Thursday, April 26, 2012

Symbolic Judgment & The New Place Of God's Residence (part 1 of 2)

Near the close of the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, “Jesus entered the Temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling things there, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house will be a house of prayer,” but you have turned it into a den of robbers!’” (19:45-46)  Thus, with this stirring reminder of the words of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus, with the full weight of His messianic life providing support, enacts a symbolic judgment against the Temple.  The people who hear these words of Jesus will know that Jeremiah went on to announce, on behalf of Israel’s God, “I will destroy this Temple which I have claimed as My own, this Temple that you are trusting to protect you.  I will destroy this place that I gave to you and your ancestors” (Jeremiah 7:14).  Coming from the one that has been successfully challenging and meeting any and all challenges from the representatives of the Temple and of the Temple tradition at every turn, these are weighty words in deed. 

Those listening to Luke’s presentation, who are also aware, like the modern reader, of the way that the story proceeds, know that this is going to provoke a response.  Concordantly then, any mentions of those connected to the Temple, regularly referred to as “experts in the law,” going forward, will have Jeremiah’s symbolic judgment of the Temple in mind.  After reporting that Jesus has said these things, Luke writes that “Jesus was teaching daily in the Temple courts” (19:47a).  This would only be natural, in that if He has pronounced judgment on the Temple, and if He believes Himself to be the new Temple, then Jesus is going to locate Himself at the place where the legitimate Temple is to be found.  Now, we are better able to understand why it is that “The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate Him” (19:47b).  Luke is explicitly linking Jesus’ pronouncement as king and His judgment against the Temple, with the desire for His assassination by those that represented the Temple’s power structure.  This most definitely feeds into the negative portrait of the experts in the law (as there is nothing inherently wrong with being an expert in the law), which will also serve to heavily inform a statement that is soon to come, and which will be sure to draw the desired response from his hearers.    

Along with this, we can note that Jesus was “proclaiming the Gospel” (20:1) in the Temple courts, thus provoking a challenge as to His rightful authority to do and say what He was doing and saying.  What was the Gospel?  Well, we know that Luke’s hearers would have already understood that the Gospel message was that Jesus is the Lord of all (in a world where the regularly pronounced Gospel message is that Caesar is lord of all), and if we back up into the nineteenth chapter we find support for the idea that this was part of Jesus’ Gospel pronouncement (as He was now openly challenging the Temple authorities, and doing so in a way that would provoke a response by the civil authorities as well), as we read about Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, in which it was pronounced “with a loud voice” (19:37), “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38)  To that, Luke adds that “some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’  He answered, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!’” (19:39-40)  Here, Jesus allows Himself to be voiced as the king, and by His words, indicates that this pronouncement will never cease.    

Quite interestingly, though the Pharisees, along with the experts in the law, have composed one half of the chief antagonists to this point in Luke’s telling, they drop out of sight after this statement.  From this point on, the antagonists are going to be the chief priests and the experts in the law, with an appearance by the Sadducees later in the twentieth chapter.  What accounts for this turn of events?  How is it that the Pharisees, according to Luke’s presentation, have no hand in the events of the twentieth through twenty-fourth chapters of Luke?  While the Gospels of Matthew and John have the Pharisees involved, at some level, in Jesus’ arrest and execution, along with the plot to counter the story of the Resurrection, Luke does not.  Neither, for that matter, does Mark.  Though we cannot know precisely why the Pharisees drop out of Mark at a point that is roughly equivalent to the time that they drop out of Luke, we can confidently surmise as to the reason why the Pharisees, who have been the constant companion of the experts in the law, drop out of Luke precisely as the events that will lead to Jesus arrest and crucifixion begin to unfold. 

It is quite likely that this has to do with a number of Pharisees, following the Resurrection and in the formative years of the church, being won to the claims of the Gospel and joining the growing community of adherents to the covenant rooted in the confession of Jesus as Lord.  As it relates to Luke’s work, we can see evidence of this in Acts.  In the fifteenth chapter, we find that the Pharisees have a role in the church community, as we read that “some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.’” (15:5).  Though the opinion that would be rendered by the church council would weigh against that opinion, it does demonstrate that some Pharisees had joined the Jesus movement.  This may serve well to explain why Luke withdraws the Pharisees from his narrative at the point of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.     

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