Luke 9:51-62


Luke 9:51 to 19:27, called "the travel account," is peculiar to this Gospel. In this section Jesus is constantly on His way to Jerusalem, 9:51; 10:1; 10:38; 13:22-23; 17:11, and He is constantly teaching the disciples and the multitudes. He has left Galilee.

Verses 51-56 are found only in Luke. Verses 57-62 are found in Matthew 8:19-22 in a different locale. There are four possibilities:

  1. The same thing happened twice,

  2. Matthew preserves the chronological order but not Luke,

  3. Luke preserves the chronological order but not Matthew,

  4. Neither preserves the chronological order, assuming that it is the same incident.

No one can decide this dogmatically. More important than that is to study what the account says.

Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke includes the entire span of time from this point to Jesus' ascension. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel, if we are permitted to say that. Look at Hebrews 12:2, and His discourses to His disciples, John 14 to 17, where He speaks of His going away (suffering and death) and returning to the Father (Ascension). He fixed His face to go to Jerusalem. He did not run from His redemptive work in our behalf.

Luke 9:52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him;

He sent "with a commission." Where these "messengers" disciples? Were they James and John? Was a large crowd with Jesus? Commentators argue about this. All we know is that there were at least twelve, a large group, perhaps, to stay in a Samaritan village.

In the second sentence we learn why they were sent. It's a three-day journey from Galilee to Judea. Therefore, they'd have to stay overnight someplace.

Note how Jesus is the central figure of this group in verses 51-53, and also in 57-62.

Luke 9:53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

"They turned Him down." Note that He is the reason for turning down the request. The reason is given immediately: "Because He was headed for Jerusalem." Not because there was consideration of laws of cleanness and uncleanness, for Jews often stayed overnight in Samaria. The reason in this case: Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. That should explain itself. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other ever since the return from Babylon. That this outstanding man (it can't be proved that they knew Him as Messiah but at least it indicates that He was an outstanding figure) was on His way to Jerusalem was their reason for not affording Him food and lodging.

Luke 9:54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?"

Does this mean that James and John were the messengers? Lenski thinks so. But we don't know for sure. It can mean "when they became aware of it."

That they had the right view of Him is indicated by "Lord." They had just witnessed His transfiguration in 9:29-32. They considered the refusal of the Samaritans an insult to the God-man.

"Do you wish we shall command?" We say: "Shall we command?" They were deliberating, not asking for mere information. In this case, the incident involving Elijah at 2 Kings 1:10-12, in a context of punishment and obduracy, not parallel at all to this situation in Samaria. Ylvisaker states that the Old Covenant is one of severity in contrast to the New Covenant, which is one of grace. Lenski rightly rejects this idea. The difference lies in the situation, not the difference in Covenants.

Did James and John believe that they had this power if Jesus had agreed? Many commentators think so. We leave that unanswered. More important than that is their attitude and what Jesus says.

The variant reading "as also Elijah did" is found in the AV translation, but not in later translations. Arndt and Lenski argue for its inclusion. Even if we do not consider it textual, the thought is obvious to the reader. Bengel remarks that there is not record of Jesus performing a miracle involving fire because fire is reserved for the final judgment. Interesting.

Luke 9:55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them,

Jesus gives His complete attention to James and John. The same Greek word is used for the rebuke to Peter in Mark 8:33. Jesus sternly rebuked James and John on this occasion as He had rebuked Peter previously.

Note again that we have a variant, included by AV but by no other English translations. Again, Arndt and Lenski speak for it. If textual, the words mean: "You do not know what spirit possesses you."

In other words: "This is not the spirit of Elijah who was not vengeful." Or: "Yours is a vengeful spirit." The latter is preferable.

Luke 9:56 and they went to another village.

A third variant reading at the beginning of the verse. Only AV maintains it among the English translations. The incarnation would not have been necessary for judgment. The incarnation involves Jesus in salvation, not judgment. Judgment, of course, will follow if people reject the Son of man. But the Samaritans, as a nation, had not done that. In fact, next to Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria was to be the first field of endeavor. Look at Acts 8:5ff.

The sentence implies that they did find lodging elsewhere. Where that might have been, we do not know.

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."

This is a new section. The entire pericope is really two sections: 51-56 and 57-62. That is done because some felt that this entire section is typical of the entire journey account. Verses 51-56 stress that Jesus is not vengeful but compassionate and saving. Verses 57-62 portray Jesus as the Teacher.

The preacher may want to preach only one section.

"They" is at least Jesus and His disciples.

"I follow You wherever (no matter where) you go" is a wonderful offer but from Jesus' answer it is plain that, in His omniscience, Jesus clearly sees more emotion and sentiment, rather than substance, in the man's promise.

Luke 9:58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

All foxes and birds, though wild, are free to go where they want but always find roosts or shelter. Note the significant term "Son of man," the incarnate Christ. This God-man has less than foxes and birds. The follower of Jesus must be ready, like Jesus, to have less than foxes and birds. Look at Hebrews 11:35b-38, especially verses 37-38, where it is plain that these believers had less comfort than wild animals.

Jesus finally lost all, even His clothing, and had nothing but a cross. If need be, His followers may experience the same. But this does not mean that Jesus was a pauper or that poverty, in itself, is a virtue. Nor does it mean that God forsakes Jesus' followers. Quite the opposite. On this point compare Hebrews 13:5-6.

By the way, verse 58 is exemplified in verse 53, but in verse 56 it is implies that God did provide.

Luke 9:59 He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

In this verse a man does not make an offer but Jesus tells a man to follow Him. Evidently this man was more mature in his discipleship than the first, but he had a flaw, common to all of us. The man wanted permission to do something first. It can't mean: "Let me go and take care of father until he dies." Jesus does not forbid obedience to the fourth commandment.

Luke 9:60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Jesus' answer is truly enigmatic, purposely so. It lingers in one's mind. Be careful of dogmatically interpreting: "Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead" because that would mean that only the unregenerate can bury the dead. Abraham buried Sarah. Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus. Were they spiritually dead? No. Furthermore, that would mean that a Christian cannot be a mortician. That can't be.

Then what does it say? At Jesus' time the Jews considered burial a religious rite which took precedence over everything, even reading the Law. But burial is not a spiritual, religious rite commanded by God. He doesn't command that we bury. All cultures bury, cremate, embalm, or mummify to protect the living, lest the living be contaminated. And anyone can bury the dead. Discipleship is not a requirement for that. Our obligation to people ceases at death. You can't preach to the dead. You can't even love the dead. Only the living, whether neighbor, wife, or even enemy, can be loved.

Hebrews 13:7 has nothing to do with burial. It says we should remember their preaching and imitate their endurance. Hebrews 12:1 says nothing about burial. It reminds us to remember the faith and endurance of a Christian (which give all glory to God) should be remembered, but you can't preach the Gospel to the dead.

"Let the dead bury the dead." Anyone can do that. "You go and spread the Kingdom of God, the Gospel which builds the church of the living."

Eulogies, flowers, rites don't soften the harsh reality of death. Nor will sentimentality. What counts is preaching the Gospel far and wide. Some of these thoughts meet with disapproval even among Christians because we are so much like this man.

The whole statement is Law, the first part to avoid vacuous, pagan sentimentality and the second to rivet our attention on what is truly spiritual activity. Jesus was buried not because He would decay but because He took our place. And, isn't it remarkable that there is no record of Him attending a burial, not even that of His father? That doesn't mean that He didn't, for He may have. And when He did raise the dead, He wasn't there to bury but to prove that He was the Savior. That's Gospel.

Luke 9:61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."

This case is like the first in that the man volunteers to follow Jesus. He calls Him Lord. And like the second in that he likewise says: "Permit me first to --."

Luke 9:62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Jesus' answer is an axiom, a statement understandable to all cultures. Jesus must be speaking about a man who has no experience as a plowman. The plow here is similar to the walking plow used in former generations in our country. One cannot plow without placing both hands firmly on the plowhandle and looking forward.

"Keeps looking back" is the translation in NEB and AAT. This kind of plowing is ridiculous and impossible. Bengel mentions here that such a man is "delirious." The etymology of this word is "de" and "lira" in Latin, meaning "out of the furrow." A delirious man is like a plow out of the furrow.

Jesus is criticizing the man's attitude. Matthew 10:37 and Luke 14:26 are parallel thoughts. The Children of Israel longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt. See Exodus 16:3. Remember Lot's wife. Luke 17:32; Genesis 19:26. Read Philippians 3:2-14, especially verse 13.

To have the righteousness of God by faith in Christ is the best antidote against being impeded by human relationships. That alone makes one fit for the Kingdom of God. Look at Matthew 6:33.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 16-19. Used with permission.

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