Thursday, September 12, 2013

Calling Down Fire (part 1)

Now when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem.  He sent messengers on ahead of Him.  As they went along, they entered a Samaritan village to make things ready in advance for Him” – Luke 9:51-52  (NET)

This action of sending messengers ahead of Himself, so as to make things ready in advance for Him, as can be here read about in relation to the Samaritan village, is a Caesar-like action.  Undoubtedly, as the recipient of Luke’s writing (who was likely a Roman government official) is borne in mind, these words were meant to draw a contrast between the Caesar (the man that was then honored and widely worshiped as the world’s savior and son of god) and Jesus the Christ.  It is also possible that Luke’s use of “taken up” in reference to Jesus is a subtle allusion to the “apotheosis” of the Caesar, which is the recognition of Caesar’s deification as a god (making a son that would follow him on the throne the “son of god”). 

Sending a messenger ahead of himself was a common practice for the Caesar.  Those messengers, who could be referred to as “evangelists,” went out proclaiming the “good news” (evangelion) concerning Caesar, regularly going ahead of him for the purpose of preparing a town or city within his realm to welcome the Caesar with all appropriate honor.  In this role, the evangelist prepared the people in subjection to the son of god to bow the knee to the Caesar as their lord and master and the giver of all good things.  This is the likely interpretive framework within which the reader/hearer of Luke’s narrative is asked to understand Jesus’ sending of messengers on ahead of Himself---Jesus is the world’s true Savior, Son of God, King, Lord, Master, and giver of all good things. 

In the case of the particular instance reported here by Luke, though Jesus had sent these messengers to make ready things in advance for Him and presumably to prepare the people for His visit, “the villagers refused to welcome Him” (9:53a).  Luke adds what he must have thought was a necessary explanatory statement, indicating that the refusal to welcome Jesus stemmed from the fact that “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” (9:53b). 

The Samaritans, of course, were looked down upon by the Jews, though clearly, according to the record in the Gospels of His interactions with them, not by Jesus.  However, apparently owing to the ill-will between Jews and Samaritans, the Samaritans refused to honor one that had determined, within His messianic mission, to simply use their city as a stopping point on the way to Jerusalem.  Regardless of the reason or motivation behind their refusal to receive Him, the significant fact to observe is that Jesus was not welcomed. 

Because of this, Luke writes: “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?’” (9:54)  Why would they say such a thing?  It would seem to be clear that Luke is pointing out the fact that James and John were well aware of the very Caesar-like nature of what was Jesus had done in sending messengers ahead of Him to prepare various places to welcome Him as King. 

To go along with this, if Luke’s record is accurate, Jesus’ disciples have already repeatedly heard Him use royal titles for Himself, such as Son of Man.  In the course of the linear progression of the narrative, they have also seen him cast out demons, heal the sick, raise a man from the dead, still a storm, and feed a multitude.  They rightly interpret these things within the messianic, kingly context in which they are performed, and which Jesus had provided to them by the very words of His mouth, so the sending of an advance team, in the mold of the Caesar, is not at all surprising to them.  Human nature being what it is, it is not difficult to imagine that these followers enjoyed being a part of the chosen entourage of the King that was now traveling the path to Jerusalem. 

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