Christ the King (Basic Bible Commentary)

October 25th, 2013

Christ the King Sunday

(Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43)

The Message of Jeremiah 23—25

Jeremiah offers two notes of hope in these oracles. First, Israel may look forward to a future day when a truly righteous king will rule over them (compare Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 3:8). Second, the nation which punishes Israel will itself be punished after seventy years. His message is not entirely gloomy.

In the meantime, sin must be dealt with, especially the sins of the false prophets, priests, and other dishonest leaders. Oracles of judgment are declarations of God's punishment for sin. The basis for such declarations by Jeremiah and by other prophets is found in the nature of sin itself. What may we learn from this about sin?

  • In broad terms, the Bible sees sin as personal alienation from God. Sins of any kind are, first of all, sins against God.
  • The Old Testament understanding of ritual, moral, and spiritual sins rests on the recognition of God's own moral being.
  • Through what is sinful in relation to the will and being of God, we understand what is sinful in relation to one another. Because of this, our sins against our another affect our relationship to God.
  • According to the Old Testament prophets, the standard of moral good is God's revealed will. Sins against this standard are a violation of the covenant relationship that has been established between God and God's people.

Luke 1:68-79

Regarding the restoration of speech to Zechariah (verse 64), see the earlier commentary on verse 20.

The psalm or song of Zechariah (verses 68-79) is a testimony of gratitude, not just over the birth of John, but over the realization that the long-promised messiah is indeed coming, and coming soon. Verses 68-75 celebrate the messiah's coming and verses 76-79 the strategic role of John the Baptist in relation to the messiah. There John is identified as being in the line of prophets. The entire psalm is made up of phrases and figures of speech used numerous times in the Old Testament. It underlines for the Jewish reader that these nativity events are fulfillments of the Old Testament promises made as far back as Abraham (verse 73). The keynote given in verse 69 is that a horn of salvation (NIV) or mighty savior (NRSV) has been raised up by God. This figure used in Old Testament imagery signifies power or strength.

Periods of preparation and spiritual self-examination were essential to fulfilling God's expectation as servants called to special tasks. Thus John went to the wilderness for such (verse 80). Later Jesus would do the same (4:1).


Crucifixion (Luke 23:33-49)

The place of crucifixion was a skull-shaped hill. The Aramaic name was Golgotha. Luke uses its translated meaning, the skull (verse 33). Golgotha was rendered into Greek with the word kranion, which was then rendered into Latin as calvaria, from which we have obtained the English word Calvary. Calvary is the Latin form and Golgotha the Aramaic form of the name of the skull-shaped hill, appropriate for executions.

The method of crucifixion involved attaching a person's arms by ropes or nails to a cross-beam affixed to an upright wooden beam. Sometimes there was support to the legs by placing a raised projection on the upright beam, upon which they could be placed. A painful death came through exposure and bodily stress rather than by blood loss, sometimes over a long period of days rather than hours.

The first petition from the cross, Father, forgive them . . . (verse 34) appears only in Luke's account. It does not appear in all the ancient manuscripts of Luke, but it is authentic to the nature of Jesus and reflects the intimate at-homeness in the relationship between Jesus and God.

Any clothing or possessions still in the hands of those executed could be taken by the soldiers carrying out the crucifixion. So they gambled (cast lots) for his remaining clothing (verse 34), which they had stripped from him before placing him on the cross. An experience like this had been spoken of in Psalm 22:18.

The people watched, perhaps with hurt and dismay. But the taunt of the rulers (verse 35) was to the effect that if Jesus was the Messiah and God's chosen one, which his followers had claimed, then he could demonstrate it now by powerfully stepping off the cross. This was a temptation similar in nature to that third temptation in the wilderness (4:9-12)—use a miraculous shortcut to win recognition and allegiance.

The vinegar (NIV; NRSV = sour wine) offered by the soldiers may have been wine with a drug to ease the pain, often offered in pity to those being executed. However, it is also possible that it was only vinegar offered as though it were a sedative, as part of their mockery of this so-called king of the Jews. Over the cross an inscription was usually placed stating the nature of the crime as a warning to onlookers. Over Jesus' cross the inscription was, This is the King of the Jews (verse 38). John's account reports Pilate as the instigator of the inscription, and later his defense of it when challenged (see John 19:19-22).

One of the criminals picked up the taunt of the rulers and turned it into a petition to Jesus, as Christ, to save them all. Surprisingly, the other criminal confessed that he belonged where he was, in contrast to Jesus' innocence (verse 41). The criminal's prayer is simple but beautiful. When he knew not what to seek and knew that he did not merit seeking any favor, he simply petitioned. Remember me . . . (verse 42), in the confidence that Jesus would know what he needed and provide more than he deserved. Somehow, he had come to faith in Jesus' kingly power. Jesus' promise that they would be together that day in Paradise presents a different concept of what awaits after death from the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol (see commentary on 12:5). This concept would become more prevalent in Jewish thinking about life beyond death and would occupy a central place in Christian expectations.

The sixth hour (NIV; NRSV = noon) would be midday and the ninth hour would be 3:00 P.M. Either an eclipse of the sun took place or dark clouds covered the sun to match the dark deeds of these hours.

In the Temple there was an ornate curtain or veil which separated the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was located, from the Holy Place (see Exodus 26:31-35 for a detailed description of this veil). This curtain was lifted only once a year when the high priest could alone enter the Holy of Holies to pray for forgiveness for the people. At Jesus' death the curtain was torn apart (verse 45), signifying that now there was direct access into God's holy presence for all, through Christ's sacrifice.

The final cry of Jesus from the cross in Luke's account is a quotation by Jesus of Psalm 31:5. This signifies his continued attitude of respect and participation for the scriptural tradition of his ancestry as well as his identification with the feelings of that psalmist. It is Jesus' ultimate expression of commitment to God.

Roman soldiers had taken over from the Jewish guard the custody of Jesus from the time of his arrival before Pilate through the implementation of the crucifixion. A centurion originally supervised one hundred soldiers. Thus the centurion who affirms Jesus' innocence may have been in charge of those soldiers carrying out the execution. Once again Luke presents a Roman in a good light.

The dismayed and sorrowful crowd went home beating their breasts (verse 48). This was a symbolic and traditional way of expressing grief. The women mentioned were the same ones whom Jesus had addressed on his way to the hill of the skull.

The Message of Luke 22:55—23:49

The death of a prominent person always has a strange fascination for us. Every detail becomes important. Yet of all such deaths none has equaled the attention given to the death of Jesus. The reason lies beyond the method of his dying, as unique as that was. For Luke, and many others, the reason for the fascination with this man's death was that God was in this picture in a unique way. This death was not just that of an itinerant prophet named Jesus, but one who was seen as the Christ of God.

Luke's account of the crucifixion tells us of a God who moves into the midst of life's struggles and needs and into the depth of life's sorrows and injustices. In so doing, the divine style is that of reconciling love expressed through servanthood. Luke wants us to see the cross as a marker erected on this earth of ours to tell us of a God whose concern was for this world and all within it, and who travails with us for it.

At this point Luke would probably also want us to recall the words of Jesus he recorded in 14:27: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. The cross requires us to leave our customary ways and hold onto it. We grasp it not just for the comfort and compassion it offers, and we take up the challenge it presents to us. If we adhere to its demands, the cross will change our lives.

Colossians 1:11-20

Read in the Ministry Matters Library

excerpt from: Basic Bible Commentary in the Ministry Matters Library

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