The Sending of the Twelve Apostles

9:1 After Jesus called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 9:2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 9:3 He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, and do not take an extra tunic. 9:4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave the area. 9:5 Wherever they do not receive you, as you leave that town, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 9:6 Then they departed and went throughout the villages, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

See also the account of the similar mission in Lk 10:1-20. Many scholars are of the opinion that the two accounts go back to a single tradition. But Luke is in a better position than them to say what really happened.

Here is a description of what happened the very first time that Jesus sent out others to represent him and his words and deeds.

Lk 9:1-2 = Mt 10:1-8 = Mk 6:7.

What is described here is not a calling of the disciples to himself (for that had already taken place, Lk 5:1-6:16), but a commissioning of them to go out and preach and heal. The order is always the same: Jesus bids us first to come, then to go. They were being commissioned at this time to extend Jesus’ earthly work, to do what they had seen him doing (cf. ch. 8). This was a local and temporary commission, the details of which do not apply universally. (cf. Lk 22:36) The Great Commission would follow later. Still, the incident can regarded as a form of on-the-job training (‘dress-rehearsal’ – WBC) for the disciples’ post-resurrection ministry. Moreover, the incident raises the whole question of what it means to share Jesus’ ministry.

Why did Jesus send the Twelve out at this particular time? It may be, as Hendriksen suggestions, that he was aware that his Galillean ministry was rapidly drawing to a close. If we compare what Jesus says in connection with the sending of the Seventy, (Lk 10:2) then there was that sense of the ripeness of the harvest and the fewness of the labourers. ‘It was important both to spread the message of the kingdom and to give the disciples experience.’ (Morris)

‘In the ancient days there was in effect only one way of spreading a message abroad and that was by word of mouth. Newspapers did not exist; books had to be hand-written, and a book the size of Luke-Acts would have cost over 40 British pounds per copy to produce! Radio and television had not even been dreamed of. That is why Jesus sent out the Twelve on this mission. He was under the limitations of time and space; his helpers had to be mouths to speak for him.’ (DSB)

When Jesus had called the Twelve together – They had been appointed a little earlier, cf. Lk 6:12 ff. Why twelve? The number is reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Israel, and may (as Calvin suggests) be suggestive of the new Israel. ‘That exactly twelve men, no more, no less, receive this assignment must mean that the Lord designated them to be the nucleus of the new Israel, for the Israel of the old dispensation had been represented by the twelve patriarchs. Cf. Rev 21:12,14.’ (Hendriksen)

Because Jesus could only be in one place at a time, he sent out his disciples, duly instructed and empowered, to assist him in his ministry. This was later followed (10:1) by the sending of the seventy-two. We notice our Lord’s approach to the preparation of his assistants: appoint them, prepare them, send them out to practice what they have been taught.

‘The Twelve have a special place in the mission of the church, but they do not have an exclusive claim upon Jesus call to take the good news out to the ends of the earth. Luke makes this clear by reporting in Lk 10:1-20 a second mission, conducted by others on much the same terms as the present mission. The churchs need for mission continues in every generation, and in every generation these accounts inspire a fresh taking up of the missionary mandate.’ (WBC)

He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons – What power and authority must belong to Jesus if he is able to dispense them in this way! Although many Christians today would doubt the practical relevance of this in our own time, nevertheless all would agree that it is the duty of the Christian minister to ‘resist the devil and all his works’. Similarly, although not all believe that today we may have power miraculously to cure diseases, it is still our duty to relieve suffering and care for the sick in the name of Christ.

The mention of power and authority is notable; they were given both the might and the right. The first word indicates the ability to do something, and the second the right to do it. Both were (and are) necessary to carry out Christ’s commission. ‘Power’ links both with 8:46 and (anticipating post-resurrection empowering) Acts 1:8.

The greatness of Jesus’ power is seen here, in that he now only was able to drive out demons and cure diseases himself, but was also able to give that power to others.

‘By enabling them to perform miracles, Christ invests them with the badges of heavenly power, in order to secure the confidence and veneration of the people. And hence we may infer what is the proper use of miracles. As Christ gives to them at the same time, and in immediate connection, the appointment to be preachers of the gospel and ministers of miracles, it is plain that miracles are nothing else than seals of his doctrine, and therefore we are not at liberty to dissolve this close connection. The Papists, therefore, are guilty of forgery, and of wickedly corrupting the works of God, by separating his word from miracles.’ (Calvin)

Remember that Judas Iscariot was amongst the Twelve who were sent out. We must always expect to see evil mingled with good, even among the ministers of the gospel.

He sent them out – Mk 6:7 records that they were sent out two by two.

Note the very high priority given to preaching here, as elsewhere in Scripture. Ryle comments: ‘The minister who exalts the sacraments, or forms of the Church, above preaching, may be a zealous, earnest, conscientious, and respectable minister; but his zeal is not according to knowledge. He is not a follower of the apostles.’

To preach the kingdom of God – Following the example of Jesus himself (Lk 8:1, where the wording is ‘proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God’. In the NT, preaching is ‘the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world’ (C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development, 1944, p.7). It is not religious discourse to a closed group of initiates, but open and public proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in and through Jesus Christ. The current popular understanding of preaching as biblical exposition and exhortation has tended to obscure its basic meaning.’ (NBD)

‘They must summon the lost to a realisation that God is indeed King, that he rules over all, that he is going to establish his kingship in the world through his power in the Messiah, and will one day, at the consummation of the age, destroy all opposition and bring the kingdom in full power and glory. In addition, they will have to summon the people to true repentance, so that they will have a full share in the dominion of God and be safeguarded against the judgement to be brought upon the wicked by the coming of his kingdom.’ (Geldenhuys)

‘Mission is carried out through emissaries of Jesus, authorized by him and bearing his power. It is, in effect, an extension of Jesus own ministry.’ (WBC)

‘The disciples’ ministry mirrors Jesus’ own ministry in Luke 8. Just as he preached the Word of the kingdom and healed, they are given authority over demons and disease as they seek to declare the kingdom of God. It is important to link verses 1-2 to verse 6. The miracles are the audiovisual of God’s power at work in the announcement of the kingdom’s arrival (11:20).’ (IVP NT Commentary)

And to heal the sick – Supporters of the modern ‘signs and wonders’ movement would point out the very close connection between preaching and healing. Miracles of healing confirm the reality of God’s kingdom and promote its acceptance by faith.

“Take nothing for the journey” – The tour was to last a fairly short time – perhaps a few days – and nothing can be inferred from this about ‘vows of poverty’ and the like in later times.

Why these prohibitions? Possibly (a) to show solidarity with the poor; (b) to express dependency on God; or (c) to give a prophetic indication of eschatological urgency.

‘Jesus instructs the disciples to travel light, like some other groups: (1) peasants, who often had only one cloak; (2) traveling philosophers called Cynics; (3) some prophets, like Elijah and John the Baptist. They are to be totally committed to their mission, not tied down with worldly concerns. The “bag” would have been used for begging (as the Cynics used it).’ (NT Background Commentary)

‘They were to live as simply as possible, perhaps so as to avoid any criticism for making money out of their work, and also to avoid being mistaken for other travelling people who made money unscrupulously.’ (NBC)

‘They were to travel light. That was simply because the man who travels light travels far and fast. The more a man is cluttered up with material things the more he is shackled to one place. God needs a settled ministry; but he also needs those who will abandon earthly things to adventure for him.’ (DSB)

Up to a point, these instructions were peculiar to the situation and time. (cf. Lk 22:36) There is a slight difficulty in that in Mk 6:8 Jesus told his disciples to take a staff, but according to the present verse they were not to. Hendriksen suggests that in Luke it is the taking of extra items which is prohibited. But in any case there is here a general lesson about simplicity of life which all should heed. We should ‘throw off everything that hinders’, Heb 12:1. Demas forsook Paul ‘because he loved this world’, 2 Tim 4:10.

‘Everything about this mission says that disciples are to depend on God. Their authority comes from him. Their needs will be supplied by him. There is no personal gain to be sought. As a contrast to the cultural peddlers of religion and philosophy of their culture, they carry the gospel so as to signal the character of those who serve the gospel. Modesty is the rule, ministry is the focus. I wonder how often the gospel’s credibility has been damaged in more recent times because this modest approach to mission was not followed. As Paul shows in 1 Cor 9, ministers should strive to burden others financially as little as possible. On the other hand, God’s people should care for those who minister to them-laborers are worth their hire. (Lk 10:7 1 Tim 5:18) According to Old Testament guidelines, the priests were supposed to be able to live comfortably as they ministered through the support the nation provided. The same should be true of the saints. Money and provisions for ministry always raise tricky questions. Those who are ministered to should give; and those who minister should trust God for their provision, traveling light and responsibly as they minister.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘The Twelve are sent out entirely without resources. It is perhaps fitting that those who come with good news for the poor should be identified with the poor by being made vulnerable in this way. Their dependence can only be on God, who will in fact come through with the hospitality they will need; they are learning on the job that these things will be added to you if you seek his kingdom (12:31).’ (WBC)

Jewish travelers depended on hospitality, which fellow Jews customarily extended to them. The point seems to be: accept whatever hospitality is offered to you. See Lk 10:7, which seems to underscore the point that the disciples should not try to upgrade their hospitality once they have accepted it. ‘Traveling without means, the Twelve will be totally dependent on hospitality extended to them by people they meet on the way. No matter how humble, each such provision is Gods provision for them, adequate to meet their needs.’ (WBC)

“Shake the dust off your feet” – If the previous two verses have indicated the urgency of their task, this verse suggests its earnestness. It is a perilous thing to reject God’s kingdom and its heralds. After travelling through Gentile territory and re-entering the Holy Land, Jews would customarily shake the dust off their sandals and clothes lest they render themselves or other things ceremonially unclean. Here, the implication is that those who do not receive the messengers of Jesus are no better than the heathen. The symbolic act is a visible demonstration of divine displeasure. Cf. Acts 13:50-51.

Even though they were sent by the Lord, and even though they were empowered to cast out demons and heal the diseased, they must expect a measure of rejection. Not all believe. Our responsibility is to faithfully sow the seed; we are not held responsible for the various responses to it, Lk 8:5ff.

‘Our text thinks in terms of people making a group response to Jesus, much in the way we see repeatedly in Acts. Not every town welcomes the news of Gods rule. Some will violently oppose the mission. Acts 13:50-51 gives us a good illustration of this teaching put into practice. These rejecters need to be shown graphically what they are doing to themselves in turning away the emissaries of the kingdom of God: they are separating themselves off from Gods new initiative; they will be left to Gods judgment. Not even the dust of their streets will move on with the plan and purpose of God.’ (WBC)

The messengers of the kingdom are not held finally responsible for the response to their message. They may be greeted with downright rejection or by a range of misunderstandings (vv7-9).

Preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere – doing exactly Jesus’ own work. ‘Preaching and healing go hand in hand in the unfolding of the mission. Those who are healed experience in their own bodies the power and reality of the rule of God.’ (WBC)

Herod’s Confusion about Jesus

9:7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about everything that was happening, and he was thoroughly perplexed, because some people were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 9:8 while others were saying that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had risen. 9:9 Herod said, “I had John beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” So Herod wanted to learn about Jesus.
Lk 9:7–9 = Mt 14:1,2; Mk 6:14–16

This section (7-9) provides another example of Luke’s interest in recording questions and concerns about who Jesus is, e.g Lk 7:49; 8:25; 9:20.

‘Between the departure of the missionaries and their return Luke notes the opinions which people were holding about Jesus, and thus he prepares the way for the question in v 18. The hope of Elijah returning was based on Mal 4:5-6..’ (cf. Lk 1:17) (NBC)

‘The reason why the Evangelists relate this occurrence is, to inform us that the name of Christ was universally celebrated, and, therefore, the Jews could not be excused on the plea of ignorance. Many might otherwise have been perplexed by this question, “How came it that, while Christ dwelt on the earth, Judea remained in a profound sleep, as if he had withdrawn into some corner, and had displayed to none his divine power?” The Evangelists accordingly state, that the report concerning him was everywhere spread abroad, and penetrated even into the court of Herod.’ (Calvin)

Herod the tetrarch – Luke uses his official and therefore more correct title; Mark refers to him by his popular title of ‘king’. He was ruler over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to AD 39. He was a son of Herod the Great, who had been king when Jesus was born.

Herod heard about all that was going on, which is not surprising, considering the sick who were healed, the lepers who were cleansed, the demonised who were delivered, the storms that were stilled, and even the dead that brought back to life.

Herod was confused and troubled by the three different reports concerning Jesus which came to his ears. Then, as now, people found it so difficult to accept Jesus as he truly is, that they tried to come up with different explanations – each one more incredible than the truth itself. Few came up with the right answer, as Peter did, 9:20. What modern concepts of Jesus are entertained, either within or outside the church? How accurate is our own conception of him?

Saying that John was risen from the dead – showing that a belief in resurrection, and in a life to come, was by no means unknown amongst the Jews of that time. There is a slight surprise in this rumour, because no miracles are ascribed to John himself.

What different opinions about Jesus are doing the rounds today?

That Elijah had appeared – The expectation that Elijah would return as Messiah’s forerunner had been aroused by Malachi, (Mal 4:5) and the hope was current at the time.

One of the prophets of long ago – ‘In Jewish tradition there was some expectation that other prophets, notably Isaiah and Jeremiah, might be sent again to the aid of this world. Each of the popular opinions connects Jesus with the realm beyond and links him to prophetic tradition. While Luke takes them all to be wrong, they all have elements of genuine insight into Jesus nature and identity.’ (WBC)

“I beheaded John” – This is Herod’s reaction to the first rumour about the person of Jesus. Wicked deeds have a habit of returning to haunt their perpetrators: such is the burden of a bad conscience. Great power and wealth Herod may have had, but they could not protect him from the accuser within. Truly, the way of transgressors is hard, Pr 13:15.

“Who, then, is this?” – The answer he gave to his own question is recorded in Mt 14:2. (cf. Mk 6:16) ‘The ruler, a man with a terribly disturbed conscience, and filled with haunting superstitions and dark forebodings, arrived at the conclusion “Jesus is John risen from the dead.” What a dreadful thing to be afraid of a resurrection from the dead!

‘Herod can ask the question and the people can express their opinions, but only the Twelve are close enough to such crucial events as the stilling of the storm (8:22-25) and the feeding of the five thousand (9:10-17) to be able to come to the conviction that this Jesus is none other than the very Christ of God (9:20).’ (WBC)

‘For Herod the question of the identity of Jesus remains unresolved. He wants to see for himself. Though he eventually does see for himself, his question remains unanswered (23:612). Herod lacks the disciples privileged observation point, and in any case he is not open to the true answer to his own question.’ (WBC)

He tried to see him – to satisfy his curiosity and to put his mind at rest. Cf. Lk 13:31-33. When, however, Herod finally did see Jesus, Lk 23:8-12, it was to ridicule and mock him. For others who wanted to see Jesus, with varying results, see Lk 2:26-30; 8:20; 19:3-4; Jn 12:21.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

9:10 When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida. 9:11 But when the crowds found out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and cured those who needed healing. 9:12 Now the day began to draw to a close, so the twelve came and said to Jesus, “Send the crowd away, so they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in an isolated place.” 9:13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 9:14 (Now about five thousand men were there.) Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 9:15 So they did as Jesus directed, and the people all sat down.
Lk 9:10–17pp—Mt 14:13–21; Mk 6:32–44; Jn 6:5–13

The importance of the miracle which follows is demonstrated by the fact that it is recorded in all four Gospels: Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:32-44; Jn 6:1-15. Each account supplements the others. Only John, for example, states that on the following day Jesus explained the miracle in spiritual terms and rebuked the crowd for paying more attention to its physical than to its spiritual meaning, Jn 6:27ff).

The miracle takes place towards the end of the long Galilean ministry, and must be regarded as something of a climax and a turning-point. From now on, attention will be turned more and more towards the approaching act of atonement.

The Christological significance of Luke’s account of the feeding miracle is emphasised by its placing between vv7-9 and vv18-20. After his resurrection, Jesus would be recognised in the breaking of the bread, Lk 24:30f.

Compared with vv1-6, where the disciples are learning how much they can do even when Jesus is not physically present, they are now to learn how utterly dependent they are on him even when he is close at hand.

The apostles – This designation does not feature strongly in the Gospels, but is more important in Luke-Acts than in the writings of the other three evangelists. Cf. Lk 6:13; 9:10; 11:49. The apostles asked Jesus for increased faith (Lk 17:5) and participated with him in the Last Supper (Lk 22:14). The women were to report the news of the resurrection to the apostles (Lk 24:10).

They withdrew by themselves – God has built a pattern of alternating work and rest into the fabric of life. Christians must make time for meditation, self-inquiry, and secret prayer as well as for vigorous work and public ministry. It is especially so in the case of those involved in public ministry, and it is especially so in our own day, when the frantic pace of life, the constant noise, and the many interruptions militate against rest and recuperation. Many there are, whose business of life leads them finally to confess, “they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” (AV)

A town called Bethsaida – situated on the northern shore of Lake Gennesaret. It is odd that Luke mentions this, since the miracles that follows clearly places Jesus and the disciples in ‘a remote place’ (v12). We should probably assume that Jesus had withdrawn with his disciples to a remote mountainous area near to Bethsaida.

The crowds learned about it and followed him – Jesus was at this time extremely popular. This helps to explain both the sending out of the disciples to extend his own ministry, vv1ff, and also the ‘secrecy’ behind the revelation of his person, lest a premature crisis be precipitated, v21.

He welcomed them – even though he had sought rest and solitude for himself and his disciples. This is typical of the Lord Jesus, who always put the needs of others before his own; who took every opportunity to do good by teaching and healing; and who was never ‘phased’ by intrusions and interruptions. If Jesus were alive today, it is doubtful whether he would have gone ‘ex-directory’. Do Christian leaders today follow the Master in this particular? Are their ears ready to hear; their hands ready to help; their tongues ready to teach those who seek them out? Mk 6:34 tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

‘Most people would have resented the invasion of their hard-won privacy. How would we feel if we had sought out some lonely place to be with our most intimate friends and suddenly a clamorous mob of people turned up with their insistent demands? Sometimes we are too busy to be disturbed, but to Jesus human need took precedence over everything.’ (DSB)

Spoke to them about the kingdom of God – Its laws and its privileges.

He…spoke…and healed – Preaching and healing are also linked earlier in the chapter.

The Twelve – Referring to the disciples like this links back to v1.

Jesus not only teaches the crowd about the kingdom of God, but he also shows sensitivity to their physical needs. We should do the same, Jas 2:16. However, the connection with vv7-9 indicate that this miracle, as told by Luke, serves two main purposes: (a) to help to identify who Jesus is; and (b) to teach the disciples about trust and provision. But it is Mark and John especially who bring out from this miracle the point that Jesus is supplier of human needs, and the giver of bread from heaven. Thus, they emphasis more than Luke the Moses.manna link. Luke, on the other hand, generally draws more parallels with the Elijah/Elisha stories of 1 and 2 Kings. In particular, Luke may be linking this miracle with Elisha’s multiplication of barley loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44)

“You give them something to eat” – This soon after the disciples had been given authority to drive out demons and cure diseases, v1. The disciples were all too ready for Jesus to send the crowd away. Cf. Mt 15:23; Lk 18:15. But he will not let them take their responsibility so lightly. It is not God’s way to send needy people away empty-handed, Mt 5:43-48; 11:25-30; Lk 6:27-38; Jn 3:16. Christians are taught to offer generous hospitality, 1 Pet 4:9. So, Jesus sets his disciples a challenge; for his command invites the response, “Yes, but how?” They need to realise that he who could supply wine when their was a shortage could also supply food, Jn 2:1-11. How often do we accept that God is ‘able to do’ one thing, but doubt his ability (or willingness) to do another?

‘Jesus challenges the disciples to return the favor of hospitality which has recently been extended to them while on their mission, but they do not know how to.’ (WBC)

In view of the spiritual meaning of this miracle we are warranted in applying this predicament to the ministers of the gospel: they see a crowd which is spiritually starving, and knowing they are totally lacking in resources, are tempted to send them away. But Jesus’ response is ever, “You give them something to eat,” – and they will be thrown back on the limitless resources of God.

‘Jesus Christ has not only physic, but food, for all those that by faith apply themselves to him; he not only heals them that need healing, cures the diseases of the soul, but feeds them too that need feeding, supports the spiritual life, relieves the necessities of it, and satisfies the desires of it. Christ has provided not only to save the soul from perishing by its diseases, but to nourish the soul unto life eternal, and strengthen it for all spiritual exercises.’ (M. Henry)

In comparing the various versions of this miracle, we find that at first Jesus asked Philip where the could find enough food to feed such a crowd. Jn 6:6 explains that Jesus asked this in order to test Philip, but he himself already knew what he would do. When faced with life’s crises, it is good to remember that God already has the problem solved.

“We have only five loaves of bread and two fish” – Small prospect for a banquet, considering the size of the crowd and the amount of food on offer.

‘While their response reflects an accurate assessment of their limitations, they had failed to perceive that Jesus’ commands are always accompanied by sufficient resources and empowerment to accomplish that which he commands. The disciples must learn that he who calls them for service will also equip them for the task at hand.’ (College Press, on Matthew)

See 2 Kings 4:42-43 for a similar example of incredulity when Elisha tells his servant to distribute twenty barley loaves amongst 100 men. ‘both Elisha’s disciple and Jesus’ disciples should have been with their master long enough to expect that what the master said he had power from God to perform. The God of the exodus, who divided waters (Ex 14:21) and provided manna from heaven, (Ex 16:14-18) was at work in history again.’ (2 Kings 2:8-14; 4:38-44; Mt 14:13-33) (IVP Commentary, on Matthew)

According to Jn 6:8f, these were donated by a boy whom Andrew had found. Jesus could, without a doubt, have created a feast out of nothing. But he chose to make use of what was already available. The trouble with the disciples is that they were focussing on the need of the crowd and the apparent paucity of their resources, and not on Jesus and his power and compassion (even though he had that very day been demonstrating both, v11b).

Five thousand men – Mark (14:21) adds, ‘besides women and children’.

“Sit down” – Gk. kataklinein – reclining as at a festive meal, although such words came to be used of all kinds of sitting at all kinds of meal. (WBC)

“In groups” – Gk. klisia. The word refers to groups gathered specifically for a meal. There is something methodical and deliberate about the way Jesus gives these instructions. The gifts of God are to distributed and enjoyed in an orderly manner.

Everybody sat down – See on previous verse.  They may well have “sat” instead of “reclined”; people generally reclined at banquets and sat for regular meals.

9:16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke them. He gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 9:17 They all ate and were satisfied, and what was left over was picked up—twelve baskets of broken pieces.

‘It is hardly accidental that the verbs…(‘take’, ‘give thanks’, ‘break’, ‘give’) are those used in the NT accounts of the Last Supper. The meal did, of course, satisfy hunger (v20), but Matthew apparently sees it also as a symbolic act of communion in the newly established kingdom of heaven.’ (NBC, on Matthew))

‘Jesus simply takes the provisions available and, in an astonishing move, prepares the crowd for a great banquet (lit., “to recline,” the normal posture at a banquet). Although the giving of thanks followed by the breaking of the loaves and the distribution of the food is quite typical of a Jewish meal, it is hard not to see some allusion or foreshadowing of the Last Supper (26:26-28). However, the distribution of the bread by means of the disciples is intended to remind them of their vital intermediary role in bringing heaven’s blessings to bear on the human predicament. They must learn from this event to be true shepherds, who minister to the flock by relying on divine resources to supply whatever is needed to “feed” the people of God.’ (College Press)

Just try to picture the scene: the puzzled anticipation of the disciples and the crowd as Jesus arranged them all in their group of fifty, and as he gave thanks for the tiny meal which had been donated. Then came the wonderment as he broke off piece after piece of food and had the disciples distribute them amongst the crowd.

Looking up to heaven – In teaching his disciples about their dependence on him, Jesus would have them also observe his dependence on his heavenly Father. He ‘the Christ of God’, v20.

He gave thanks – lit. ‘he blessed them (the loaves)’. We should perhaps understand Luke as meaning, ‘he blessed God for them.’ Jesus may well have used the Jewish grace ‘Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth’. ‘When we are receiving our creature-comforts, we must look up to heaven. Christ did so, to teach us to do so. We must acknowledge that we receive them from God, and that we are unworthy to receive them,that1 we owe them all, and all the comfort we have in them, to the mediation of Christ, by whom the curse is removed, and the covenant of peace settled,that2 we depend upon Gods blessing upon them to make them serviceable to us, and desire that blessing.’ (M. Henry)

‘Lukes introduction of an object theme (i.e., the bread and the fish) for blessed seems to turn a blessing of God into a blessing of food (the same idiom is found in Mk 8:7 in Mark’s second feeding account), and so into a consecration (which may be taken technically in a sacramental sense or nontechnically in connection with an understanding that food is sanctified by the saying of grace; (see 1 Tim 4:4-5) Pseudo-Clement 1.22.4 uses this idiom). It is just possible, however, that what we have is not an object, but an accusative of respect (so Marshall, 362): Luke wants to avoid handling the fish separately, because of the Markan awkwardness, and so he makes the blessing (and all that follows) refer to both bread and fish by specifying he5 said the blessing with respect to them both.’ (WBC)

It is possible that for Luke this miracle anticipated the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Lk 22:14-23, esp. v19). But it is John (Jn 6:30-58) who confirms the connection between the two.

He gave them to the disciples to set before the people – The disciples could not provide, but could serve, the food.

‘The sequence of verbs here, having taken, he blessed, he broke, he gave is to be compared with that at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19): having10 taken, he gave thanks, he broke, he gave (the verb forms are not in every case identical: one verb is different, one is in a different Greek tense and one has a prefixed preposition in the feeding text). Comparison is also called for with the Emmaus meal (24:30): taking, he blessed, having broken, he gave (again, some details are different). Schrmann, 517, notes the way that these verbs give a formality to the account which hides from sight the particular features of the occasion: Does Jesus take all the food up at once? Is the fish broken in the way the bread would traditionally be broken? The main purpose of the eucharistic link would seem to be, not to ground the later Eucharist, nor to suggest that Jesus celebrated a proto-Eucharist with this crowd, but rather to indicate that in this experience the disciples became aware of the identity of Jesus in much the same way that the Christian of Luke’s day knew Jesus in the eucharistic meal (cf. 24:30-31).’ (WBC)

The multiplication of food is reminiscent of the miracle of God supplying manna for Israel in the wilderness, and especially of Elisha multiplying food. (2 Kings 4:42-44, where some was also left over)

They all ate and were satisfied – indicating that this was no token meal, as some scholars like to suppose. No other reaction on the part of the crowd is recorded here, presumably so that we can focus more clearly on the role of the disciples, and even more so on the identity of Jesus (bearing in mind that this story is sandwiched between Herod’s question in verses 7-9 and Peter’s response in verses 18-20).

This miracle teaches us the Jesus is able to meet every need, no matter how great. See Eph 3:20.

‘All the elements of this miracle focus on Jesus’ authority. He is the one who breaks the food and gives it to the disciples after prayer and blessing. Here is a picture of Jesus leading people at supper, suggesting a foretaste of the messianic banquet. (Ps 81:16 Isa 25:6 65:13-14) Luke gives no detail as to how the food multiplies, because he is more interested in the result and what it pictures than in detailing the miracle. The messianic association is set up by the context. Herod’s question in verses 7-9 and Peter’s response in verses 18-20 indicate that this event, sandwiched as it is, provides a point of identification. The picture is of a Messiah who provides and makes full (Lk 6:21, 38; of God-1:53; in the Old Testament, Ps 23:1-2; 37:19; 78:24; 105:40; 107:9; 132:15; 145:15-16, with God’s provision of manna in the wilderness as the prototype example).’ (IVP NT Commentary)

Modern scholars tend to view the historicity of this miracle with great suspicion. They note the apparent symbolism of the event, and adduce such practical difficulties as, Where could the five thousand have come from? How would the Twelve have managed to get the crowd so arranged? How much time would it have taken to distribute so much food? Could all this have been done in an evening? How many tons of bread would have been needed? How did they get the scraps from among the people? But these questions are by no means unanswerable, and we must conclude that such opinions tell us more about the anti-supernaturalism of their proponents than about the text they are supposed to be explaining.

Twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over – one basket of leftovers for each of the disciples! There was plenty for all and still some left over. Cf. Lk 6:38.

‘Those whom Christ feeds he fills; to whom he gives, he gives enough; as there is in him enough for all, so there is enough for each. He replenishes every hungry soul, abundantly satisfies it with the goodness of his house. Here were fragments taken up, to assure us that in our Fathers house there is bread enough, and to spare. We are not straitened, or stinted, in him.’ (M. Henry)

We see in this miracle a remarkable demonstration of the power of Jesus. He is the one through whom the heavens and the earth were brought into being; he is the one who turned a few morsels of food into a feast for thousands. And this is the same Jesus who breaths life into a dead, unbelieving heart.

This miracle demonstrates the sovereign power of Jesus. It also shows his compassion for the physical needs of those to whom he ministered. But the story also illustrates the important point that Jesus is the bread of life. Indeed, it was the very next day that he gave his teaching on this subject, Jn 6, but the majority of his hears showed that they were more interested in their stomachs that their souls.. Christ himself is the living bread, and those who eat of it will live for ever.

Notice that the crowd’s reaction is not recorded at all. This suggests that the main lesson was for the disciples.

Ryle asks: ‘Have we discovered that this world is a wilderness, and that our souls must be fed with bread from heaven, or die eternally? Happy are they who have learned this lesson, and have tasted by experience, that Christ crucified is the true bread of life!’

Geldenhuys writes: ‘It is vain for us to attempt by ourselves to give real food to needy mankind with our five little loaves and two fishes – the insignificant gifts and powers possessed by us. But when we place at his disposal, in faith and obedience, everything we have received from him, he will, in spite of our own insignificance and poverty, use us nevertheless to feed souls with the bread of eternal life. He sanctifies, blesses and increases our talents and powers, everything consecrated by us to his service.’

‘Everett Cook, a retired Pentecostal minister running a street mission, confronted an associate who had a growth on his nose but refused to see a doctor. “God will heal me,” the man insisted.

“If you needed a miracle, God would give you one,” Everett retorted, “but right now he’s given you a doctor and medical insurance. You need to use what he’s given you.”

The next time they met the man’s growth was much bigger, but the man still insisted, “I am healed.” The third time they met the growth had spread further, and finally the man was thinking that perhaps he needed to see a doctor.

God performed a miracle when he created the world and set its laws in motion, and we are often wise to start with natural means when those are available. God performs miracles to meet our genuine needs, but he will not perform them merely to entertain us.’ (Keener, in IVP Commentary, on Matthew))

This story of the feeding of the 5,000 teaches, amongst other things, (a) the wonder-working power of Jesus; (b) his loving compassion: concerned about there spiritual needs, he taught them; concerned for their physical needs, he fed them.

Peter’s Confession

9:18 Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and his disciples were nearby, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 9:19 They answered, “John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has risen.” 9:20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 9:21 But he forcefully commanded them not to tell this to anyone, 9:22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Lk 9:18–20pp—Mt 16:13–16; Mk 8:27–29

Between verses 17 and 18 comes what scholars have called ‘the great omission’: Luke has left out the material covered in Mk 6:45-8:26.

In Lk 9:18-22 we have

  1. An illustration of the centrality of prayer in the life of Jesus, cf. Lk 6:12-13.
  2. An illustration of the teaching method of Jesus. Cf. Mt 7:28.
  3. A question in two parts:- (a) who do the crowds say that I am? (A guru, a revolutionary, a myth?) (b) who do you say I am?
  4.  A command to keep silent (for the time being). Cf. Acts 2:36.
  5. A great turning-point. Cf. Lk 9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28.

When Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him – This is noted only by Luke. It indicates that what follows is of great and solemn inportance. Jesus had prayed before selecting his disciples, Lk 6:12-13; now he prays before confonting them with the question of who he is.

“Who do the crowds say I am?” – Here is a typical example of Jesus’ teaching method. He does not simply provide information, he provokes people to think for themselves. The question itself is of absolutely critical importance, and strikes at the heart of the matter. The whole Gospel story so far has been leading up to this point. If any of us were to ask the question of ourselves, we would probably be guilty of pride. But with Jesus, the question was entirely appropriate. Think of all the questions that Jesus might have asked, but chose not to.

“Some say John the Baptist…” – These rumours were evidently widespread, for they had even reached Herod’s ears, vv7f.. Who do the crowds today think Jesus is? A revolutionary? A guru? A pal? A myth?

“Who do you say I am?” – See how Jesus personalises and individualises the question. He was ready to ask, and the disciples were ready to begin to answer, the question.

Peter answered = also Jn 6:68-69.

“The Christ of God” – This title, of course, indicates that Jesus is God’s ‘anointed one’. As such he has divine authority and divine power.

‘The final result of our preaching and work should always be that people are brought to the personal confession that Jesus is the Christ of God – the Messiah who is our Prophet, Priest and King, our Saviour and Teacher, who has procured redemption for us and who now intercedes for us and rules our lives.’ (Geldenhuys)

‘Jesus said unto them, who do you say I am? And they replied, you are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationship.

And Jesus said, Come again?’

Not to tell this to anyone – After the resurrection, of course, who Jesus was and is would be published far and wide, Acts 2:36. But Jesus always had an acute sense of the unfolding of the divine plan for his ministry, and the time was not yet ripe for a widespread proclamation of this kind. In particular, announcing Jesus as ‘Messiah’ would have led to the impression that he was some kind of political leader, and might have caused an uprising against Rome. ‘He was not to be a spectacular and outwardly successful hero, driving out the hated Roman rulers and setting up a Jewish state, as many hoped. Instead, he was to be a humble, patient, loving, peaceful Messiah, God’s suffering servant, as pictured in Isa 53.’ (NBC)

This prohibition can be explained partly by reference to Jn 6:15: there was a danger of Jesus’ growing popularity precipitating events which were not part of the divine plan. Jesus must follow the divine, not the popular, agenda.

Lk 9:22–27pp—Mt 16:21–28; Mk 8:31–9:1

The Feeding of the 5,000, and Peter’s confession, mark the end of Jesus’ long ministry in Galilee, Lk 4:14-9:17. He now begins his journey to Jerusalem (see Lk 9:51 13:22 17:11 18:31; and 19:11, 28).

A Call to Discipleship

9:23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 9:24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 9:25 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself? 9:26 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 9:27 But I tell you most certainly, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus has attracted to himself not only a group of 12 disciples, but also a large number of admirers. Events such as the Transfiguration, and Peter’s confession, have marked a change of direction in his ministry. Hitherto, he has been occupied for much of the time in the north, around Galilee. Now he sets off towards Jerusalem, and to certain death.

Then he said to them all – Cf. Mk 8:34, which makes it clear that at this point Jesus addresses the crowd, for he is about to say affects everyone who would follow him. We can best understand these verses by remembering that people entertained very mistaken views about the nature of Christ’s work and mission. Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Saviour, Mt 16:22. The disciples generally hoped for worldly honours and rewards in the kingdom of God. And people generally thought that the Messianic kingdom would be the means of the overthrown of Roman oppression. Our Lord has insisted that it is all very different, not only in relation to himself, but also in relation to what his disciples can expect. Christian discipleship is not an easy option. Cf Lk 13:24. True, it offers a crown in the life to come, but a cross in the present life.

“If anyone would come after me” – That is, ‘If anyone wishes to take his place behind me’. We might think that Jesus would welcome with open arms anyone who expressed the slightest interest in being his disciple; that the Lord would smooth over every difficulty and ease every burden. But no: he spells out the cost of discipleship. Cf. Lk 14:25-33.

“He must deny himself” – This is a phrase which, like the one which follows, has been terribly weakened by Christians over the years. To many it means, perhaps, giving up something for Lent. ‘To deny self does not mean to deny things. It means to give yourself wholly to Christ and share in his shame and death. To take up a cross does not mean to carry burdens or have problems. I once met a lady who told me her asthma was the cross she had to bear! To take up the cross means to identify with Christ in his rejection, shame, suffering, and death’ (Warren Wiersbe). ‘It is a decisive saying no to oneself, to ones hopes and plans and ambitions, to ones likes and dislikes, to ones nearest and dearest, for the sake of Christ.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible) See Php 3:7-11.

The difficulty of self-denial. ‘The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self; the most difficult thing we have to manage is self.’ (Hannah Whitall Smith)

Self-denial is the very doorway into saving faith: ‘the very act of faith by which we receive Christ is an act of utter renunciation of self and all its works, as a ground of salvation.’ (Mark Hopkins)

Moreover, it is by self-denial that we are brought into the development of all the spiritual graces. ‘All the great virtues bear the imprint of self-denial’ (William E. Channing). Calvin says, ‘the denial of ourselves will leave no room for pride, haughtiness, or vainglory, nor for avarice, licentiousness, love of luxury, wantonness, or any sin born from self-love.’ Calvin comments again on the centrality of self-denial in the Christian life: ‘All who have not been influenced by the principle of self-denial have followed virtue merely from the love of praise.’

The blessings and benefits of self-denial. ‘Our Lord did not ask us simply to give up the things of earth, but to exchange them for better things.’ (Fulton Sheen) ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.’ ‘All of the great spiritual delights we long for come into the world of a Christian’s experience attended with the birth-pangs of self-denial.’ (Walter Chantry)

Here is a summary of some test questions Richard Baxter provides on self-denial:-

  1. What do you live for?
  2. Which do value most, your salvation and the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and flesh?
  3. Is your behaviour habitually ruled by God, his word and Spirit, or by the carnal desires?
  4. Would you give up anything and everything in order to have God?

“Take up his cross daily and follow me” – See also Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; 10:38; Lk 14:27. ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

‘The cross was an instrument of violent and painful execution. To “take the cross” was to carry the horizontal beam of the cross out to the site of execution, usually past a jeering mob. In rhetorically strong terms, Jesus describes what all true *disciples must be ready for: if they follow him, they must be ready to face literal scorn on the road to eventual martyrdom, for they must follow to the cross. From the moment of faith believers must count their lives forfeit for the kingdom.’ (NT Background Commentary)

We are prone to water this saying down: we think of a ‘cross’ as some inconvenience or hardship that we have to put up with. Moreover, the cross to us is a familiar object, frequently robbed of its brutality. The original saying was far more radical. Remember that Jesus had of course not himself been crucified, nor had he indicated that he would be (this saying might indeed be the first hint of the manner of his death). Crucifixion was in any case not a Jewish, but a Roman means of execution. Remember also that in ancient times capital punishment was a very public affair. The condemned criminal was dragged though the streets to his place of execution, and everyone knew where he was going. He had abandoned all earthly hopes and desires. Except, what the condemned criminal does under duress, the Christian disciple does willingly.

‘Jesus well knew what crucifixion meant. When he was a lad of about eleven years of age, Judas the Galilaean had led a rebellion against Rome. He had raided the royal armoury at Sepphoris, which was only four miles from Nazareth. The Roman vengeance was swift and sudden. Sepphoris was burned to the ground; its inhabitants were sold into slavery; and two thousand of the rebels were crucified on crosses which were set in lines along the roadside that they might be a dreadful warning to others tempted to rebel. To take up our cross means to be prepared to face things like that for loyalty to Jesus; it means to be ready to endure the worst that man can do to us for the sake of being true to him.’ (DSB)

‘In all three Synoptic Gospels these words follow the account of Peters confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus first warning about his impending passion, Peters expostulation (Mt 16:22) and the rebuke which it drew forth from Jesus. It is as though he said to them, you still confess me to be the Messiah? You still wish to follow me? If so, you should realize quite clearly where I am going and understand that by following me you will be going there too. The Son of Man must suffer; were they prepared to suffer with him? The Son of Man faced the prospect of violent death; were they prepared to face it too? What if that violent death proved to be death on a cross? Were they prepared for that?’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible) ‘So far must they be from thinking how to prevent his sufferings that they must rather prepare for their own.’ (M. Henry)

‘Closely connected to this is Paul’s symbol of the crucified life. Conversion means the ego “no longer live(s)” but is replaced by Christ and faith in him. (Gal 2:20) Self-centered desires are nailed to the cross, (Gal 5:24) and worldly interests are dead.’ (Gal 6:14) (Holman) See also 1 Cor 15:31.

‘Building upon the Roman practice of bearing the crossbeam to the place of execution, Jesus intended this in two directions: the death of self, involving the sacrifice of one’s individuality for the purpose of following Jesus completely; and a willingness to imitate Jesus completely, even to the extent of martyrdom.’ (Holman)

The true disciple is not simply a student. He is the person who will follow Jesus wherever he leads, even though that may mean pain, persecution and sacrifice. In the Roman world, the cross stood for pain, rejection, shame, and guilt. Crucifixion was not a topic for polite conversation. But the disciple is to take up his cross. He is voluntarily and habitually to share in the sufferings of Christ, Php 3:10. To take up one’s cross means to share in the surrender, the suffering and the sacrifice of Christ. We cannot crucify ourselves, but we can offer up our bodies in the service of God, Rom 12:1f.

We are to take up the cross ‘daily’. That is to say, habitually, and in the details of life. It sometimes seems easier to trust God with the ‘years’ of our lives than with the ‘days’. We have faith and obedience in general, but not in particular. But cross-carrying is a daily assignment.

‘It is a striking peculiarity in the religion of Christ, that in the conditions of discipleship, “taking up the cross” is the first thing.  He never tempted any to follow him with the promise of earthly prosperity, or exemption from suffering.’ (Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, 182.

“Follow me” – What does it mean to ‘follow’ the Mater? It means to trust him, to obey him, to go where he leads, to enjoy his continual companionship.

On the whole verse Quesnel (cited by Ryle) remarks: ‘Take particular notice of the three words, “to them all” and “daily.” No person is excused, and no day is excepted. Of what, therefore, do those think, and to what do they aspire, who who make every day a day of pleasure, luxury and diversion? Who has a right to shake off the yoke of the cross, but only he who designs to have a right to nothing but hell?’

“Whoever wants to save his life” – that is, ‘whoever is bent on saving his life’. ‘The pith of this maxim depends-as often in such weighty sayings (for example, “Let the dead bury the dead,” Mt 8:22)-on the double sense attached to the word “life,” a lower and a higher, the natural and the spiritual, temporal and eternal. An entire sacrifice of the lower, or a willingness to make it, is indispensable to the preservation of the higher life; and he who cannot bring himself to surrender the one for the sake of the other shall eventually lose both.’ (JFB)

‘If this present life is most important to you, you will do everything you can to protect it. You will not want to do anything that might endanger your safety, health, or comfort. By contrast, if following Jesus is most important, you may find yourself in unsafe, unhealthy, and uncomfortable places. You will risk death, but you will not fear it because you know that Jesus will raise you to eternal life.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

‘The whole gamut of the world’s standards must be changed. The questions are not, “How much can I get?” but, “How much can I give?” Not, “What is the safe thing to do?” but, “What is the right thing to do?” Not, “What is the minimum permissible in the way of work?” but, “What is the maximum possible?” The Christian must realize that he is given life, not to keep for himself but to spend for others; not to husband its flame but to burn it out for Christ and for men.’ (DSB)

Mt 16:28; Mk 9:1

The Transfiguration

9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up the mountain to pray. 9:29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became very bright, a brilliant white.
Lk 9:28–36pp—Mt 17:1–8; Mk 9:2–8

The event took place shortly after the confession at Caesarea Philippi, the first passion prediction, and a discourse on the cost of discipleship. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain where the event took place.

As we might expect, some scholars view this story as legendary. So Bultmann: ‘That this legend is originally a Resurrection-story has long been recognised.’

Having recently spoken of the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom, it is natural to assume that the Transfiguration was intended by Jesus as an illustration and guarantee of that kingdom. See 2 Pet 1:16: ‘We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.’

Matthew Henry beautifully observes: ‘When Christ was here in his humiliation, though his state, in the main, was a state of abasement and afflictions, there were some glimpses of his glory intermixed, that he himself might be the more encouraged in his sufferings, and others the less offended. His birth, his baptism, his temptation, and his death, were the most remarkable instances of his humiliation; and these were each of them attended with some signal points of glory, and the smiles of heaven. But the series of his public ministry being a continued humiliation, here, just in the midst of that, comes in this discovery of his glory. As, now that he is in heaven, he has his condescensions, so, when he was on earth, he had his advancements..

J.I Packer writes: ‘The transformation that the divine-human Lord underwent as he prayed (Lk 9:29) was from one standpoint a taste of things to come: it was a momentary transition from the concealing of his divine glory that marked his days on earth to the revealing of that glory when he returns and we see him as he is. It was a transition too from humanity as it is in us now to what it will be on Resurrection Day…The (Php 3:20-21) Transfiguration was also a significant event in the revelation of Gods kingdom (i.e., the kingdom of the Messiah, Gods prophesied Savior-King, in terms of whom Gods kingdom is defined). Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets witnessing to Jesus and being superseded by him.’ (Concise Theology)

About eight days after – Mt 17:1 & Mk 9:2 have ‘after six days’. Luke is perhaps including the day at the beginning and the day at the end of this period. We would say, ‘about a week after’, but a week was a Jewish, and not a Gentile, concept.

The witnesses of the Transfiguration were Peter, John and James – who had been the three disciples to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter, Mk 5:37. Three was a competent number a witnesses, and Peter would later solemnly testify to this amazing event, 2 Pet 1:16. ‘Christ makes his appearances certain enough, but not too common; not to all the people, but to witnesses, (Ac 10:41) that they might be blessed, who have not seen, and yet have believed.’ (M. Henry)

Went up onto a mountain to pray – for he had reached a critical point in his earthly ministry. ‘Christ chose a retired place to be transfigured in, because his appearing publicly in his glory was not agreeable to his present state; and thus he would show his humility, and teach us that privacy much befriends our communion with God. Those that would maintain intercourse with Heaven, must frequently withdraw from the converse and business of this world; and they will find themselves never less alone than when alone, for the Father is with them.’ (M. Henry)

‘The traditional site is Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, but it is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and was probably fortified and inaccessible in Jesus’ day. Much more likely is Mount Hermon (9,100 feet) to the north of Caesarea Philippi.’ (Holman Bible Dictionary)

‘We have been too busy chopping wood to take time out to sharpen the axe.’ (Vance Havner)

The Manner of the Transfiguration.  ‘Christ was both God and man; but, in the days of his flesh, he took on him the form of a servant morphe doulou, Php 2:7. He drew a veil over the glory of his godhead; but now, in his transfiguration, he put by that veil, appeared en morphe  theou in the form of God, (Php 2:6) and gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory, which could not but change his form.’ (M. Henry)

As he was praying – ‘Before he cried he was answered, and while he was yet speaking he was heard. Blessed interruption to prayer this! Thanks to God, transfiguring manifestations are not quite strangers here. Ofttimes in the deepest depths, out of groanings which cannot be uttered, God’s dear children are suddenly transported to a kind of heaven upon earth, and their soul is made as the chariots of Amminadab. Their prayers fetch down such light, strength, holy gladness, as make their face to shine, putting a kind of celestial radiance upon it (2 Cor 3:18, with Ex 34:29-35).’ (JFB)

The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning – ‘The light, then, it would seem, shone not upon him from without, but out of him from within; he was all irradiated, was in one blaze of celestial glory. What a contrast to that “visage more marred than men, and his form than the sons of men!”.’ (Isa 52:14) (JFB)

Here is Matthew’s version: (Mt 17:2) There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Luke avoids using the word metamorphoo, for it might imply to Gentile readers the metamorphoses of heathen gods (Vine), and says instead that his face “became (ginomai) different (heteros)”.

‘The great truth which we declare, is, that God is light, (1Jo 1:5) dwells in the light, (1 Tim 6:16) covers himself with light, Ps 104:2. And therefore when Christ would appear in the form of God, he appeared in light, the most glorious of all visible beings, the first-born of the creation, and most nearly resembling the eternal Parent. Christ is the Light; while he was in the world, he shined in darkness, and therefore the world knew him not; (Jn 1:5,10) but, at this time, that Light shined out of the darkness.’ (M. Henry)

9:30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, began talking with him. 9:31 They appeared in glorious splendor and spoke about his departure that he was about to carry out at Jerusalem. 9:32 Now Peter and those with him were quite sleepy, but as they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 9:33 Then as the men were starting to leave, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he was saying. 9:34 As he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

Moses and Elijah – Representing the law and the prophets ‘both together the whole testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Old Testament saints, to Christ; now not borne in a book, but by living men, not to a coming, but a come Messiah, visibly, for they “appeared,” and audibly, for they “spake.”‘ (JFB) ‘In them the law and the prophets honoured Christ, and bore testimony to him.’ (M. Henry) As Cranfield puts it, ‘their attendance on Jesus sets forth the relation of the OT to Jesus and of Jesus to the OT.

These two had been very eminent for their faith. Both had fasted forty days and forty nights, as had Christ, and had been miracle-workers. Both had had unusual endings to their earthly lives: the body of Moses never being found, and that of Elijah being carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot.

Here is a very concrete demonstration of the continued existence of those who have fallen asleep in Christ, even though they had died many centuries before, and under the old dispensation.

Here, says Matthew Henry, ‘was a lively resemblance of Christs kingdom, which is made up of saints in heaven and saints on earth, and to which belong the spirits of just men made perfect.’

Milne (The Message of Heaven and Hell) remarks that the appearance together of Moses and Elijah movingly suggests the nature of life in heaven, where generational differences will be transcended.  Although much is beyond our present comprehension, we can rejoice that ‘centuries will fall away, and lives separated by long tracts of time will commune and find common cause with those of other ages.’

Lk 9:31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

His departure = Gk exodos, an evident reference to his death (and resurrection). He had recently been speaking about this, v22. Cf. 1 Pet 1:15.

Edwards remarks that the word exodos is used just three times in the NT – here, and in Heb 11:22 and 2 Pet 1:15.

Some interpreters (e.g. F.F. Bruce, This is that) find in the use of the word exodos an allusion to the exodus.  Brevard Childs (Exodus, p.233) cautions that ‘the connection is only possible by means of an illegitimate semantic transfer.’  However, the connection with the appearance of Moses suggests that the use of the word exodos is ‘powerfully symbolic’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary).  Morris agrees: ‘The exodus had delivered Israel from bondage. Jesus by his ‘exodus’ would deliver his people from a far worse bondage.’  So also Edwards: ‘The exodus from Egypt, the foundational episode of redemption and formation of Israel into a people and nation, becomes a prefigurement of Jesus’ passion, through which he redeems people from the power of sin and forms them into the church.’

‘What now may be gathered from this statement? (1) That a dying Messiah is the great article of the true Jewish theology. For a long time the Church had fallen clean away from the faith of this article, and even from a preparedness to receive it. But here we have that jewel raked out of the dunghill of Jewish traditions, and by the true representatives of the Church of old made the one subject of talk with Christ himself. (2) The adoring gratitude of glorified men for his undertaking to accomplish such a decease; their felt dependence upon it for the glory in which they appeared; their profound interest in the progress of it, their humble solaces and encouragements to go through with it; and their sense of its peerless and overwhelming glory. “Go, matchless, adored one, a Lamb to the slaughter! rejected of men, but chosen of God and precious; dishonored, abhorred, and soon to be slain by men, but worshipped by cherubim, ready to be greeted by all heaven. In virtue of that decease we are here; our all is suspended on it and wrapped up in it. Thine every step is watched by us with ineffable interest; and though it were too high an honor to us to be permitted to drop a word of cheer into that precious but now clouded spirit, yet, as the first-fruits of harvest; the very joy set before him, we cannot choose but tell him that what is the depth of shame to him is covered with glory in the eyes of Heaven, that the Cross to him is the Crown to us, that that ‘decease’ is all our salvation and all our desire.” And who can doubt that such a scene did minister deep cheer to that spirit? It is said they “talked” not to him, but “with him;” and if they told him how glorious his decease was, might he not fitly reply, “I know it, but your voice, as messengers from heaven come down to tell it me, is music in mine ears.”‘ (JFB)

‘What a testimony have we here to the evangelical scope of the whole ancient economy. Not only is Christ the great End of it all, but a dying Christ…In heaven, at least, they regard that “Decease” as all their salvation and all their desire, as we see beautifully here. For here, fresh from heaven, and shining with the glory of it, when permitted to talk with him, they speak not of his miracles, nor of his teaching, nor of the honour which he put upon their Scriptures, nor upon the unreasonable opposition to him and his patient endurance of it: They speak not of the glory they were themselves enshrined in, and the glory which he was soon to reach. Their one subject of talk is “His decease, which he was going to accomplish at Jerusalem.” One fancies he might hear them saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that is to be slain!”‘ (JFB)

The likely tone of this discussion may be summed up in the words of Rev 1:5-6.

They saw his glory – Cf. 2 Pet 1:16. ‘The glory of God was seen by the shepherds at the birth of Christ (Lk 2:9,14) and by his disciples during his incarnate life. (Jn 1:14) Particularly was it revealed in his semeia (Jn 2:11) and at his transfiguration. (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36) This recalls the ascent of Moses to Sinai (Ex 24:15) and of Elijah to Horeb (1 Kings 19:8) and their visions of the glory of God. Now Christ both sees and reflects the divine glory, but no tabernacle needs to be built because the Word of God has pitched his tent in the human flesh of Jesus (Jn 1:14) and his glory is to be more fully revealed at the coming exodus at Jerusalem (Lk 9:31) and finally at his parousia.’ (NBD)

“Let us put up three shelters” – as if to say, ‘Don’t let this stop.’ ‘Peter thought this mountain was a fine spot of ground to build upon, and he was for making tabernacles there; as Moses in the wilderness made a tabernacle for the Shechinah, or divine glory.’ (M. Henry) And yet Peter’s understandable enthusiasm is mixed with a great deal of misunderstanding: Moses and Elijah belong to another world, and have no need of earthly shelter; Jesus has recently predicted his own sufferings, and so the mountain-top experience cannot last.

No reply was made to Peter: he was answered by the disappearance of the glory.

A cloud appeared and enveloped them – the sign both of the revelation and the veiling of God. Mt 17:5 speaks of this as ‘a bright cloud’.

9:35 Then a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” 9:36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. So they kept silent and told no one at that time anything of what they had seen.

In OT times, God had often appeared in, and spoken from, a cloud, Ex 19:9; 34:5; Num 11:25.

Here is a revelation of the mystery of the gospel: “This is my Son…” – Cf. Lk 3:17,22.

Here is a publication of the great duty of hearers of the gospel: “Listen to him” – indicating that in Jesus the prophecy of Deut 18:15,18 is fulfilled. He alone is named here, not Moses and Elijah. He alone is to be heared and obeyed. ‘When he enjoins us to hear him, he appoints him to be the supreme and only Teacher of his Church…he alone is appointed to be our Teacher, that in him all authority may dwell.’ (Calvin) ‘It is not enough to give him the hearing (what will that avail us?) but we must hear him and believe him, as the great Prophet and Teacher; hear him, and be ruled by him, as the great Prince and Lawgiver; hear him, and heed him. Whoever would know the mind of God, must hearken to Jesus Christ; for by him God has in these last days spoken to us.’ (M. Henry)

Jesus was alone – Left – to suffer! ‘Note, It is not wisdom to raise our expectations high in this world, for the most valuable of our glories and joys here are vanishing, even those of near communion with God are so, not a continual feast, but a running banquet. If sometimes we are favoured with special manifestations of divine grace, glimpses and pledges of future glory, yet they are withdrawn presently; two heavens are too much for those to expect that never deserve one.’ (M. Henry)

The disciples kept this to themselves and told no one at that time what they had seen – and this on the instruction of Jesus, Mt 17:9. ‘If they had proclaimed it, the credibility of it would have been shocked by his sufferings, which were now hastening on. But let the publication of it be adjourned till after his resurrection, and then that and his subsequent glory will be a great confirmation of it.’ (M. Henry)

Healing a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

9:37 Now on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 9:38 Then a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son—he is my only child! 9:39 A spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions and causes him to foam at the mouth. It hardly ever leaves him alone, torturing him severely. 9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 9:41 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you and endure you? Bring your son here.” 9:42 As the boy was approaching, the demon threw him to the ground and shook him with convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 9:43 Then they were all astonished at the mighty power of God.
Lk 9:37–42,43–45pp—Mt 17:14–18,22,23; Mk 9:14–27,30–32

v41 These words appear to be addressed to the crowd – it was their faithlessness and perverseness that had prevented the healing of the boy.

Another Prediction of Jesus’ Suffering

But while the entire crowd was amazed at everything Jesus was doing, he said to his disciples, 9:44 “Take these words to heart, for the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 9:45 But they did not understand this statement; its meaning had been concealed from them, so that they could not grasp it. Yet they were afraid to ask him about this statement.

Concerning the Greatest

9:46 Now an argument started among the disciples as to which of them might be the greatest. 9:47 But when Jesus discerned their innermost thoughts, he took a child, had him stand by his side, 9:48 and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me, for the one who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

This argument can be understood in the light of the disciples’ mission in vv1-6. They had been sent out to preach and heal. It would be very understandable if they returned with stories about whose ministry had been the most successful.

On the Right Side

9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he is not a disciple along with us.” 9:50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Rejection in Samaria

9:51 Now when the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem. 9:52 He sent messengers on ahead of him. As they went along, they entered a Samaritan village to make things ready in advance for him, 9:53 but the villagers refused to welcome him, because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. 9:54 Now when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 9:55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 9:56 and they went on to another village.

This central section, 9:51-18:14, is often called Luke’s ‘Big Interpolation’, consisting as it does of material that Luke has inserted into his Marcan framework. Unlike much of Luke’s material, this section does not appear to be arranged chronologically. E.E. Ellis says, ‘The Lord is no nearer Jerusalem in 17:11 than in 9:51.’ A number of scholars, including C.F. Evans, have adduced evidence that Luke has modelled much of his material on Deut 1-26, with Jesus being regarded as Moses’ successor.

The time approached for him to be taken up to heaven – Lit. ‘when the days were approaching for his ascension.’ (NASB) Luke has in mind ‘the consummation of Jesus’ work in the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.’ (Morris)

Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem – Cf. Lk 19:11.  As D.A. Carson points out, this marker alerts us to the fact that Jesus’ trajectory towards Jerusalem (and thus to his death and resurrection) carry great significance for Luke as he unfolds the story.  The preacher should, accordingly, consider how each subsequent pericope relates to this journey.  (in Paul & Wenham (eds) ‘We Proclaim the Word of Life’, p24)

“Fire from heaven” – lightning, perhaps.

Jesus…rebuked them – ‘We learn here-

1st. That apparent zeal for God may be only improper opposition toward our fellow-men.

2nd. That men, when they wish to honour God, should examine their spirit, and see if there is not lying at the bottom of their professed zeal for God some bad feeling toward their fellow-men.

3rd. That the highest opposition which Jesus met with was not inconsistent with his loving those who opposed him, and with his seeking to do them good.’ (Barnes)

Three times wrong

The Zebedees are wrong about Jesus: the Son of Man will not accomplish God’s will through force and violence, but through weakness, even suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection (9:22).

They are also wrong about the Samaritans: despite this particular rejection, and despite the widespread proscriptions of Samaritans by Jews, Samaritans are distinguished in Luke-Acts as early and important recipients of the gospel. A Samaritan plays a heroic role in a parable (10:29–37), a Samaritan is a paragon of grateful discipleship (17:11–19), and the gospel is preached in Samaria with favor (Acts 8:1–25).

Finally, the Zebedees are wrong about discipleship: disciples are not commissioned to commandeer God’s role as judge, but to serve the Son of Man, whose face is set to Jerusalem.

The alternative of Jesus to righting wrongs, getting even, and perpetuating cycles of vengeance is simple: “He and his disciples went to another village” (v. 56). Rejection, as Paul would recognize (Rom 11:11–12), can lead to greater exposure of others to the gospel and “riches for the Gentiles.”

(Edwards, reparagraphed)

Jesus rejects the way of Elijah?

Derek Flood notes that the disciples were hoping to emulate Elijah’s example (2 King 1:10).  Jesus’ response, according to Flood, ‘is an implicit yet clear rejection of the way of Elijah.’

Flood adds: ‘Later manuscripts include the response of Jesus, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56).22 In other words, Jesus is essentially saying that the way of Elijah is not of God, but instead belongs to the spirit of the one who seeks to destroy, that is, of the devil.’

‘While Elijah claimed that his actions proved he was a “man of God,” this passage in Luke’s Gospel makes the opposite claim: The true “man of God” incarnate had not come to obliterate life, but to save, heal, and restore it (Luke 19:10 & John 3:17)…In other words, Jesus expects his disciples—expects you and me—to be making these same calls of knowing what to embrace in the Bible and what to reject.’  (Disarming Scripture, p51)

We think that Flood’s pitting of Jesus against Elijah is rather perverse.  Given our Lord’s habitual approval of the OT scriptures, it is enough to say that his words ‘point to the arrival of a new era when God will act in a new way’ (Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament).

Challenging Professed Followers

9:57 As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 9:58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 9:59 Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 9:61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Lk 9:57–60pp—Mt 8:19–22

The three examples in this passage parallel the call of Elisha by Elijah, 2 Kings 2:1–6.

“First let me go and bury my father” – This appears, at first glance, to be an excessively harsh command.  Was Jesus really forbidding the man to attend the funeral of his own father?  And how does this square with the frequent instructions within the pages of the Bible (e.g. Ex 20:12) that have to do with caring for one’s family?

In considering the possible ways of interpreting this saying we must take care not to ‘domesticate’ it without good reason.

  1. It may be that Jesus is speaking literally.  In this case, the command really is surprising, since it was the duty of a son to look after the burial arrangements for his father.  Jesus is then saying, in no uncertain terms, that loyalty to him and his cause takes priority over all others.  It would still leave open to question whether such a command applies to all would-be followers.  But, in any case, it is hard to think of Jesus forbidding such a sacred obligation.
  2. It may be that Jesus is speaking rhetorically, in order to make the man think about his priorities.  Is he prepared to put Jesus before his family?  Loyalty to Jesus must take priority over all other loyalties, even the most sacred.  Bock observes: ‘Jesus’ command is heavily rhetorical, since the dead cannot bury anyone. It means either that the spiritually dead should be left to perform this task or that such concern is inconsequential in the face of the call to discipleship.’
  3. It may be that the father was still alive, which would suggest that the would-be disciple wished to care for him (or used that as an excuse) until his death.  This is the view of Barclay.  But there is nothing in the text itself to suggest this.  Nolland (WBC) remarks that we must regard the father as dead or on the point of death.
  4. A further interpretation is possible, which takes into account the burial customs of the day.  Immediately after the death of the father, the body would have been placed in a coffin and then into a tomb for one year in order for the body to decompose.  The family would have been in mourning for the first seven days, and it is unlikely that the man would have been out and about at this time.  After a year, the bones would have been placed in an ossuary and then reburied.  The point then is that the man wants to delay by up to one year his response to Jesus’ command to follow him.  This is the view of Keener (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

“Let the dead bury their own dead” – Usually understood as the spiritually dead burying the physically dead.

Hengel remarks on the sense of urgency: ‘There was no more time to be lost and so [Jesus] had to be followed without procrastination and to the abandonment of all human considerations and ties.’