking the sinner. Forgiving someone who repents of sin is not the same as merely overlooking the sin. Many people today misuse Jesus’ words “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1) to mean we can never point out sin in someone’s life, but Jesus himself says here we must judge others’ sin but with the right attitude. When we see someone whose sin needs to be corrected, we should pray for God’s help in talking to this person with the right attitude, without causing him/her to become defensive or offended. We must approach others as fellow sinners, not as someone morally superior. We should confess our faults as well.
  • We should be as merciful to those who ask forgiveness as God has been merciful to us.
  • There may be many stumbling blocks on the road of life, causing a person to lose faith. Sometimes it’s personal difficulties such as persistent health problems, the sudden death of family or friends, loss of a job, or failure of a marriage. In these cases it’s easy to blame God, but the Bible teaches that God is not responsible for every bad thing that happens. Natural problems such as disease are not necessarily God’s fault; see the notes below on John 9. Also many of the problems in the world are due to human sin which is clearly not God’s fault. God allows us the freedom to act in rebellion to his will, and then we must suffer the consequences of our own actions; remember the parable of the prodigal son.
  • At times people stumble and lose faith because of the way other Christians have treated them. Unfortunately, not all believers demonstrate the love of Christ in their own lives, and some churches do not act like the body of Christ. The church is a gathering of sinners who confess their need for God’s grace, so we should not expect any church to be perfect. But we should never allow the actions of others to come between us and God. If others have caused you to stumble and fall away, it’s never too late to return to God and to find a more loving, Christ-like community of believers with whom you can worship and work together.

 Read Luke 17:5-10

  • The sycamine tree (some translations say mulberry) to which Jesus refers had deep roots and was difficult to kill; it also had very bitter fruit. This may be the reason why Jesus chose to use this illustration in connection with the previous verses on forgiveness. When someone has offended us, the roots of bitterness go down deep into the human heart, making forgiveness all the more difficult but necessary, as over time unforgiven wrongs tend to grow and fester. We must get to the root of the problem and forgive before becoming too bitter.
  • Matthew 17:20 describes a mountain being tossed into the sea, but the point is the same. Even a little faith is a powerful thing if what we seek is truly to glorify God.
  • Serving God in no way puts him in our debt as if he owes us anything. We should serve God because it is our duty, not seeking any compensation, as if we might strike a bargain, “God, I’ll do this if you do something for me.” Do what is right because it is right, not because of hope for a reward. Do good in secret without seeking appreciation or praise, just for the sake of doing good.

 Read Luke 17:11-19

  • See the previous explanation of leprosy in the notes for Luke 5:12-16.
  • This story of the lepers is unique to Luke. Note that Luke emphasizes that the man was a Samaritan. Luke always focuses on the outcasts of society for whom Jesus showed special concern.
  • Most Jews would avoid going through Samaria, and would take the long way around from Galilee to Jerusalem, but Jesus did not avoid contact with Samaritans.
  • The nine ungrateful lepers received healing, but the one who returned in thanksgiving received the greater gift of salvation.

Coming of the Kingdom

 Read Luke 17:20-21

  • The kingdom wouldn’t be anticipated by signs (the very things many people are looking for today, such as trouble in the middle east). The kingdom Jesus came to establish was not political but spiritual.
  • “The Kingdom is in your midst” is a better translation than “is within you” (NIV). Jesus speaks of men entering the kingdom, not of the kingdom entering men. And it’s unlikely that he would have said that the kingdom was within the Pharisees. The kingdom of God had begun with the work of Christ among them.

 Read Luke 17:22-37

  • Jesus warns the disciples that someday soon he would not be with them anymore, and they would long to see him again. But they should not believe all the rumors saying “He is here or there.” When Jesus comes again, all will see him, like lightning which is observed from all directions, or vultures soaring in the air (v. 37). No one will need to search for Jesus when he returns.
  • Those today who try to predict the time of the second coming ignore Jesus’ many warnings that he will come when no one expects, just as did the flood and the destruction of Sodom. There were no warning signs before these catastrophes struck; neither will there be signs before Jesus returns. We should believe what Jesus said, and not worry about the predictions of modern would-be prophets.
  • (26) Noah and Lot frequently are linked in extra-biblical literature as witnesses to times of Judgment.
  • (33) “keep his life” in context must mean a lifetime of clinging to things of this world, which at the Judgment will cost you everything.

On the idea of the “Rapture”:

  • Some Christians believe that v. 34-35 describe what is popularly known as the Rapture, a time in the future when those in Christ will supposedly vanish from the earth before the great tribulation in the last days. According to this theory, believers will be spared from the wrath of God falling on those who remain on the earth. Many popular books and movies have been made about this event.
  • However, the idea of a Rapture is not found in scripture and was not taught throughout most of church history. It did not become popular until the 19th century when John Nelson Darby invented the idea.
  • It’s helpful to read the parallel passage in Matthew 24:36-41 where the wording is somewhat clearer. Notice that in Matthew 24:39, those who were “taken away” are those who were drowned in the flood, not those rescued from destruction. So this “taking away” cannot mean what many people think of as the Rapture where the righteous are saved from tribulation. This is a clear case of misreading a text to prove a point which scripture does not teach.
  • Furthermore, the Rapture theory would require that Jesus come again to earth after the so-called tribulation to finally judge the world, which would be his “third” coming, whereas the NT only describes one second coming, at which time the dead will be raised and everyone will face the Judgment Day (something those in Christ have no reason to fear).
  • Many modern ideas about the end of time have come from people taking unrelated scriptures from one place and another and trying to fit them together, somewhat like taking pieces of several jigsaw puzzles from different boxes and trying to create a new picture, but one that was never intended.
  • We will talk more about the resurrection in the next unit.

 Read Luke 18:1-8

  • The context of this teaching on prayer is important: the point is not to keep pestering God until we get what we want. In the previous chapter, Jesus has been talking about his coming again, and he urges his disciples to pray patiently for his return, for the day of justice (7), and not give up hope. God will vindicate his people in the End if they remain faithful until he comes.
  • Jesus says the judge will give them justice “quickly” which can mean “soon,” but more likely in this case it means speedily.
  • This is probably a Roman judge, as Jews settled legal matters with their elders through arbitration. Judges were notoriously corrupt, taking bribes, so that in a play on words these “punishers” (gezeroth) were often called “robbers” (gezeloth).

The Nature of Faith

 Read Luke 18:9-14

  • This section on faith (18:9-19:26) expands on what it means to be faithful until Jesus’ returns. It also shows the kind of people who are welcomed by God: tax collectors, children, blind, the powerless, and outcasts of society.
  • This parable has a similar moral to the Good Samaritan in its reversal of expectations: the religious man who thought himself righteous is condemned, while the sinner is praised.
  • Problem of the Pharisees: genuine concern for strict obedience to the law (a good thing in itself) often leads to self-righteous pride. Thanking God for his superior status turns the man’s gratitude into boasting.
  • (14) “justified” is the only time in the Gospels where this term is used in the Pauline sense of justification before God (Rom 3:24 etc).

 Read Luke 18:15-17

  • Luke now returns to following the text of Mark 10:13 as the primary framework of his narrative (having left Mark at 9:11).
  • This story of the children is linked to that of the tax collector by the theme of humbleness.

 Read Luke 18:18-30

  • Describing someone as good was not unusual, but including it in a formal address was, and might be seen as flattery, cheapening a word that strictly applies only to God.
  • Jesus mentions only the human-relationship commandments, not the first four about God.
  • To make Jesus’ statement about the camel less outrageous, some early NT manuscripts changed the word kamelos (camel) to kamilon (rope), and so read “it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” But Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point.
  • Where Matthew/Mark use the Greek word raphis, a knitting needle, Luke uses belone, a surgical needle (another hint that the author was a doctor).
  • In the non-canonical “Gospel according to the Hebrews” a fragment from this story reads: Jesus tells him that he really hasn’t followed all the law, for if he truly loved his neighbor as himself, he would not hoard his wealth but share with the poor (Barclay, Luke 237).
  • The problem is not money itself but the attitudes it creates. With their power and privileges, the rich often find it difficult to have the virtues of humility, submission, and service which following Jesus demands.
  • Christians are called to be extremely generous with our money, as Jesus tells this man. If we become very successful, then we have the means to give more of it away to those who are needy. One writer suggests that our giving should increase with our success: we start with a tithe (10%) but then increase that amount to 15%, 20%, 25%, etc as our income increases, so that we aren’t simply spending the extra income on ourselves and a lavish lifestyle. Someone making a million dollars a year could easily give away 50% and still live extremely well.
  • This is especially true of prominent TV ministers in our society today: how can they credibly preach Jesus’ message about self-sacrifice and the dangers of materialism if they live like rock stars or sports celebrities? A person’s lifestyle is a greater sermon than anything they might say from the pulpit on Sunday.
  • God shows his concern for the poor throughout the Bible. See this page for an overview of biblical teachings on poverty and what our response should be. You may be surprised how much the Bible talks about this.

 Read Luke 18:31-34

  • This is Jesus’ third prediction of suffering (see 9:22, 9:44), summing up the purpose for his journey to Jerusalem. This time he adds the details of the role of the Gentiles (Romans), that this will be a fulfillment of scripture, and the specific forms of punishment.
  • Mark 10:45 adds the words “giving his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus in Jericho

 Read Luke 18:35-43

  • In Luke’s account, Jesus has now reached Judea in the south and travels through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. The next stories take place there. The ancient city of Jericho had been destroyed in the conquest of Canaan in the OT (see the book of Joshua). By Jesus’ time a new city had been built close by, about 18 miles from Jerusalem.
  • The blind man is named Bartimaeus in Mark, and there are two blind men mentioned in Matthew.
  • His faith is the key element of the story, tying it to this section on faithfulness.

 Read Luke 19:1-10

  • Luke inserts this Zaccheus story (unique to this gospel) following up on the Pharisee/tax collector story, and the question “Can a rich man be saved?”
  • Tax collectors worked for the Roman government and were allowed to collect more than was owed and keep the profits, so most people distrusted them.
  • OT law required “ill gotten gain” be repaid plus 20% (Lev 6:2-5) but fourfold for “cattle rustling” (Ex 22:1-4, 2 Sam 12:6). Roman law also required fourfold repayment in some cases. Jesus made such an impression on Zaccheus that he was willing to repay the maximum.

Discussion: Jesus on paying taxes and some political implications of the gospel

  • Many Christians grumble and protest about paying taxes as if they were the ultimate evil, but Jesus supported paying taxes to Caesar (read ahead to Luke 20: 20-26). Likewise in Romans 13, Paul argues that we should pay taxes and respect the government, which God has given us for our good — the good of society as a whole, not our own selfish, individual benefit.
  • Note that both Paul and Jesus said these positive things about the Roman empire, a very oppressive regime. Among other things, Roman taxes supported social services for the needy much like today. The first emperor Augustus provided grain for citizens who could not afford to buy food. Social welfare was enlarged by the emperor Trajan in the second century, and contemporary writers praised him for it.
  • According to the Bible, Christians should willingly pay our taxes. Certainly we can work to have a better government, one that spends money wisely, and that helps able people to get good jobs so they can support themselves, but in principle, I don’t think Jesus or Paul would change their support of paying taxes today.
  • Many Christians call for a government which reflects their biblical values. Sadly, this attitude does not extend to the biblical concern for taking care of the needy. They argue that giving to the poor should be left to the generosity of the individual, not required of them by the government through taxes. Ironically, the same people do not want other issues such as abortion or drug use left up to the individual’s conscience, but want government to step in and enforce moral values on others. The Bible discusses caring for the needy much more than any of these other issues.
  • The Bible does not promote any particular form of government, political party, or specific social programs, but it does teach God’s great concern and compassion for the less fortunate. Too many of us harbor negative attitudes about the poor, assuming they are all lazy bums, undeserving of help, an attitude not found in scripture. Paul’s admonition in 2 Thess. 3:10, “If a man does not work, neither let him eat” (our favorite verse to quote on this subject) is outweighed by hundreds of verses condemning the rest of us for our selfishness.
  • If left up to churches and charities alone, we would never meet the overwhelming needs today. Americans like to think of ourselves as very generous, yet for decades statistics have shown that we give about 2% (of our Gross Domestic Product) to charity (including churches), and even that small amount does not all go to the needy. The majority of American giving goes to hospitals, libraries, museums, universities, symphony halls, large church buildings, televangelism, etc.
  • Sadly, American Christians are not much better at giving with an average of 2.3% (most of which does not go to help the needy), far short of the tithe that the Bible suggests (read this linkLinks to an external site. for some eye-opening statistics). We tend to overestimate our generosity and underestimate our selfishness.
  • Some people argue that God only wants voluntary giving, but in the OT giving of the tithe was commanded, not an option. It never says, “Just give whatever you feel like.” People often use the “giving should be voluntary” argument to excuse their own lack of giving.
  • A fellow faculty member put it this way: “I admit that there are problems with government social programs and inefficiencies and fraud, but given an imperfect system I would rather err on the side of offering help than withholding it for fear that it might be abused. On Judgment Day I would rather God say to me that I was too generous to those who didn’t deserve it or took advantage of the system than not generous enough, as Jesus in Matt. 25 describes those who are rejected from the kingdom because of neglecting the poor.”
  • Reinhold Niebuhr, America’s most prominent theologian in the 20th century, wrote these wise words: “Christian faith must encourage men to create systems of justice which will save society and themselves from their own selfishness. … We must have a taxation system that demands more of us than we are inclined to give voluntarily.” (Love and Justice, Peter Smith Publishing, rpt. 1976, 26, 28)

 Read Luke 19:11-27

  • As they approached Jerusalem, the disciples perhaps thought that Jesus was going to spark a political revolution, overthrowing the Romans and establishing a new Jewish kingdom. Clearly they misunderstood the idea of God’s kingdom and the role of the Messiah.
  • In one sense the kingdom of God is already in their midst with Jesus’ present (17:21), but in another sense there will be a delay in the final consummation of the Kingdom, during which time we must be fruitful stewards.
  • The point of Jesus’ parable is not about making wise investments with our money but about how we use the abilities and opportunities God gives us to be productive servants in his Kingdom. Notice that none of this money belongs to the men anyway; it all belongs to the king.
  • In a detail not included in Matthew’s parallel account of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25), verse 14 may allude to Herod Archelaus, one of Herod the Great’s sons, who went to Rome for confirmation by the emperor, but was followed by a delegation of Jews who opposed him; they convinced Augustus to give him only half the kingdom. Jesus may have added these details for narrative interest, just as a preacher today will allude to current events. We should not read too much into these details, however, and miss the overall point of the parable. Jesus is not comparing God to this king (who ends up slaughtering his enemies). His focus is on the obedience and diligence of the servants, not these colorful characteristics of the king.
  • Matthew mentions 3 servants given different amounts, whereas Luke has ten servants given the same amount, minor differences with the same point; perhaps Jesus told this parable many times on different occasions and varied the details.
  • A mina is about three month’s wages; one talent = 60 minas.
  • In Jesus’ day, OT restrictions on charging interest were not understood to apply to business loans, but on taking advantage of someone down on his luck. They were not to charge interest on a loan to the poor. [JN]
  • The word for bank (23) is literally “table,” as in the moneychangers in the temple whose tables Jesus overturned (Mark 11:15).


Additional stories from John

  • In John’s gospel, Jesus makes several trips to Jerusalem which are not recorded in the other accounts.

 Read John 9

  • The disciples ask Jesus a question, “who sinned?” sharing the same assumption of Job’s friends in the OT, that suffering always comes as punishment for sin (see also the Pharisees accusation in v. 34, “You were steeped in sin from birth”). Jesus explains that not all suffering can be attributed to sin; sometimes bad things just happen in this world. Besides, how could this man’s sins have caused him to be born blind, long before he sinned?
  • (3) “so that” here means result: today this man’s blindness will result in God’s glory because of this healing. Jesus is not concerned with the cause of his blindness. With alternate punctuation this verse could be better translated, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” Even though it is the Sabbath, Jesus takes this opportunity to heal the man, doing the work of God, risking the criticism of his enemies.
  • According to the Pharisees’ legalistic traditions, Jesus broke two Sabbath laws: making clay with unclean spit and healing. Life-threatening injuries could be treated on the Sabbath, but curing someone of blindness was considered an “elective” procedure which could wait.
  • The man turns the tables on their argument: how can a sinner heal the blind? Isn’t that proof enough that he is from God? But they refuse to accept this evidence before their own eyes (see a similar statement in the next chapter, 10:19-21).
  • It’s easy to criticize the Pharisees, but many Christians today resemble them more than they want to admit. They define themselves by what they are against; if Jesus was for it, his opponents were against it, just as some people today distinguish themselves from another denomination or political group, failing to see any common ground. Like the Pharisees some Christians are single-issue people; they can’t see the larger picture because they are obsessed with one thing.
  • In recent years archaeologists have uncovered steps which they believe were part of the pool of Siloam in Jesus’ day.




 Read John 10:1-21

  • John 10 continues the theme from the previous chapter: anyone who would expel the sheep from the fold is a thief, not a true leader who can be trusted.
  • A shepherd would lie down in the opening of the sheep pen to protect the sheep at night, thus acting as the door/gate.
  • The shepherd leads out front and the sheep follow (he does not drive them from behind). Jesus provides a model for Christian leadership, leading by example for us to follow.
  • There are several OT examples of unfaithful leaders described as bad shepherds who scatter the flock: Jer 23:1-8; Ezek 34; Zech 10:2-3, 11:4-17. Jesus stands in contrast to these unfaithful shepherds of God’s people.
  • (16) Jesus refers to other sheep, alluding to the Gentiles. Many Jews considered themselves to be the only people of God, but the OT describes God’s love for all people and his ultimate plan to bring everyone into his kingdom, all those who believe in the Good Shepherd.
  • One student made these comments: “As I was reflecting on Jesus being our good shepherd, I couldn’t help but think back to living in Idaho and working on the farm. Being around sheep, it crushed any misconceptions I had from our storybooks of the creatures as cute, soft, snow-white animals. In reality, sheep are the most incredibly dirty, SMELLY, and STUPID creatures God ever created. How perfect is this metaphor for God’s people. In His typical sense of humor, God knows how incredibly stupid we are and how dirty, smelly, and tainted with sin we have become. Regardless, He still loves each and every one of us.”

 Read John 10:22-42

  • Only John records Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication, which we know today as Hanukkah. This festival celebrated the time in 165 BC when the Jews rebelled against the evil king Antiochus who had desecrated the temple with sacrifices to pagan gods. This feast commemorated the cleansing and rededication of the temple.
  • Solomon’s porch was not built by Solomon but much later, as an addition by Herod the Great. According to the historian Josephus it was a triple colonnade on the east side of the mount, overlooking the Mount of Olives, and probably where the Jewish Sanhedrin met.
  • Continuing his theme, Jesus says that they have enough evidence to know who he is, but they refuse to believe.
  • (30) “I and the Father are one.” The Greek word “one” is neuter, which suggests not “one and the same person” but Jesus and God are united in purpose (although his opponents take it to mean the former and consider his statement blasphemous).
  • Quoting Ps. 82:6, Jesus uses a difficult passage to make his point. The verse uses the Hebrew word elohim which can mean gods but also “mighty ones.”

 Read John 11:1-16

  • In John’s gospel, Jesus has called himself the bread of life, the water of life, and the light of life – now he gives life itself.
  • Lazarus, another form of the name Eleazar, means “God is my help.”
  • The text mentions Mary’s anointing Jesus which doesn’t happen until John 12 (another example of how the gospel writers were not all that concerned with a strictly chronological record).
  • Bethany means house of figs.
  • Jesus probably waits longer so no one will question whether Lazarus was truly dead. If Jesus was beyond the Jordan (as in ch. 10), it would have taken him at least two days to get there, and Lazarus would have been dead anyway.
  • The Bible frequently describes death as sleep. The word for fallen asleep in Greek is koimetai from which we get cemetery, “sleeping place.”
  • Do not confuse this Lazarus with the man in the previous parable in Luke 16. Perhaps Jesus chose this name for his story since his friend had the same name.

 Read John 11:17-44

  • Martha runs ahead to meet Jesus. She has enough faith to believe he could have healed Lazarus (32) but only expects resurrection on the last day. Martha gives her own Great Confession here, similar to Peter’s in the other gospels. This is another story of growing belief.
  • Others as well have some faith, but raising someone after four days seems beyond belief.
  • (33b) Jesus was moved and troubled; the Greek word implies anger, Jesus’ response to the enemy, death, who has caused this sorrow.
  • He weeps, not because he has lost a friend (he knows that Lazarus will live again) but in sympathy for the pain that his family feels.
  • Technically, Lazarus did not experience resurrection but resuscitation. His body was revived and healed, but he eventually died again. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15, resurrection means receiving a new immortal body, one that will never again die. In this sense only Jesus has been resurrected; Paul calls Jesus the firstborn from among the dead. We will receive this kind of new body when Jesus returns. We will study more about resurrection in the last unit of the course.

 Read John 11:45-57

  • In v. 48 the Pharisees worry about losing “their place” which may refer to the temple or to their status as leaders.
  • (50) Caiaphas doesn’t realize the irony of his statement. His “ prophecy” that one man must die for the people is unintentional.
  • The raising of Lazarus is the turning point for the Pharisees in John, whereas it is the cleansing of the temple in the Synoptic gospels which prompts them to plan to kill him. (John records the temple cleansing early in Jesus’ ministry; the other gospels place it at Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem.)

 Read John 12:1-11

  • In Matthew and Mark, the anointing in Bethany occurs after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while John places it just before (Luke does not record this event).
  • The little town of Bethany was close by, just a few miles outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem so Jesus could easily have briefly left the city and gone there for dinner.
  • John implies that this took place at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but Matthew and Mark say it was the home of Simon the Leper (perhaps someone Jesus had healed; he wouldn’t be a leper now and been able to have guests in his home). It’s possible that Simon hosted the meal at his home whereas Martha prepared it.
  • In Matthew and Mark, Mary is not named, and she anoints Jesus’ head rather than his feet (small details that do not change the point of the story).
  • While all three mention the complaint that this expensive perfume (worth a year’s wages) should have been sold to help the poor, only John says that this criticism came from Judas, who wasn’t concerned about the poor but was taking money from the disciples’ funds.
  • Jesus defends her, saying she was keeping this observance in anticipation of his burial, calling it a beautiful thing in the other gospels, something that would always be remembered. It’s possible that this perfume had been meant for her brother Lazarus but was never used since Jesus raised him from the dead.
  • Jesus says there will always be poor people who need our help. He doesn’t belittle the poor by saying this, but means that this time before Jesus’ death was unique and deserved this recognition.
  • He probably refers to Deut. 15:11 where Moses tells the people: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you saying, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'” Some people today quote Jesus but twist his intention to mean “we will never ‘solve’ the problem of poverty, so we shouldn’t get too caught up in trying to find solutions. Poverty will never go away so why even try?” but this is clearly not what Jesus means in this passage or the many others he preaches on helping the poor.


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