Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

118. His face set to go to Jerusalem (Matt. 19:1; Mark 9:30-32; Luke9:51-56)*

Jesus now said farewell to Galilee for a long lime. He had finished with public preaching in that region some time before. Lately, apart from the time spent in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles, the education of the twelve had priority overall else.

Now, a big new development was initiated— the journey to Jerusalem, which was to culminate in his suffering and death. It was a journey which could have been accomplished in two or three days, yet it took up about five months, a period every bit as busy as the hectic year in Galilee when his popularity there was at its height. John's gospel indicates that there were at least two appearances in Jerusalem during this period, but (as will be seen in due course) these were flying visits to make use of the special opportunities provided by the Feast of the Dedication and the raising of Lazarus.

Luke's gospel has a long section here (up to 18:14) which describes in much more detail than the other gospels this part of the ministry, (or, rather, the Lord's teaching in the course of it). Where Mark's record is restricted to one chapter, Matthew's to two, and John's to three, Luke has nine.

A long indirect journey

In this Lucan travel narrative there is built up a wonderful impression of a Jesus constantly on the move, always going on, on, on, with Jerusalem as the pre-determined end of the journey (Mt.19 :1, Mk.10 :1 seem to imply the something).

The cumulative impression made on the mind by this piling-up of repetitious descriptions is very powerful. Luke introduces them with an unusual and ominous expression: "When the days were being fulfilled that he should be received up ..." If, as seems to be the obvious meaning, there is allusion here to the ascension of Jesus, this is to be seen as a striking attempt on Luke's part to get his readers to look past the Crucifixion and the Resurrection to the glorifying of Christ at the right hand of the Father as the true climax and consummation of his redeeming workl

There is a possibility, though with less linguistic support than one could wish, that the words may mean: "the days of his being received back (in Jerusalem)" -that is, with the Crucifixion as the goal. That grim expression: "he steadfastly set his face," seems to carry this implication, especially when put alongside the Old Testament prophecy to which it is almost certainly a reference: "The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed" (ls.50:7).

Unexpected O.T. anticipations

The remarkable expression occurs again in a most unexpected context and opens up the possibility of an altogether unsuspected type of the work of Christ: "Hazael (king of Syria) set his face to go up to Jerusalem" (2 Kgs.12 :17). At first glance it would seem impossible that there should be here any sort of connection between this pagan power seeker and the ministry of Jesus. Yet the context brings a remarkable picture to light:

This man, called "The Vision (or, Seer) of God" was anointed for his work by Elijah (compare the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist). He set his face to go to Jerusalem. Overcoming Gath (Gethsemane), he took to himself all the holy things, leaving the temple standing but desolate. Then he went up (see margin of2 Kgs. 12 :18) from Jerusalem.

Apart from the story of how he seized the throne, this is practically all that the Bible tells concerning this man. How are such similarities to , be explained?

A like impression of the pre-shaping of events is conveyed by the phrase: "When the days were being fulfilled." Here is the word which describes the fulfilment of the prophecy of the seventy years captivity in Babylon, and also (Daniel 9 :2 LXX) the "seventy weeks" prophecy pointing to "Messiah the Prince" and "the reconciliation for iniquity" (9:24,25). Thus Old Testament and New Testament combine to underline the truth of the words of a psalm which Jesus was to quote on the cross: "My times are in thine hand" (Ps.31:15).

Luke's and John's gospels together present a picture of a Jesus with a vast programme to fulfil and with only a limited amount of time in which to do it. He was set on making a great appeal to the entire nation before he came to Jerusalem for the last time (see Notes). So he is to be pictured as moving ceaselessly from place to place, always surrounded by crowds of people, so that all the country which had not heard him in person (especially the more remote parts of Judaea) might have opportunity to see and know that Messiah, the Son of God, was in their midst. During those months, Jesus drove himself hard, so that when this ministry culminated in a week of special appeal to Jerusalem, he was a worn-out man. Who else could have stood up to such a programme as he set himself?

Matthew sums up the general impression of this period in a favourite phrase: "and great multitudes followed him." Different people in different places, but always a crowd. Both Matthew and Mark intimate the commencement of this work as being in "Judaea beyond Jordan." On the face of it this looks like an error, hence the alternative reading, inadequately supported by the manuscripts, yet followed by some modern versions: "Judaea and beyond Jordan'—a modification of the text which looks like some scribe's attempt at elucidation of a difficulty. Yet apparently there was a "little Judaea" on the east of Jordan, the name commemorating the early close link between the tribe of Judah and the sons of Jair in Manassite Gilead (Josh. 19 :34; 1 Chr. 2 :21-23).

A Samaritan village

After some time in this region, Jesus crossed the Jordan and moved south through Samaritan territory. At one point "he sent messengers before his face ... to make ready for him." The assumption is usually made that this was to arrange overnight accommodation for their party. But if this were the case, would not "for them" be the more appropriate expression? The words could just as easily mean: "to prepare (the people) for him;" and this is supported by Luke 10 :1: "The Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and village, whither he himself would come."

It was to be expected that the Samaritans would receive him readily enough, for the enthusiastic report of the people of Shechem (Jn.4 :39-45) had doubtless gone all through their country by this time. But now religious prejudices supervened. On the former occasion Jesus was travelling north, having "abandoned Judaea" (Jn.4 :3). Now he was heading for Jerusalem—to become King there, so his disciples probably asserted. So the Samaritans turned hostile. Josephus has a lurid story of bitter quarrelling between Jews and Samaritans which was touched off by Samaritan persecution of Galilean pilgrims.

In the present instance there is a mordant irony about the situation, for the men of the temple in Jerusalem were the Lord's most bitter enemies. Jerusalem did not want him, either. There is also irony of a different kind, far these Samaritans were nailing their colours to the mast, and the signal said: "If you are in fellowship with them, you are not in fellowship with us!" To this day some who are convinced they are the Lord's people avow the same doctrine and, by the same token, the Samaritan quality of their religion!

Sons of Thunder

James and John bridled at this Samaritan hostility. Their Jewish blood boiled, and without giving a thought to what Jesus would wish then to do, the Sons of Thunder demanded lightning, "Fire from heaven will teach them a lesson. And after all that is the way Elijah replied to the bullying tactics of Samaria. Did he not say, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty? Lord, show them that you too are a man of God" (2 Kgs. 1 :10,12; the reference cannot possibly be 1 Kgs. 18:38).

The phrase: "sent messengers before his face." echoes Malachi 3 :1. The disciples doubtless looked for the stringent judgment which follows that passage. Hadn't the Transfiguration proved that their Jesus was greater than Elijah? But instead Jesus insisted on a ministry of "the still small voice" (such as Mal.4 :5,6 describes). No miracle by fire until (lie full manifestation of his Messianic glory (2Th.l:8, 2Pet.3:7).

James and John were showing normal reaction to Samaritan hatred. And the rabbis justified it by quoting, with ruthless disregard of context, the denunciation by Hosea: "As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way towards Shechem" (6:9).

Whilst the sons of thunder were still justifying the course they were urging upon Jesus, he had turned away, already metaphorically wiping the dust of the place off his feet. So he had to turn again to speak his reproof of their violence: "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." If he acceded to their suggestion and punished these Samaritans with fire from heaven, then the whole of the province of Samaria would have been shut to the gospel thereafter.

It is a simple lesson, which the apostles were slow to learn, that once you have used violence or hard words against a man, your hope of influencing him for good is gone for ever. "God hath not given us the spirit of fear (from which the sons of Zebedee's blood-and-thunder really sprang); but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim.l :7; cp. Jas.3 :9— the same James).

So "they went to another village." The Greek word implies: "a village different in character from the first." The commentators mostly assume that this must have been a Jewish village. But if it were , wouldn't they have gone straight to it in the first place? And since they were in Samaritan territory, wouldn't the next village almost certainly be Samaritan also? And there, the narrative implies, their reception was altogether different.

A year or two later the apostle John was in this vicinity once again, this time to confirm the fine work done by Philip the preacher (Acts 8 :14). There, in Samaritan country, he had taken the gospel concerning the resurrection of Jesus to these outsiders, and had been accorded an intensely enthusiastic reception. And John and Peter came there to impart to these new converts the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit. Would that heartening situation have been possible if on this earlier occasion fire had been called down from heaven?

Notes: Lk.9:51-56

He set his face. The context of ls.50:7 calls for careful study; cp. also ls.49:4 and Jer.21 :10 which in LXX has the same words. For the last great campaign by Jesus consider Lk.10:1,2; 13:8; 15 :28;23 :5;Jn.9:4; 11 :4.
They did not receive him. See Josephus B.J. 2 :12 :3ff for details of a great quarrel between Jewish pilgrims and Samaritans, which led to Felix being made governor. The Greek here is literally: his face was going to Jerusalem. Compare identical words (in LXX) of Hushai addressing Absalom as though he were King of Israel: "I counsel. . . that thy face go to the battle" (2 Sam. 17 :11). That Luke should use this Hebraism, and several others, in this part of his record means a remarkable familiarity with the Septuagint Version. Wilfred Ali has suggested, with fair reason, that Luke was a Samaritan.

Unto Jerusalem. Those Samaritans who had heard reports of Jn.4 :21 would find Christ's present journey hard to understand.

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