The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for November 12th, 2012

My Notes on Luke 3:1-6 for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 12, 2012

Luk 3:1  Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina:

Tiberius Caesar. Luke introduces the ministry of St John the Baptist with a rather lengthy superscription reminiscent of the opening of several OT prophetic books (see note on verse 2). He begins first with the ruler of the empire, Tiberius Caesar who is in the fifteenth year of his reign. Most scholars pinpoint the time as being between A.D. 28 and 29, but there is no certainty as to what exactly the fifteenth year refers to (for example, is he dating it from Tiberius’ regency with Augustus, from the death of Augustus, or the Senates ratification of his succeeding Augustus?). Likewise, we are not sure which calendar he is using (Julian, Jewish, Egyptian, Syrian?).

He then moves to Pontius Pilate, a fairly minor figure in the Roman administrative circles of his day, he acted as Prefect over the Roman Province of Judea from A.D. 26-36. The ancient Jewish writers Josephus and Philo both mention him, portraying him as “obstinate and harsh, violent, a plunderer, cruel, guilty of executing persons without legal process” (McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible).

Narrowing the scope of political influence down even further, St Luke makes reference to various Tetrarchs, most notably Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great. He ruled over Galilee by leave of the Roman Emperor (and subordinated to the Prefects) from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39 when he was deposed by the emperor Caligula for attempting to make his honorific title of “king” into something real.

Both Pilate and Herod will play a role in the trial and death of Jesus, and Jesus himself will be accused of forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:1-25).

Luk 3:2  Under the high priests Anna and Caiphas: the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.

Under the high priests Anna and Caiphas. Jewish religious leaders subordinate to the Roman authorities mentioned above. .

The word of the Lord was made unto John. A stock prophetic phrase indicating John’s call to prophecy (see Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1, Micah 1:1). The Greek phrasing used by St Luke, εγενετο ρημα θεου επι ιωαννην = was made the word of God unto John, echoes Jeremiah 1:1 according to the Septuagint: ρημα του θεου ο εγενετο επι ιερεμιαν = the word of God was made unto Jeremiah. See also Isaiah 38:4. John is being strongly placed within the prophetic tradition, fulfilling the prophecy of his father in Luke 1:76 (and see Luke 7:26-27).

Son of Zachary. In some of the superscriptions to the writing prophets the father of a prophet is sometimes mentioned, as here with reference to Zachary (Zechariah). Likewise, often the ruler or rulers who reigned during a prophets career are mentioned, including pagan rulers in some of the post-exile prophets (see Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1).

In the desert. Luke’s treatment of the birth of John and of his future prophetic significance is closed out with these words: And the child grew and was strengthened in spirit: and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel (Luke 1:80).

Luk 3:3  And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins.

The Baptist’s manifestation to Israel as a prophet (Luke 1:80) takes place in the desert regions of the Jordan. His preaching a baptism of penance for the remission of sins recalls the words of Gabriel to Zechariah (Zachary): he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias (Elijah): that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people (Luke 1:16-17. See Mal 4:5-6; Sirach 48:9-11). Likewise it recalls the prophecy his father made at John’s circumcision: And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt, go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins (Luke 1:76-77).

The remission of sins. See Luke 1:77. It is fitting that St John the Baptist, precursor and herald of the Lord, would preach concerning the remission (αφεσιν) of sins, for Christ was sent to proclaim release (αφεσι) to the captives (Luke 4:18 RSV). This he did by forgiving (αφεωνται) sins (Luke 5:20), for he had power on earth to forgive (αφιεναι) sins (Luke 5:24). The risen Christ sent out the heralds of his Second Coming so that penance and remission (αφεσιν) of sins should be preached in his name (Luke 24:47).

Luk 3:4  As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Luk 3:5  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain.
Luk 3:6  And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. In ancient times a city would be notified in advance by a herald’s proclamation that the king was coming. In preparation for this event it was common for the city to repair and/or upgrade its roads to make the way of the king less bumpy and uncomfortable. This is the image underlying the passage from Isaiah 40:3-5. In Isaiah the image is used of God victoriously leading his captive people away from Babylon back to the promised land (see my notes on Isaiah 40:3-5). Here, Luke uses the image to denote repentance. “If these words, in one sense, were a prediction of the deliverance of the Israelites from their captivity, (Isaiah 40:3.) and an admonition to level the roads for those that were to return, they also signified the redemption of mankind from the slavery of sin; and that all obstacles, which retard this benefit, should be removed, and also that the proud should be depressed, and the humble receive graces” (Haydock Bible Commentary). The reference to mountains and hills being brought low (ταπεινωθησεται) is perhaps an echo of Luke 1:52~He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble (ταπεινους). There may also be a connection with Simeon’s word’s to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted (Luke 2:34).

CrookedStraight. the word crooked (σκολια) is used in Acts 2:40 to describe a moral condition: And with very many other words did he (Peter) testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse ( σκολιας) generation.  In Acts 13:10 a different word meaning crooked is used to describe the moral state of Elymas, and the word for straight (ευθειας) is also employed: O full of all guile and of all deceit, child of the devil, enemy of all justice, thou ceases not to pervert (διαστρεφων) the right (ευθειας) ways of the Lord.The word straight is used in Acts 8:21 in a moral sense: thy heart is not right (ευθεια) in the sight of God.

All flesh shall see the salvation of God. Recalls the prophecy of Simeon: Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace: Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples (Luke 2:29-31).

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My Notes on Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 12, 2012

Luk 21:25  And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea, and of the waves:

There shall be signs. This calls to mind our Lord’s condemnation of his generation: And the multitudes running together, he began to say: This generation is a wicked generation. It asketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign to the Ninivites; so shall the Son of man also be to this generation (Luke 11:29-30. See also Luke 11:16). The sign of Jonas (Jonah) spoken of here is concerned primarily with the preaching of Jesus which the people neither hear nor observe (Luke 11:27-28). They thus lack the wisdom of the Pagan queen of Sheba who listened to the wisdom of Solomon; and they lacked the response of the Pagans of Nineveh who repented at the preaching of Jonah (Luke 11:31-32). The final generation will have its signs, will it’s response be any better? How is your response to the Gospel?

The “signs” of cosmic and terrestrial upheavals are often interpreted literally, however, in the OT they are often associated with the downfall of pagan nations, cities, or empires (Isa 13:9-10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31; Amos 8:9). This has led some to interpret the signs as merely symbolic. It should however be kept in mind that heavenly and terrestrial signs accompanied the birth of Christ (a star and people’s being troubled in Matt 2:2-3); his death (darkness due to an eclipse, Temple veil torn, lamentation, see Luke 23:44-48); and his resurrection (earthquake, descent of a heavenly being, men stricken with fear in Matt 28:1-4).

Distress of nations. The Greek συνοχη is derived from a word meaning restraint. The nations will be constricted, hampered, held back, like Peter’s mother-in-law who was held back (συνεχομενη) with a fever (Luke 4:38). Like the Gerasenes the nations will be seized (συνειχοντο) by what has come (Luke 8:37). We who have heard and experienced the Gospel are faced daily with a choice: do we allow our restraints to be overcome and thus serve the Lord as Peter’s mother-in-law did (4:39); or do we give Him the brush off in imitation of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:37)? Do we recognize the significance of His first visitation, and live in anticipation of His second? Or are we on the same path as that generation of our Lord’s countrymen: And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round and straiten (συνεξουσιν) thee on every side, And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee. And they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation (Luke 19:41-44).

(Upon earth the distress of nations)  by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea, and of the waves. The roaring of the sea is used as an image of the Assyrian invasion in Isaiah 5:30, which invasion is a punishment upon God’s people for their faithlessness. In Wisdom 5:22 God’s anger against the unrighteous is manifested in the enraged sea. In Jeremiah 5 God is portrayed as sovereign Lord over creation, having made the sandy seashore and set limits to the sea. This power should have proved a motivation to His people to submit themselves to His Lordship in “fear” and “trembling,” but they would not (see Jer 5:20-23). The roaring waves of the sea are an image of evil Babylon’s destruction in Jer 51:42. Jesus can preserve his followers from the raging sea (Luke 8:22-25), and the demonic can meet its demise there (Luke 8:26-33).

Luk 21:26  Men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved.

Men withering away for fear and expectation of what will come upon the whole world. The opening words in Greek are αποψυχοντων ανθρωπων, an end of breathing will come upon men. The Greek αποψυχοντων (breathe out) is often taken as a reference to death of fainting (hence the translation “withering away”), but it could indicate sheer anxiety (“bated breath”). What is coming will effect the whole world (Greek: οικουμενη), the inhabited world. That which Satan used to tempt Jesus (Luke 4:5). That which God will judge in righteousness (Acts 17:31).

The powers of heaven shall be moved. See Mark 13:25 and Matt 24:31. Many suggest that there is an allusion here to a textual variant of the LXX translation of Isaiah 34:4~Dissolved will be all the powers of heaven. The shaking of heaven (and earth) is often associated with divine manifestations. In Haggai the shaking of the heavens is associated with the completion of the second Temple, in Haggai 2:20-22 it is associated with the establishment of a Davidic king and the overthrow of enemies.

Luk 21:27  And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty.

The shaking or moving of the powers of heaven lead to the revelation of the coming of the kingly Son of Man with great power.

And then they shall see the Son of Man coming. I understand “they” who will see to be the people described in the previous verse as “withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.” This provides a nice contrast with the next verse.

Luk 21:28  But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.

Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand. This should be seen in contrast to the distress of nations (verse 25) and men withering away for fear (verse 26). The faithful forewarned are the faithful forearmed to deal with the calamities, for they understand their significance. But being forewarned and forearmed is not enough. Blessed are those who hear the word of the Lord and do it, φυλασσοντες, literally keep watch over or guard it (Luke 11:28). As the next verse in the reading makes clear, we have obligations.

Luk 21:34  And take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life: and that day come upon you suddenly.

Take heed to yourselves. The Greek προσεχετε means to take hold or control of something. In Luke it often introduces an exhortatory warning. In Luke 8:18 it is used in conjunction with the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Lamp (Luke 8:4-18). In 11:35 it is used in relation to the call for interior purity. In Luke 12:15 it is used to introduce a warning concerning covetousness. In Luke 17:3 it follows a warning against temptations to sin and introduces the necessity of rebuking a sinning brother and forgiving a repentant one (Luke 17:1-4).

Lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged. The Greek word βαρυνθωσιν (“overcharged”) means burdened or weighted down. In the LXX the word is used to denote Pharaoh’s obstinacy (Exodus 7:14; Exodus 8:11; Exodus 9:7).

With surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life. In Luke 12:22-31 our Blessed Lord warns us not to be overly concerned with the matters of daily life: Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. How much less should we be burned by the abuse of such things! It is the unfaithful servant who has lost sight of his Master’s eventual return who eats and drinks to access, neglecting his duties and thereby bring judgement upon himself (Luke 12:42-47). We must not be like the thorny ground where the seed of the word can bear no fruit because we are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life and yield no fruit (Luke 8:14). Because of the coming end we must put off carousing and bacchanals (see Rom 13:11-14 which is the second reading for Advent in Year A).

And that day come upon you suddenly. The day of the Son of Man will indeed come with shock and surprise to those unprepared for it.  And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat and drink, they married wives and were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it came to pass in the days of Lot. They did eat and drink, they bought and sold, they planted and built. And in the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man shall be revealed. (Luke 17:26-30).

Luk 21:35  For as a snare shall it come upon all that sit upon the face of the whole earth.

Those who are unaware of what is coming are described here as no better than senseless animals, irrational beasts, naturally tending to the snare and to destruction, blaspheming those things which they know not, shall perish in their corruption (2 Pet 2:12). The image of the snare (trap) calls to mind the so-called Apocalypse of Isaiah: Fear, and the pit, and the snare are upon thee, O thou inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he that shall flee from the noise of the fear, shall fall into the pit: and he that shall rid himself out of the pit, shall be taken in the snare: for the flood-gates from on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth shall be shaken (Isa 24:17-18).

Luk 21:36  Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come and to stand before the Son of man.

Watch ye. The Greek αγρυπνειτε means “keep awake.”

Praying at all times. Watching and praying go hand in hand (think of the term “prayer vigil”). See Matt 26:37-41 for the close connection between watching and praying. In Luke’s account of the Agony in the Garden there is a contrast between praying and sleeping (Luke 22:39-46).

That you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things. The phrase “accounted worthy” translates the Greek word καταξιωθητε. A better textual reading uses the word κατισχυσητε as in the NAB and RSV translations: that you may have strength (κατισχυσητε) to escape.The idea of having strength contrasts with the withering away (fainting, dying) of men in verse 26.

And to stand before the Son of Man. Standing is closely related to the idea of strength, and also contrasts nicely with the withering of men (see previous paragraph). The powers of heaven will be moved (verse 26) but those who have dedicated themselves to watching and praying will stand firm. In the Agony in the Garden (on the Mount of Olives) Jesus tells his sleeping disciples to “arise” (literally, “stand up”) and pray that they not enter into the temptation (test, i.e., apostasy).

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