This is day twenty-three, and the twenty-third post, of my ninety blogs in ninety days. It’s been a personal challenge to deeply read the New Testament, and share, for whomever, what moves me every day. Thank you for joining me.
Today’s reading is Luke 19 through Luke 21.
Through these chapters we find a swift and controversial Jesus, who is proven to be right.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of reading the gospels so far is that I have been forced to read them for the sake of their original, intended audience. By doing that, I’ve had to also see them in their original intention. That’s been very, very cool.
It’s important to know that, through today’s reading.
First, let’s go to Malachi 3:1, a passage I used in a previous post.
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Think about that passage, then, as Luke tells his story.
Watch Jesus, through today’s readings, enter Jerusalem, the center of all action, from Luke 19 through Acts 7. Luke is keeping us here for awhile.
Finally Jesus is here. He has been on his way to this city since Luke 9, and now, he enters. A crowd of disciples “began joyfully to praise God in loud voices,” and call Jesus a king.
A king. Luke cites a passage from Psalm 118:26, but not the Hebrew translation of that passage. In Hebrew, Psalm 118:26 only says “blessed is he who comes …” But the ancient Greek translation, available to Luke, calls this coming man a king.
Luke is a masterful writer. I remember, even in the past few months, being very dissatisfied with this gospel. But my appreciation has grown tremendously. He knew what he was writing. He could have easily used the Hebrew translation, had he wanted. Luke is such an intentional author.
Jesus approaches Jerusalem, only to weep over the city. As the living Word of God, the Word that came through countless judges, kings, and prophets, he, as a breathing human, sees this blessed city, the city of his attention for centuries, and is overcome with emotion. He weeps.
And then he dried his eyes, rolled up his sleeves, and entered the temple to clean house.
From Malachi 3, then, we see what’s happening:
“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Jesus comes to the temple. Suddenly.
And he doesn’t stop. After cleansing the temple, he stays there, to teach. Every single day (19:47).
So just picture this. A teacher, not once known for violence, does something incredibly violent. Controversial. And he doesn’t hide. Because he is there to preach good news, and a release for all of the oppressed. This certainly has drawn the ire of the city religious leaders.
Their plotting to kill him begins here. They watched him drive out the businesses, and, through the writing of Luke, seemingly close the temple for good.
Really. Jesus calls this temple, in 19:46, a house of prayer, quoted from Isaiah 56:7, yet he leaves off the final part of Isaiah 56:7, which says that the temple will be a house of prayer for all nations.
Jesus does that, because he means that. It will not be a house of worship and prayer for the entire world. Gentiles will never be a part of this temple, and they will never need it to find God. Because with the advent of Jesus, there is no longer a need for this building of stone. He declares this to be, by his very presence in Jerusalem.
It’s no wonder that they plotted to kill him. The very sacredness of this building was attacked. Never mind their complete ignorance, though, of the countless number of years it was attacked, and made a mockery of, by merchants.
From this very temple, then, he tells an incredibly controversial, and agitating parable, directed to the teachers of the law, and the chief priests. They are the murderers of his parable, and they knew it. He tells them he is the living cornerstone of a rejected building — but, as a stone, he is able to crush them.
Yes. Jesus, in veiled language, tells them he could end their lives, if he wanted.
Whew. It almost makes me sweat a little.
Not only that, but later, in Luke 21, he stands again on the temple steps, and delivers an extreme prophecy of its destruction. Luke wants us to think of Jeremiah, who also delivered an extreme prophecy against the temple.
And before we read too much millenialism into this passage, carefully see what Luke is doing here. He’s using this story, writing it after the disciples had suffered great persecutions, after the Temple had fallen, and after Jerusalem had fallen to the hands of the Romans.
To Luke’s original, intended audience, Jesus is seen as right. His prophecies were true. These things had, indeed, happened.
The temple would fall (21:5-11), yet before it would fall, his disciples would be harmed greatly for their beliefs (21:12-19). Then Jesus returned in this discourse on the temple steps to the destruction of the entire city of Jerusalem (21:20-24).
And if those events happened, and Luke’s audience would know it, then Luke’s audience could trust that Jesus’ ultimate return would happen (21:25-38).
(Most scholars believe that Luke did indeed write Luke after these events. And these stories were probably known to most gatherings of believers. It makes no difference, though. Jesus spoke these words well before any of this happened.)
So this is the Jesus in the gospel of Luke. A Jesus who swiftly and suddenly cleans the Temple, thereby delivering the Word of God to this cursed building – a Jesus who saw the building and city of his tears, only to be destroyed, so he, and only he, could fully replace its presence in the world. And saying all of this with direct, and indirect threats of destruction and his own victorious return.