Adult Bible Studies
April 27, 2014
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Used by permission.
53:1. Just as 52:13 provides the intro. to 52:14-15, inviting attention to the exaltation of the servant in contrast to his degradation, so this vs. provides the intro. to vss. 2-3. There, and again in the following vss., the theme of degradation is elaborated and its meaning made clear. But first there is a reminder that this is not all; there is a great act of God proclaimed. Just as elsewhere in 2nd Isa. the nations are invited to come to court and consider the realities of the case (e.g. ch. 41) so here there is an implicit invitation. Whether the address is to the nations or possibly to those who have as yet failed to understand the meaning of the Exile cannot be said with certainty. These are not mutually exclusive, since the revealing of the power of God is relevant to all the world and not to Israel only. The Hebrew text has "on whom" rather than to whom, perhaps suggesting the revealing of God's power against the oppressors; if so, the first clause, with its emphasis on belief (cf. 7:9), invites trust in God's action. But the point is not clear since the 2 prepositions are often interchanged in the OT, and there is evidence to support the rendering "to whom."
53:2-3. These descriptive vss. imply in this context that the present condition of God's servant conceals his true nature and function. The language is highly poetic. There is the picture of a plant growing "straight up" (rather than before him) in a dry place (contrast Pss. 1:3). Form ... comeliness ... beauty are suggestive of presence (cf. 1 Sam. 16:18) or dignity; there is nothing here to suggest one who should be honored. A group of phrases in vs. 3, carried further by the language of vs. 4, suggests the metaphor of leprosy. For rejected by men it is possible to render "withdrawing," or "aloof from men"—followed by "a man involved in pain and humiliated by sickness [see RSV footnotes], hiding his face from us; we despised him [a rendering confirmed by the Dead Sea manuscript] and did not esteem him." To some extent the same kind of language is used of Job. In neither case should the metaphor be taken as prosaic description—neither the servant of God nor Job was a leper—but it is difficult to imagine a more apt way to suggest the isolation, the sense of being outcast, than the language applied to such a disease (cf. the action of the kings in 52:15). Leprosy in the OT—probably not the disease now so named—involved such isolation (cf. Lev. 13:1-14).
53:4-6. The theme of degradation is carried further in a rich series of metaphors. These vss. elaborate the ideas already suggested in vss. 2-3. Thus stricken is an appropriate word for continuing the leprosy metaphor, though also suitable to other diseases. The earlier mention of pain and sickness is taken up again and developed into the statement that the servant's suffering is on account of the sin of others. The well-being which comes to them is brought about by what he has suffered. In vs. 5a "pierced through" is better than wounded. The humiliation is willed by God (vs. 6; cf. vs. 10) and, if we recall the idea "double punishment" in 40:2, we may recognize here the realization that what came to the people in exile was not merely punishment but a means of bringing well-being.
53:7-9. The picture of straying sheep in vs. 6 provides a link to a further elaboration of metaphor in vs. 7, strongly reminiscent of Jer. 11:19; both passages in fact use the kind of phraseology very familiar in pss. of lamentation. The pictures of the lamb (lit. "sheep," though a less common word than that in vs. 6) led to the slaughter and of the sheep (lit. "ewe") being sheared provide a further link to the legal language of vs. 8a. This line is somewhat obscure because the meaning of the word translated oppression is not altogether clear; perhaps we should render it "he was taken from authority and right"—i.e. he was given no just trial. For generation (vs. 8b) "fate" would be better. The images follow one another with great rapidity-trial, sentence, death, burial. Vs. 8d is again difficult; perhaps it should be rendered "for the transgression of peoples who deserved to be stricken," or perhaps "with transgressors he was stricken to death." Clearly the picture is of death, as vs. 9 introduces burial; but rich man is odd, and perhaps the word should be rendered "rabble" or emended to "evildoers." In his death should perhaps be "in his tomb," as suggested by the Dead Sea manuscript.
The obscurities of detail, however, do not prevent appreciation of the series of pictures. Perhaps most misunderstanding of the passage has occurred through failure to appreciate the presence of metaphor. If any one of these phrases is to be taken lit. there is no good reason why they should not all be; but if all are so taken, the whole becomes absurd. As so often in Hebrew poetry (cf. e.g. Pss. 23:1) the metaphors change rapidly, without explanation, and we are given an impressionistic picture rather than an exact description. The application of similar metaphors to the king in Pss. 89:38-45, and perhaps also in Pss. 22:1, may be significant for our appreciation of the prophet's intention. Is he perhaps here understanding the fortunes of his people partly in terms of the figure of their king, Jehoiachin, who suffered 36 years of captivity before being released from prison and restored to some measure of honor (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-30)? It would be false to identify servant and king; yet a recognition of the intimacy between the experience of people and of king may have led to the use of this kind of metaphorical language.
53:10-12. The final vss. of the passage have many obscurities, but it is clear that the series of pictures leading up to death and burial (vss. 8-9) finds its climax in a picture of renewed life. This is most apparent if on the basis of the Dead Sea manuscript and the LXX vs. 11a is rendered "after his travail he shall see light"; for this phrase indicates the idea of a new coming to life (cf. 26:19; Job 3:20; Ezek. 37:1-14). The outcome includes descendants and prosperity (vs. 10de). This is all set in the context of suffering and humiliation. It was God's will—i.e. his pleasure, his purpose—"to crush him with sickness [so more satisfactorily in vs. 10ab], he himself making a sin offering." By his knowledge (vs. 11b) probably belongs with be satisfied—possibly a parallel to "see light" if the Dead Sea manuscript is correct for vs. 11a. But another meaning of the words may be "he shall have his fill of humiliation," and the larger context favors this (cf. vs. 3). Following this, vs. 11bc may be translated "my servant, himself righteous, will pronounce the righteousness of many"—i.e. will acquit them.
53:12. It is probable that the great (the same Hebrew word translated many in vss. 11d, 12e) and the strong (which can also refer to numbers) should be taken as direct objects of divide. Thus God "will divide to him the many as a portion," i.e. as booty for his servant in recompense because he humiliated himself and bore their sin. The references to the many and the strong suggest the nations. A theme expressed elsewhere in 2nd Isa. (e.g. 49:22-26), perhaps not very congenial to a modern way of thinking, here returns: the nations are as spoil for God's people. Yet to leave that statement without qualification would be to miss the real meaning. It is the hope and confidence that through Israel's humiliation—seen within the context of God's purpose as no longer punishment only but the effecting of his will for men—the nations are brought to God, and for this to be possible they must be brought to Israel, for "God is with you" (Zech. 8:23).
The interpretation of this passage inevitably leaves many problems unresolved. The vocabulary and construction are often obscure and capable of more than one interpretation. It is difficult to avoid favoring the interpretation which fits one's general approach to the problem of understanding 2nd Isa.'s statements about the servant of God. Yet unless good grounds can be shown for separating out this passage and treating it quite independently, it is more natural to relate the thought here to other passages in 2nd Isa. The prophet uses the language of the pss. at many points. He has a familiarity with liturgical language that may be compared with the best in those traditions of preaching and extempore prayer which are dependent on the use of biblical phrase and allusion. He uses hymnic phrases, ideas connected with the kingship of God, statements of the uniqueness of God. Here, though not only here, he reveals his knowledge of that more somber aspect of psalmody which finds its place also in the "confessions" of Jeremiah, and of which the supreme example in the Psalter is perhaps Pss. 22:1.
This point needs to be in mind when we consider the significance this passage has had for Christian theology and interpretation. Too literal reading of it has sometimes led to extravagant statements about the nature of its relationship to NT material. The claim that the relationship is one of prophecy to fulfillment needs to be carefully defined before it can be acceptable. Insofar as the great truths of OT faith are embodied in such passages as this and Pss. 22:1 it is not surprising that Jesus and his disciples and the early church should have found in them fit vehicles of expression for what they were saying. In so doing they were carrying further the interpretative tradition already observable in the OT, enriching the faith of the community by the reapplication of passages rich in allusion.
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Although he uses Mark, Luke's account of the Resurrection is unique. For one thing he groups all the events into a single day and presents them under the motif of the early church's celebration of Easter. He also depicts all the appearances of the risen Christ as happening in the neighborhood of Jerusalem.
24:1-12. The Empty Tomb. The story of the women coming to the tomb is similar to Mark 16:1-8. The women are named in vs. 10, but the list is different from Mark's.
24:4-5. At the tomb the women meet, not one, but two men dressed in dazzling apparel. Luke's fondness for 2 witnesses is again apparent (cf. Acts 1:10). Faced with these heavenly messengers the women are afraid and look to the ground. The men offer a mild rebuke and say, Why do you seek the living among the dead? A majority of manuscripts add, "He is not here but has risen," but it is usually supposed that this has been assimilated from Mark.
24:6-7. The important difference from Mark is the word about Galilee. In Mark's account it is announced that the risen Christ "is going before you to Galilee," but Luke says, Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee. This of course refers to prediction of the Resurrection on the third day presented in Galilee (9:22), but Luke's real intention in this modification is to confine all resurrection narratives to the environs of Jerusalem.
24:8-12. The women do not flee, as in Mark's account, but return to the eleven and bear witness. The latter are the leaders of the church—apostles. In spite of the witness they do not believe. This report of the empty tomb is not adequate for faith. Most ancient texts add vs. 12, in which Peter runs to confirm the women's story. Although this may have been added to Luke under the influence of John 20:3-10, it could be original. Sometime before vs. 34 Simon Peter has an experience of the Resurrection.
24:13-35. The Pilgrims of Emmaus. This is the most dramatic resurrection narrative in the NT. It is found only in Luke. He makes it clear that the event took place on that very day, i.e. on Easter. The site of Emmaus has never been positively identified; 4 modern villages have been considered as possibilities. According to the story two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to this town. One of them is called Cleopas, who is sometimes identified with Glopas, the father of Simeon, who succeeded James as leader of the Jerusalem church. Luke's intention is to give the story a quality of history; the name of one of the 2 is known.
24:15-18. As they walk along discussing the recent happenings in Jerusalem, they are joined by the risen Jesus, who is not recognized. We are told that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. This probably means, not that some miracle of blinding has occurred, but that a special opening of the eyes is necessary for seeing the risen Christ. Proof of the inward character of this blindness can be seen in the fact that even when they stand still they do not know the identity of the other pilgrim. When Jesus feigns ignorance of the recent events Cleopas is surprised. His response is open to slightly different translations, but its meaning is clear: the event of the Crucifixion is widely known.
24:19-24. To answer Jesus' lack of information the 2 disciples tell the basic elements of the message of Jesus. They have accepted him as a prophet. The chief priests and rulers of Jerusalem are guilty of his death. The disciples hoped he was the Messiah, but now their hopes have been dashed. The reference to the third day hints knowledge of Jesus' prediction of his resurrection. To be sure women have found no body and claimed a vision, while others have tested their report (perhaps a reference to vs. 12). Yet for all the evidence of an empty tomb no one has seen the risen Lord.
24:25-27. Jesus criticizes their lack of faith, using the whole OT to prove that the Christ should suffer ... and enter into his glory. Specific texts which make these points are not easy to find, but Luke believes the total witness of Moses and all the prophets is that the Messiah's role involves a suffering which leads to triumph.
24:28-31. Arriving at the home of the travelers, Jesus is invited to share their hospitality. Suddenly the stranger assumes the role of host. Taking bread, he blesses and breaks it, and the disciples' eyes were opened. The breaking of bread is reminiscent of the feeding of the 5,000 (9:16) and the Last Supper (22:19). This indicates that the miracle of seeing the risen Christ occurs in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Of course this is not to suggest that his reality is to be found only there or that the fellowship of the church somehow creates the resurrection faith. It is simply observed that in this event of the church's worship the risen Christ is made known (vs. 35).
24:32. When the 2 disciples exclaim, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road? they confess that the experience of the Resurrection illuminates their whole past. The scriptures, once so opaque, now are opened through the risen Christ.
24:33-35. When the pilgrims return to Jerusalem to witness they find that the eleven have already heard the good news. The report that the Lord ... has appeared to Simon confirms Paul's account of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5; see above on vss. 8-12).
The Christ who at first is invisible, who then appears at places removed in distance, who appears again and vanishes, is hardly an ordinary person. Although the following vss. will partially blur this image, it is evident here that Luke, like Paul (1 Cor. 15:44, 50), supports belief in a spiritual resurrection.
24:36-49. The Appearance in Jerusalem. This narrative is without parallel in the other gospels. It seems to rest on a different tradition from the Emmaus story, since the disciples are startled and frightened. If they had already heard the reports of Peter and the 2 from Emmaus about the risen Christ, his appearance would not have been so shocking. As a matter of fact, the purpose of this account is to refute the beliefs of docetism—a heresy which asserted that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body. In announcing that the risen Christ has flesh and bones the tradition goes beyond what is implied in the previous narrative and what is suggested by his sudden appearance here. Luke apparently wants to avoid the notion that the risen Lord has no concrete reality. The word rendered spirit here would better be translated "ghost." Christ is no vaporous specter. He can eat a piece of broiled fish.
24:44-49. Again it is stressed that the death and resurrection of Christ are according to scripture. Christ is not only the fulfillment of the OT but also its interpreter. Most important, his interpretation must be announced to the world. The message of repentance and forgiveness of sins granted through Christ must be preached in his name to all nations. The punctuation of the passage is not clear, so that it is not certain whether the preaching or the witnessing is to begin from Jerusalem (see RSV footnote), but the 2 are essentially the same. Witnessing is not to occur at once, for the disciples must stay in the city until they receive power from on high; this will take place on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Now it is clear why the events of Jesus' death and resurrection occur near the city: Jerusalem is the traditional messianic center; there the prophets have been executed; there the Christ is raised; there the risen Lord establishes his mission to the world; there the church will begin.
24:50-53. Departure from Bethany. This account has no parallel in the other gospels, but its relation to Acts 1:9-11 has created a problem. It seems that both texts describe the ascension of Christ. The words "and was carried up into heaven," added after vs. 51 in most manuscripts (cf. RSV footnote), make this clearer. But while the Acts narrative presents the Ascension as occurring 40 days after the Resurrection, this account includes the departure of Jesus as an event of Easter day. Perhaps Luke, concerned less with chronology than with theology, presents both accounts to make different points. An ascension soon after the death of Jesus seems historically probable, as the promise to the penitent thief implies (23:43). Of course the Ascension cannot occur until the resurrection appearances of Easter have occurred. The Acts account wishes to stress the importance of the risen Christ for the founding of the church. Thus Christ is the end of the gospel and the beginning of the mission.
24:52-53. After Jesus has departed the disciples return to Jerusalem with great joy. They praise God, who has accomplished all these things. Luke's gospel ends as it began—in the temple.