THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE PASSION NARRATIVE
Luke 19:11-24:53

The Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus' Trials
Luke 22:39-23:25

. INTRODUCTION

Up to this point Jesus has taken certain precautions to ensure that Judas Iscariot will not be able to betray Him before He is ready. Jesus had given instructions to Peter and John about the whereabouts of the place they would celebrate the Passover meal in such a way that Judas did not know where the place was until it actually came time for the meal. Now that Jesus has instituted the Lord's Supper and has explained to the disciples the meaning of the cross, He no longer has any need for secrecy. Instead He acts in accordance with His custom so that Judas can carry out His heinous plans.

Some have questioned the historicity of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. For example, these claim that the disciples were asleep while Jesus prayed and therefore could not have known what Jesus prayed. Note though that the disciples did not IMMEDIATELY fall asleep. It is quite possible that they were awake during at least part of the prayer and were able to remember it in order to record it for you and me. Also, it is highly unlikely that the disciples would have recorded this story unless it were true. The story poses Jesus at His weakest. From this event Jesus emerges as triumphant and undauntable; however, it takes 3 hours of intensive prayer for Jesus to get to this point. This negative portrayal of Jesus ensures that it is true.


THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE (22:39-46)

Jewish law stated that not only did pilgrims to the Passover have to eat the Passover meal within the city of Jerusalem, they also had to spend the night within the city itself. Since so many pilgrims attended the Feast of Passover that the city could not accommodate everybody, the religious authorities expanded the city limits of Jerusalem to include the Mount of Olives to the east of the city. Moreover, it was Jesus' custom to spend the night with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane whenever He visited Jerusalem and did not spend the night in Bethany.

The Garden of Gethsemane would have been a cultivated garden with a wall around it. The word "Gethsemane" literally means "the olive press"; it, therefore, was a place where olives would be crushed in order to produce olive oil. In this garden the soul of Christ would be crushed beyond measure as He prepared Himself for the cross.

Jesus and the remaining 11 disciples enter the garden. He takes along with Him Peter, James, and John a little further into the inner recesses of the garden. There is a touch of sadness here. Jesus is about to face the cross, and He is desiring the support of His 3 closest disciples. Yet even they cannot bear the cross for Jesus. He must bear it alone. For this reason Jesus goes by Himself a little further into the garden in order to pray.

Jesus is overwhelmed as He anticipates the experience of the cross. For 3 hours Jesus will pray. Luke gives us a truncated version of this event because Matthew and Mark have already dealt with it at length in their Gospels. There is a progression in the way Jesus addresses His Father. In the first hour Jesus asks the Father to remove the cup from Him if it is possible. By the end of the third hour Jesus recognizes that it is not possible, that the Father is not going to relent. The Father has declared that the cross is the only way for Jesus to fulfill His will. Ever the obedient Son, Jesus submits Himself to the Father's will.

Do not be misled into thinking that this was a done deal. The fate of mankind and of the universe actually hung in the balance. Jesus is not a puppet in the hands of His Father. He has the freedom to submit to the Father's will and even to reject the Father's will (John 10:18). If Jesus had rejected the Father's will, the results would have been cosmic and cataclysmic. The unity of the Godhead itself would have been shattered, and we would have forever been lost in sin. Jesus' choice though to submit to the Father's will resulted in the salvation of millions.

How stressed is Jesus? Some ancient manuscripts wrote that He was so distressed over the prospect of the cross that an angel had to come and strengthen Him. Moreover, He was so stressed that His drops of sweat were as large as drops of blood. In other words, He wasn't just sweating a little bit; He was drenched in sweat as He anticipated the hours of the cross-event. (Your Bible may actually delete these 2 verses. Yet these verses may be an example of John's statement that many of the events in Jesus' life did not get recorded in the original drafts of the Gospels--John 21:25.)

One notable scholar wrote that we would not know how horrible the cross experience was for Jesus if we did not have this scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is going to be stressed beyond all imagination in the garden. His stress does not show Him to be a weak man; instead, it shows us how horrific the cross experience was going to be. If contemplating the cross brought this much distress upon Jesus, then the cross was truly unbearable for any mortal man. Only God Himself could endure what Jesus was about to endure.

While Jesus is praying, the disciples have fallen asleep. Luke informs us that their sorrow had overcome them; they were sleeping because they were depressed. Why were they depressed? Jesus had not only predicted that He was about to die, but also that one of their very own was going to betray Him. Their sleeping was going to have disastrous effects upon them. Earlier Jesus had said that the only way to persevere during the times of tribulation was to pray. Jesus was about to undergo His tribulation. His antichrist Judas (John 17:12) and the forces of darkness were about to do their worst to Jesus. Jesus though would emerge from this experience triumphant because He had processed the experience through prayer. The disciples, on the other hand, are going to fail miserably because they slept instead of prayed.


THE BETRAYAL (22:47-53)

At this point Judas emerges with temple police, chief priests, the commander of the Roman force in Jerusalem, and a Roman cohort. Some claim that Jesus actually went to the Mount of Olives in order to hide from Judas and the army. Those who make this claim have never been to the Mount of Olives. From where Jesus was praying, He could see the large police force approaching the Mount of Olives carrying torches and lanterns (John 18:3). Anywhere between 200-600 men were involved in the arrest. Some scoff at this number; however, whenever the Roman commander Claudius Lysias wanted to have Paul escorted safely to Caesarea from Jerusalem, he sent 470 soldiers from Jerusalem to escort Paul (Acts 23:23). Jesus was a greater threat than Paul; so there is absolutely no reason why this large of a force would not have come to arrest Jesus. When Jesus saw this force leaving the temple area/Fortress Antonia, He could have easily scurried over the Mount of Olives and made His way to Jericho for safety. The fact that He did not reveals that He was allowing them to arrest Him in order to fulfill God's will.

Judas had given the police force a sign by which they would be able to identify Jesus. Apparently they were thinking that He would try to disguise Himself and evade arrest. The sign? Judas would kiss Jesus passionately, affectionately as if they were best friends. When Judas identifies Jesus by kissing Him, Jesus asks Judas: "Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Note that Jesus does NOT say: "Do you betray ME with a kiss" but rather "Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Judas knows that Jesus is calling Himself the Son of Man here; it was Jesus' favorite label He used to describe Himself. The term "Son of Man" refers to Jesus being the Divine One God would send at the end of time to judge the world (Daniel 7:13, 14). In Jesus' response to Judas, Jesus is basically warning him about his betrayal. Right now Judas feels like he has the upper hand; a day will come though when he will stand in judgment before Jesus--the very One he is betraying. Is this what Judas really wanted?

The disciples want to know if they are to resist Jesus being taken prisoner. Before Jesus can respond, Peter (John 18:10-11) takes one of the 2 swords they have brought with them and strikes off the ear (or small portion of the ear) of one of the high priest's servants named Malchus. (Peter was actually trying to cleave Malchus’ head in 2.) Jesus rebukes Peter for this armed resistance. Jesus wants to be accused and condemned on one charge--that of being God the Son. If His disciples start providing armed resistance, then they will be providing evidence that Jesus actually is a radical revolutionary. Peter, even though he is well intentioned, is jeopardizing what Jesus is trying to do here. (Peter sounds a lot like us.) Jesus heals Malchus' ear.

Jesus now turns and reprimands the police force which has come to arrest Him. Daily He had been with them in the temple, and yet not once had they tried to arrest Him. Jesus is exposing them for what they truly are--cowards, men who are so wrong that they have to carry out their deeds under the cover of darkness when no one is awake to hold them accountable. Yet Jesus tells them that not only is this their hour, it is also the hour of the spiritual forces of darkness. For the past 3+ years the Father has held the Jewish religious authorities and satanic forces in check. Now God is loosening those restraints. These 2 groups have now joined forces to destroy once for all Jesus and His movement. Jesus allows Himself to be arrested.


THE TRIALS BEFORE THE JEWISH AND ROMAN AUTHORITIES (22:54-23:25)


Introduction

From the 4 Gospels we realize that there are 7 different stages to Jesus' trial. The first 3 stages involve Jesus being brought before the Jewish religious authorities. First, Jesus will be brought before Annas, the former high priest who was also the father-in-law of the present high priest Caiaphas. This stage serves as a type of police inquiry in which the officers and Annas try to drum up evidence against Jesus. The second stage takes place before Caiaphas and several members of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish religious body in the land. This stage serves as a type of grand jury in which the charges are being formulated against Jesus. The third stage recorded here in Luke 22 involves the entire Sanhedrin. This stage functions as the formal trial in which Jesus will be found guilty of the charge of blasphemy and then sentenced to death.

The last 4 stages involve Jesus being brought before the Roman and civil authorities. In the fourth stage Jesus is brought before Pilate who finds Him innocent of the charge of treason against the Roman government; however, Pilate fears to free Jesus because of the violence of the Jewish religious leaders. In the fifth stage Jesus is hauled before Herod Antipas who rules Galilee where Jesus conducted most of His ministry. In the sixth stage when Herod refuses to do anything to Jesus, Pilate once more finds Jesus not guilty. In order to placate the crowds, Pilate will have Jesus scourged. In the seventh and final stage, Jesus is once more brought before Pilate who relents and finds Jesus guilty of the crime of treason against the state.


The Trial Before the Jewish Religious Authorities (22:54-71)

Luke skips over the first 2 stages of Jesus' trial and goes right to the verdict and sentencing phase of the trial in the third stage. The Sanhedrin meets at the crack of dawn to try Jesus because it is unlawful for them to conduct a trial at night. (They act like they are being so righteous when in fact they are committing judicial murder.) When the high priest asks Jesus if He is the Christ, Jesus not only acknowledges that He is, He also declares Himself to be the Son of Man, the DIVINE figure who will come at the end of time to judge the world. Right now the high priest is so confident that he like Judas has the upper hand. Jesus though has warned the high priest that he is standing before ultimate POWER.

The high priest realizes that Jesus has claimed divinity for Himself and so asks Him if He is the Son of God. Jesus categorically affirms that He is. That is all the high priest wanted to hear. Regardless of the evidence the high priest is sure that Jesus cannot be God the Son and so along with the rest of the Sanhedrin finds Jesus guilty of the charge of blasphemy; he then sentences Jesus to death.


The Trial Before the Roman and Civil Authorities (23:1-25)

At this point the Jewish religious authorities haul off Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. They would have gladly put Jesus to death; however, Roman law dictated that only the Romans had the right to execute capital punishment. (This made sense because occupied nations would naturally have put Roman collaborators to death if they had the chance.) Moreover, Jesus was such a popular figure that the Jewish religious leaders wanted the Romans to bear the ultimate responsibility for Jesus' death.

The Jews though have a dilemma on their hands. They claim that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy and therefore deserving of death. The Roman government, on the other hand, does not give a rip about charges of blasphemy. All they care about is the security of the Roman empire. As long as Jesus does not pose a threat to national security, then they don't care what He preaches. The Jews, therefore, tailor the charge against Jesus to include that of treason. They assert that since Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews, He poses a real threat to Roman rule in Judea. This they believe will definitely interest the governor Pilate.

Pilate though does not take the bait. He knows that he and the rest of the Roman legions are hated by the Jews and that if Jesus posed a real threat to Roman rule, they would be protecting Him, not trying to kill Him. Pilate correctly supposes that there is more to this story than what the Jewish religious authorities are revealing. According to John 18 when Pilate asks Jesus about His kingship, Jesus replies that He is indeed a king; however, His kingdom is not of this world. The fact that Jesus' followers have not risen up in arms to save Him shows that His kingdom is of a spiritual nature. Pilate does not care about this kind of kingdom since it poses no threat to Roman rule.

Pilate returns to the Jewish religious leaders and the crowd which has begun to assemble. He finds Jesus not guilty. The Jewish religious leaders are incensed at this verdict and refuse to let the matter drop. By this time many in the crowd may have dropped their belief in Jesus as the Messiah since they now see Him weak and frail in the hands of the mere Romans. They too join in asking for Jesus' death. Pilate makes the fatal error of not setting Jesus free instantaneously. Instead he sends Him to Herod Antipas since Jesus conducted most of His ministry in Galilee which was part of Herod's domains.

Herod is delighted to see Jesus. Earlier when he first heard about Jesus, Herod feared that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Herod feared that this more powerful John the Baptist (evidenced by the miracles He performed) would now take out his revenge upon Herod. At least a year has passed since Herod had heard about Jesus. During that year he had changed his mind about Jesus. Instead of being a more powerful John the Baptist returned from the dead, surely this Jesus now was a wonderful miracle worker, somebody who could entertain Herod.

When He stands before Herod, Jesus remains silent even after being commanded to speak and to perform miracles. Jesus is not going to dignify this farce. Herod has crossed the line. Herod is a degenerate who has no intention of changing. Jesus is not going to waste His time upon this mockery of a king.

Herod decides to have some sport with Jesus and mocks Jesus as the king of the Jews by adorning Him with royal garments and declaring Him to be king of the Jews. After the sporting is over, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate. (Luke informs us that up until this time Herod and Pilate were at odds with each other; Herod though so appreciated Pilate's gesture in sending Jesus to him that they 2 hereafter were reconciled.)

Pilate's plan did not work. He has Jesus back on His hands. When Pilate declares Jesus not guilty for the second time, the Jews grow even bolder and cry out for Jesus' death by crucifixion. Since it was Pilate's custom to release for them a prisoner at the time of Passover, they ask Pilate to release for them a known terrorist named Barabbas and to crucify Jesus. They totally betray their hand here. They claimed they wanted Jesus dead because He threatened Roman rule in Judea, and yet they cry out for the release of Barabbas who has actually been involved in trying to bring down Roman rule in Israel. Pilate exasperated tries to placate the crowd by having Jesus scourged (John 19).

Although Luke does not tell us about this scourging since he has already mentioned previous abuse upon Jesus, John tells us that the Romans inflicted upon Jesus the worst kind of scourging possible called the flagellum. This scourging involved the use of a whip in which were embedded pieces of rock and iron shavings which would rip the flesh. Josephus informs us that once he inflicted this upon a prisoner; the scourging was so horrible that the prisoner died. This kind of whip would expose bone and would rip open the abdominal muscles so that people's bowels would fall out. Many times this flagellum was the way the Romans executed capital punishment upon a criminal.

By this time Jesus was a bloody mess. Pilate hopes that the Jews will actually have pity upon Jesus, one of their own countrymen, when they see Him in this state. He is wrong. They are like sharks which can now taste blood and want to go in for the kill. When Pilate declares Jesus to be not guilty for the third time, he is legally obligated to release Jesus. The Jews though will have none of it. They declare that He should die because He has declared Himself to be the Son of God.

This last statement unnerves Pilate. He knew that the Jews had not been showing all their cards. Now he understands what is driving their actions. After interviewing Jesus again, Pilate wants to release Him even more. Pilate reenters the Praetorium (the Roman headquarters) and asks Jesus where He is from--heaven or earth. Jesus though remains silent. When Jesus spoke the truth earlier to Pilate, Pilate had been flippant and dismissive of Jesus. It's bad whenever God speaks words of anger to you and me; however, it is downright terrifying whenever He gets silent. Pilate flies off the handle because he is totally unnerved. "You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to execute you or to set you free?" Jesus reminds him though that he serves beneath the authority of God and that one day Pilate will stand before God in judgment. Pilate is more determined than ever to release Jesus.

The Jews though have one final trump card they want to play; it is decisive. They claim that if Pilate releases Jesus, then they will report to Tiberias Caesar that Pilate has aided and abetted a terrorist who is trying to destroy Roman rule in that part of the world. It is over now. Pilate's own mentor and patron Sejanus has already been executed by Caesar on charges of treason against the state. He knows what Caesar will do if these charges are brought before Caesar. Jesus may really be God's Son; however, Tiberias is a definite reality. He caves in and orders Jesus to be crucified.

Pilate though exacts one of the greatest revenges upon another person. Pilate mocks the Jews and asks them if they want him to execute their king, Jesus. The Jews cried out, "We have NO king but Caesar." Not only were they rejecting Christ, they were rejecting God Himself, Israel’s ultimate King. The vineyard is now going to be taken away from the vinegrowers and given to another group, the Gentile church. Israel will remain God's people; however, they will plunge into darkness. No longer will they reveal to the world God's salvation; they will reveal to the world God's wrath.