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Chapters 19 and 20
Nearing the end of the Lord's life; the chief priests and Judas; the Passover
In Luke 22 commence the details of the end of our Lord's life. The chief priests, fearing the people, seek how they may kill Him. Judas, under the influence of Satan, offers himself as an instrument, that they might take Him in the absence of the multitude. The day of Passover comes, and the Lord pursues that which belonged to His work of love in these immediate circumstances. I will notice the points that appertain to the character of this Gospel, the change that took place in immediate and direct connection with the Lord's death. Thus He desired to eat this last Passover with His disciples, because He would eat thereof no more until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God, that is, by His death. He drinks wine no more until the kingdom of God shall come. He does not say, until He shall drink it new in the kingdom of His Father, but only that He will not drink it till the kingdom shall come: just as the times of the Gentiles are in view as a present thing, so here Christianity, the kingdom as it is now, not the millennium. Observe also what a touching expression of love we have here: His heart needed this last testimony of affection before leaving them.
The foundation of the new covenant
The new covenant is founded on the blood here drunk in figure. The old was done away. Blood was required to establish the new. At the same time the covenant itself was not established; but everything was done on God's part. The blood was not shed to give force to a covenant of judgment like the first; it was shed for those who received Jesus, while waiting for the time when the covenant itself should be established with Israel in grace.
The disciples' ignorance and innocence
The disciples, believing the words of Christ, do not themselves know, and they ask one another, which of them it could be that should betray Him, a striking expression of faith in all he uttered — for none, save Judas, had a bad conscience — and marked their innocence. And at the same time, thinking of the kingdom in a carnal way, they dispute for the first place in it; and this, in the presence of the cross, at the table where the Lord was giving them the last pledges of His love. Truth of heart there was, but what a heart to have truth in! As for Himself, He had taken the lowest place, and that — as the most excellent for love — was His alone. They had to follow Him as closely as they could. His grace recognises their having done so, as if He were their debtor for their care during His time of sorrow on earth. He remembered it. In the day of His kingdom they should have twelve thrones, as heads of Israel, among whom they had followed Him.
Sifted by Satan, prayed for by the Saviour
But now it was a question of passing through death; and, having followed Him thus far, what an opportunity for the enemy to sift them since they could no longer follow Him as men living on the earth! All that belonged to a living Messiah was completely overthrown, and death was there. Who could pass through it? Satan would profit by this, and desired to have them that he might sift them. Jesus does not seek to spare His disciples this sifting. It was not possible, for He must pass through death, and their hope was in Him. They cannot escape it: the flesh must be put to the test of death. But He prays for them, that the faith of the one, whom He especially names, may not fail. Simon, ardent in the flesh, was exposed more than all to the danger into which a false confidence in the flesh might lead him, but in which it could not sustain him. Being however the object of this grace on the Lord's part, his fall would be the means of his strength Knowing what the flesh was, and also the perfection of grace; he would be able to strengthen his brethren. Peter asserts that he could do anything — the very things he should entirely fail in. The Lord briefly warns him of what he would really do.
The forewarning of change in the absence of the Lord; the enemy's power
Jesus then takes occasion to forewarn them that all was about to change. During His presence here below, the true Messiah, Emmanuel, He had sheltered them from all difficulties; when He sent them throughout Israel, they had lacked nothing. But now (for the kingdom was not yet coming in power) they would be, like Himself, exposed to contempt and violence. Humanly speaking, they would have to take care of themselves. Peter, ever forward, taking the words of Christ literally, was permitted to lay bare his thoughts by exhibiting two swords. The Lord stops him by a word that showed him it was of no use to go farther. They were not capable of it at that time. As to Himself, He pursues with perfect tranquillity His daily habits.
Pressed in spirit by that which was coming, He exhorts His disciples to pray, that they enter not into temptation; that is to say, that when the time came that they should be put to the test, walking with God, it should be for them obedience to God, and not a means of departure from Him. There are such moments, if God permits them to come, in which everything is put to the proof by the enemy's power.
At Gethsemane, the perfect dependant man
The Lord's dependence as man is then displayed in the most
striking manner. The whole scene of Gethsemane and the cross, in
Luke, is the perfect dependent man. He prays: He submits to His
Father's will. An angel strengthens Him: this was their service to
the Son of man.* Afterwards, in deep conflict, He prays more
earnestly: dependent man, He is perfect in His dependence. The
deepness of the conflict deepens His intercourse with His
Father. The disciples were overwhelmed by the shadow only of that
which caused Jesus to pray. They take refuge in the forgetfulness
of sleep. The Lord, with the patience of grace, repeats His
warning, and the multitude arrive. Peter, confident when warned,
sleeping at the approach of temptation when the Lord was praying,
strikes when Jesus allows Himself to be led as a sheep to the
slaughter, and then alas! denies when Jesus confesses the
truth. But, submissive as the Lord was to His Father's will, He
plainly shows that His power had not departed from Him. He heals
the wound that Peter inflicted on the high priest's servant, and
then permits Himself to be led away, with the remark that it was
their hour and the power of darkness. Sad and terrible association!
The iniquitous trial; Peter's defection; the Son of man is the Son of God
In all this scene we behold the complete dependence of the man,
the power of death felt as a trial in all its force; but, apart
from that which was going on in His soul and before His Father, in
which we see the reality of these two things, there was the most
perfect tranquillity, the most gentle calmness towards men* — grace that never belies itself. Thus, when Peter denied Him as He
had foretold, He looks upon him at the fitting moment. All the
parade of His iniquitous trial does not distract His thoughts, and
Peter is broken down by that look. When questioned, He has little
to say. His hour was come Subject to His Father's will, He accepted
the cup from His hand. His judges did but accomplish that will,
and bring Him the cup. He makes no answer to the question whether
He is the Christ. It was no longer the time to do so. They would
not believe it — would not answer Him if He had put questions to
them that would have brought out the truth; neither would they have
let Him go. But He bears the plainest testimony to the place which,
from that hour, the Son of man took. This we have repeatedly seen
in reading this Gospel. He would sit on the right hand of the power
of God. We see also it is the place He takes at present.** They
immediately draw the right conclusion — "Thou art, then, the Son
of God?" He bears testimony to this truth, and all is ended; that
is to say, He waives the question, whether He was the Messiah — that was gone by for Israel — He was going to suffer; He is the
Son of man, but thenceforth only as entering into glory; and He is
the Son of God. It was all over with Israel as to their
responsibility; the heavenly glory of the Son of man, the personal
glory of the Son of God was about to shine forth; and Jesus (Luke
23) is led away to the Gentiles, that all may be accomplished.
The guilt of the Gentiles: flagrant injustice
The Gentiles, however, are not presented in this Gospel as being
voluntarily guilty. We see, no doubt, an indifference which is
flagrant injustice in a case like this, and an insolence which
nothing could excuse; but Pilate does what he can to deliver
Christ, and Herod, disappointed, sends Him back unjudged. The will
is altogether on the side of the Jews. That is the characteristic
of this part of the history in Luke's Gospel. Pilate would rather
not have burdened himself with this useless crime, and he despised
the Jews; but they were resolved on the crucifixion of Jesus, and
require Barabbas to be released — a seditious man and a murderer
(see v. 20-25).*
The King of the Jews on the cross for the everlasting salvation of souls
Jesus, therefore, as He was led to Calvary, announced to the women, who with natural feeling lamented for Him, that it was all over with Jerusalem, that they had to bewail their own fate and not His; for days were coming upon Jerusalem which would make them call those happy who had never been mothers — days in which they would in vain seek refuge from terror and judgment. For if in Him, the true green tree, these things were done, what would become of the dry tree of Judaism without God? Nevertheless, at the moment of His crucifixion, the Lord intercedes for the unhappy people: they knew not what they did — intercession, to which Peter's discourse to the Jews (Acts 3) is the remarkable answer by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven. The rulers among the Jews, completely blinded, as well as the people, taunt Him with being unable to save Himself from the cross — not knowing that it was impossible if He was a Saviour, and that all was taken from them, and that God was establishing another order of things, founded on atonement, in the power of eternal life by the resurrection. Dreadful blindness, of which the poor soldiers were but imitators, according to the malignity of human nature! But the judgment of Israel was in their mouth, and (on God's part) upon the cross. It was the King of the Jews who hung there — abased indeed, for a thief hung by His side could rail on Him — but in the place to which love had brought Him for the everlasting and present salvation of souls. This was manifested at the very moment. The insults that reproached Him for not saving Himself from the cross, had His answer in the fate of the converted thief, who rejoined Him the same day in Paradise.
A gross sinner converted by grace on the gibbet
This history is a striking demonstration of the change to which this Gospel leads us. The King of the Jews, by their own confession, is not delivered — He is crucified. What an end to the hopes of this people! But at the same time a gross sinner, converted by grace on the very gibbet, goes straight to Paradise. A soul is eternally saved. It is not the kingdom, but a soul — out of the body — in happiness with Christ. And remark here how the presentation of Christ brings out the wickedness of the human heart. No thief would mock at or reproach another thief on the gibbet. But the moment it is Christ who is there, this takes place.
Marks of conversiona and remarkable faith
But I would say a few words on the condition of the other thief, and on the reply of Christ. We see every mark of conversion, and of the most remarkable faith. The fear of God, the beginning of wisdom, is there; conscience upright and vigorous. It is not "and justly" to his fellow, but "we indeed justly"; knowledge of the perfect sinless righteousness of Christ as man; the acknowledgment of Him as the Lord, when His own disciples had forsaken and denied Him, and when there was no sign of His glory or of the dignity of His Person. He was accounted by man as one like himself. His kingdom was but a subject of scorn to all. But the poor thief is taught of God; and all is plain. He is as sure that Christ will have the kingdom as if He was reigning in glory. All his desire is that Christ should remember him then; and what confidence in Christ is here shown through the knowledge of Him in spite of his acknowledged guilt! It shows how Christ filled his heart, and how his confiding in grace by its brightness shut out human shame, for who would like to be remembered in the shame of a gibbet! Divine teaching is singularly manifested here. Do not we know by divine teaching that Christ was sinless, and to be assured of His kingdom there was a faith above all circumstances? He alone is a comfort to Jesus upon the cross, and makes Him think (in answering his faith) of the Paradise that awaited Him when He should have finished the work that His Father had given Him to do. Observe the state of sanctification this poor man was in by faith. In all the agonies of the cross, and while believing Jesus to be the Lord, he seeks no relief at His hands, but asks that He will remember him in His kingdom. He is filled with one thought — to have his portion with Jesus. He believes that the Lord will return; he believes in the kingdom, while the King is rejected and crucified, and when, as to man, there was no longer any hope. But the reply of Jesus goes farther in the revelation of that proper to this Gospel, and adds that which brings in, not the kingdom, but everlasting life, the happiness of the soul. The thief had asked Jesus to remember him when He returned in His kingdom. The Lord replies that he should not wait for that day of manifested glory which would be visible to the world, but that this very day he should be with Him in Paradise. Precious testimony, and perfect grace! Jesus crucified was more than King — He was Saviour. The poor malefactor was a testimony to it, and the joy and consolation of the Lord's heart — the first-fruits of the love which had placed them side by side, where, if the poor thief bore the fruit of his sins from man, the Lord of glory at his side was bearing the fruit of them from God, treated as Himself a malefactor in the same condemnation. Through a work unknown to man save by faith the sins of His companion were for ever put away, they no longer existed, their remembrance was only that of the grace which had taken them away, and which had for ever cleansed his soul from them, making him that moment as fit to enter Paradise as Christ Himself his companion there!
Death, the last act of the Lord's life; God reveals Himself
The Lord then, having fulfilled all things, and still full of strength, commends His spirit to His Father. He commits it to Him, the last act of that which composed His whole life — the perfect energy of the Holy Ghost acting in a perfect confidence in His Father, and dependence upon Him. He commits His spirit to His Father, and expires. For it was death that He had before Him — but death in absolute faith which trusted in His Father — death with God by faith; and not the death that separated from God. Meantime nature veiled itself — acknowledged the departure from this world of Him who had created it. All is darkness. But on the other hand God reveals Himself — the veil of the temple is rent in twain from the top to the bottom. God had hidden Himself in thick darkness — the way into the holiest had not yet been manifested. But now there is no longer a veil; that which has put sin away through perfect love now shines forth, while the holiness of God's presence is joy to the heart, and not torment. What brings us into the presence of perfect holiness without a veil, put away the sin which forbade us to be there. Our communion is with Him through Christ, holy and unblameable before Him in love.
The centurion's confession
The poor centurion, struck with all that had taken place, confesses — such is the power of the cross upon the conscience — that this Jesus whom he has crucified was certainly the righteous man. I say conscience, because I do not pretend to say that it went any farther than that in the case of the centurion. We see the same effect on the spectators: they went away smiting their breasts. They perceived that something solemn had happened — that they had fatally compromised themselves with God.
The burial of the Lord; everything prepared
But the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, had prepared everything for the burial of His Son, who had glorified Him by giving Himself up to death. He is with the rich in His death. Joseph, a just man, who had not consented to the sin of his people, lays the Lord's body in a tomb that had never yet been used. It was the preparation before the sabbath; but the sabbath was near. At the time of His death the women — faithful (though ignorant) to their affection for Him while living — see where the body is laid, and go to prepare all that was needed for its embalming. Luke only speaks in general terms of these women: we shall therefore enter on the details elsewhere, following our Gospel as it presents itself.
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