Though other messianic figures in Israel desired to bring and had brought about confrontations with Rome in the mold of the revered Maccabean heroes, this was not Jesus’ intention. Luke’s record demonstrates that Jesus did not want His disciples getting ahead of themselves or getting the wrong idea, thus explaining his reporting that Jesus, after the confession that they believed Him to be the Messiah (the Christ of God) “forcefully commanded them not to tell this to anyone” (9:21). Rather than press concerns over Rome and the rule of the land, Jesus’ response to Peter, in which He spoke of the need to suffer and die at the hands of the Temple authorities (though Rome would be instrumental in His execution), continues to frame Jesus’ issues with the “experts in the law” (and the nearly always attendant Pharisees) in terms related to the Temple and its activities.
If Jesus thinks of Himself as a replacement for the Temple, which He could reasonably be considered to do if He saw Himself as the Messiah---the embodiment of Israel’s God acting within history and therefore being Himself the place of the Creator God’s dwelling rather than the Temple itself continuing to be seen in this way), then this ongoing narrative of conflict with those that represented the Temple makes a great deal of sense. As Luke writes a narrative that will be useful for the people of the covenant God that largely saw themselves as a new Temple, a portion of Luke’s purposes, as it is remembered that the Gospels were historically rooted theological tractates, comes squarely into focus.
Advancing to the eleventh chapter (while remembering that there were not chapter and verse divisions in the original text and that the narrative was most likely designed to be read aloud in an oral performance in a single sitting), this study comes to the fifty-second verse and Jesus saying “Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in” (11:52). Obviously, this is yet another statement that cannot be taken as anything less than highly critical. This is followed by Luke’s report that “When He went out from there, the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to oppose Him bitterly, and to ask Him hostile questions about many things, plotting against Him, to catch Him in something He might say” (11:53-54). This artfully builds on the tension that Luke has woven into his narrative.
When considering that tension, recall that Luke began with reports of a voiceless questioning of Jesus’ legitimacy by the experts in the law, moved the story to an open complaint about Jesus’ activities on behalf of this group, proceeded on to a desire to be able to accuse Jesus that would grow into a mindless rage against Him, and now has reached a fevered pitch of bitter opposition that is part of a larger plot to bring Him down. There is a rising hostility here, and it is not related to some issues of the preaching of grace versus an outmoded legalism, but rather to issues surrounding the Temple, its function, and its functionaries (forgiveness of sins being chief among these). Indeed, one is able to see as much in this particular passage.
This section began with the report that “One of the experts in religious law answered Him” (11:45a) in regards to accusations that Jesus has just made against the Pharisees, as he appeared to be concerned that Jesus’ insults against the Pharisees were insults against them as well. Not backing down in the least, but rather creating an even more tense situation, Jesus responds with “Woe to you experts in religious law as well! You load people down with burdens difficult to bear; yet you yourselves refuse to touch the burdens with even one of your fingers! Woe to you! You built the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed” (11:46-47).
This dissertation by Jesus culminates in what was seen in verse fifty-two. Without getting into an effort to exegete precisely what is implied by Jesus accusations attached to His repeated pronouncements of “woe” against the experts in religious law, what is being said prior to the final offering of “woe” in the fifty-second verse, crystallizes the locus of Jesus’ problems with the experts in the law and the Pharisees. Jesus makes reference to the Temple as He mentions Zechariah, “who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary” (11:51b). The reference to the Temple is unmistakable.