THE FINAL HOURS Luke 22–23
“With loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed” (Luke 23:23).Carefully Luke, like each of the evangelists, traced Jesus’ final hours from betrayal to burial.
Judas agreed to betray Jesus for money (22:1–6). At the Last Supper Jesus spoke of a New Covenant in His blood (vv. 7–23), spoke again on greatness (vv. 24–30), and predicted Peter’s denial (vv. 31–38). Events now moved quickly. Jesus prayed (vv. 39–46), was arrested (vv. 47–53), disowned by Peter (vv. 54–62), and mocked by His guards (vv. 63–65). He was taken before Pilate and Herod (v. 66–23:16), condemned (vv. 17–25), crucified (vv. 26–43), died (vv. 44–49), and was buried (vv. 50–56).
Understanding the Text
“They were afraid of the people” Luke 22:1–6.
During major religious festivals Jerusalem overflowed with pilgrims. Excited and volatile during these times, both the Roman government and the Jewish leaders kept close watch, hoping to avoid a spontaneous riot. Luke pictured the religious leaders, desperate to get rid of Jesus, actively “looking for” some way to dispose of Him. When Judas appeared to bargain for money they were delighted: What they feared to do openly they would gladly do in secret! What a simple test this suggests for us to apply to our own lives. If afraid or ashamed to do anything openly—don’t do it at all! “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve” Luke 22:1–6. The expression does not imply Satan entered against Judas’ will. Instead it suggests that Judas’ own openness to evil gave Satan an opportunity to work through him. If you have ever feared Satan’s power, this passage in Luke indicates how fallible the ruler of evil is. Satan inspired Jesus’ betrayal. He eagerly choreographed Christ’s steps to the cross. And all along Satan was ignorant of the fact that the cross would be the instrument of his own defeat! Satan is powerful, yes. But he is not a god. His struggle against God is destined for utter defeat, and God is able to transform the most evil acts along the way into instruments of His good. “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood” Luke 22:1–23. The term “covenant” is one of the most significant in Scripture. In Old Testament times a covenant was a binding legal agreement, whose nature was determined by the parties involved. Between two businessmen it was a contract. Between nations it was a treaty. Between ruler and people it was a constitution. But between God and human beings, the basic force of “covenant” is a commitment. God’s ancient covenant with Abraham is marked by His statement of what “I will” do. God’s temporary covenant with Israel established through Moses, the Law, specified what God would do if Israel obeyed—or disobeyed. The “New Covenant” Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper, instituted at His death and sealed by His own shed blood, is God’s commitment to forgive the sins of those who believe in His Son, and to transform their character from within (cf. Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 10:16–18). As we read the chapters which trace Jesus’ last day, we need to remember that Christ went to the cross knowing what His death would mean for you and me. Jesus suffered willingly. And He Himself is our guarantee: He is Himself the divine commitment to forgive us, and to make us new. “Which of them was considered to be greatest?” Luke 22:24–30 Some, noting that Matthew’s Gospel placed this dispute at a different time and place, cry “discrepancy,” and so “prove” the Bible is not without error after all. Such folks have never had children. I don’t know how many dozens of times I’ve heard the same argument between Sarah and our Matthew. Or how many times Sarah has asked the same question, blithely forgetting or ignoring the answer she’s been given again and again. The necessary assumption underlying the cry of “discrepancy,” that any human being will talk about something important to him once, and only once, seems utterly amazing to me. So I’m not surprised that the disciples, still unaware of Jesus’ imminent death, went back to arguing about who would be greatest in Christ’s kingdom. And I’m not surprised that Jesus once again contrasted the “greatness” of secular rulers with that servanthood which makes a man great in the eyes of the Lord. A discrepancy in Scripture? No. A flaw in the disciples? Yes. And a flaw in us if, like the Twelve, we expend our energies in the pursuit of status—while a dying world cries out for help and hope. “I confer on you a kingdom” Luke 22:28–30. Luke now added something not found in Matthew. At the Last Supper Jesus added these words, and the promise that one day the 12 disciples would sit on thrones to judge Israel’s 12 tribes. There’s plenty of “greatness” ahead for us all. But that’s for history’s end, not for now. Today there’s servanthood. And the greater our willingness to serve, the greater our future reward will be. “That is enough” Luke 22:35–38. Earlier the Twelve and also 72 were sent out to minister, and told to take no money or extra clothing with them. Jesus mentioned this, and reminded His disciples that when they did go, they lacked nothing. He then seemed to revise His instructions. Most take this unexpected reversal either as sarcasm, or as a way of emphasizing the seriousness of the immediate crisis. Surely His saying, “Buy a sword,” suggests imminent danger. But when the disciples showed Him two blades, He said, “That is enough.” Today, two are still enough. They are enough to symbolize the dangers of this present world. Yet they are not enough to protect us from those dangers, any more than two swords in the hands of untrained disciples could protect Jesus from the approaching mob. It’s important for us to recognize the danger to be found in the world. But it is just as important, in our helplessness, to realize that we cannot rely on worldly means for our defense. “He touched the man’s ear and healed him” Luke 22:47–53. When the mob arrived, a disciple tried to use one of the two swords. He swung (wildly?) and succeeded in slicing off one man’s ear! Jesus, saying, “No more of this!” touched the man and restored his ear. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry He had said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Now, about to go to the cross, He took love a step further. Even as your enemies seek to destroy you, make them whole. “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” Luke 22:54–62. Only Luke added this detail. It was not the crowing of the cock that made Peter realize what he had done in disowning Jesus. It was the fact that, as the cock crowed a third time, Peter glanced up and met Christ’s eye. Later Peter wrote an epistle that quotes Psalm 34:14: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (1 Peter 3:12). The meaning is that God is watching over His own, eager to do them good. God watches us, as Christ looked at Peter, with love! The guilt Peter suddenly felt was not in Christ’s look, but reflected from Peter’s own eyes. Sin has a peculiar impact on us. It makes us look away from God, trying to forget that He always sees us. Thus sin keeps us away from the one Person we most need when we fail. Let’s learn two things from Peter’s experience. First, after doing wrong, look quickly to the Lord. The love you see in His eyes may move you too to weep bitterly. But in that process you will be healed. And second, look unceasingly to the Lord. If you never look away, the love in Christ’s eyes will keep you from sin. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” Luke 23:26–42. The thief on the cross is healthy corrective to the superficial treatment of Jesus by Pilate and Herod (see DEVOTIONAL). At first both thieves mocked Jesus. But in time one asked Jesus, “Remember me.” There’s no guarantee that facing death will bring a person to consider eternity. There were two thieves, but only one stopped his ridicule after a time. Only one said, “Remember me.” Still, that one thief reminds us that as long as life lasts, it’s not too late to appeal to God in Jesus’ name. And that because the longest life is but a brief moment compared with eternity, we must call on Jesus while we can. After all, He did die to save us. As the Crucifixion account reminds us, it’s a matter of Jesus’ death—and our eternal life. “Wrapped it in a linen cloth” Luke 23:50–56. Jesus died. He was buried. And there these chapters—but not His story (or history) end.
Hoping for a Miracle (Luke 22:66–23:25)
The trial of Jesus was a disappointment to everyone. Pilate kept on saying, “There’s no basis for a charge against this Man” (23:4). The Jewish leaders kept on desperately trying to find something that would move Pilate to order Christ’s execution (vv. 2, 5, 10, 14). The carefully recruited crowd got hoarse shouting out, “Crucify Him!” on cue. And poor Herod, who’d wanted to see Jesus for a long time, was upset because when Jesus was brought to him in chains, Christ wouldn’t perform a miracle for his entertainment! Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer, was satisfied. He was released instead of Jesus and slipped away, never to be mentioned again. But I’m sorriest of all for poor, superficial Herod. I imagine he sulked for hours. All those months hoping to see a miracle, and then—nothing! What in the world would Herod talk about at his next dinner party? How he finally saw Jesus, and Jesus wouldn’t perform? Actually, Herod reminds me of a lot of Christians. One recent survey suggests that people shop for churches as for a commodity. They check out agencies. They ask about the preaching. They find out who goes to the church. They listen critically to the choir. Are there enough activities for children? For teens? Even then all too many come on Sunday and go away disappointed, because for some reason God or the preacher didn’t perform well that day. Like Herod, they came to be entertained. They came “hoping for a miracle,” and God wasn’t putting on a special performance for them that day. We can see clearly what was wrong with Herod’s attitude. The Son of God was about to go to the cross, and all that Herod cared about was being entertained! But can we see this flaw in ourselves? Have we ever stopped to think that church isn’t supposed to be entertaining? Church is to be a gathering place for a community of faith; a company of men and women who worship the crucified Saviour, and who commit themselves to minister to a lost and suffering mankind.
What you come to church for determines what you take away.
“It’s hard to imagine—Paul having the gift of entertainment.—Barnabas being the minister of entertainment rather than the minister of encouragement.—Jesus selling tickets to the feeding of the 5,000.—Peter peddling his ’Feed My Sheep’ seminars. “Far too often, we’ve tried to bring ministry, music, and entertainment together, and in so doing we’ve lost the integrity and true meaning of the church. No one can honestly say they’ve been called by God to entertain.”—Glenn W. Harrell