In the last essay we studied Luke 8:40-56, which included two intertwined stories: the raising of Jairus’ daughter from death and the healing of a hemorrhaging woman. In this essay we are studying 9:1-27. There are several significant incidents recorded in these verses. The first, found in 9:1-6, is the initial mission Jesus gave to the Twelve.
Jesus gathered the Twelve and assigned them a mission that he expected them to carry out without his being personally present. In doing so, he gave them power, which means he equipped them with the ability to execute the assigned tasks. Jesus also gave them authority, which means that they had the right to exercise the power. Then Jesus mentioned three aspects of the expected ministry. They were to take authority over demons; they were to heal diseases; and they were to proclaim the Kingdom of God. In other words he sent them out to do what he had been doing. Mark, in his parallel, tells us that Jesus sent the Twelve out two by two (Mk. 6:7). This mission of the Twelve was a limited one in the sense that it was limited to Galilee, and it was limited to a fairly short period of time.
Next, Jesus gave instructions about how to go about the ministry. The key instruction was that they take no provisions for the road. They were not to take a staff to aid their walking, probably because it was a brief journey. They were not to take a bag to carry things in, because none would be needed. They were to take no bread, because they were to depend on the hospitality of the people for their food. They were to take no money, again because they were to depend on the hospitality of those ministered to. And finally, they were not to take a change of clothes. Again, that would not be necessary. The idea was that God would provide through the people to whom they ministered.
Jesus, being a realist, then gave the Twelve instructions about how to handle either acceptance or rejection by the communities to which they would go. When a particular household offered them hospitality, they were to accept it and stay there until they completed the ministry in that community (v. 4). The implication is that they were not to look around for better quarters. They were to be content with what was offered.
In cases where no one in a town offered hospitality, they were to shake the dust from their feet as they left the town (v. 5). Shaking dust from one’s feet was a powerful symbol in that culture. It was an established custom in Judaism, but with a different purpose than what we see here. Jews, when they visited a Gentile territory, which of course was ceremonially unclean, would symbolically shake the dust from their feet upon leaving that territory so that they did not defile the Holy Land when they returned.
In this case Jesus was using the same act with Jewish people. It was to symbolize the fact that a town of Jews, by refusing hospitality to the disciples, indicated that they had rejected the “good news” of the Kingdom of God. Therefore the shaking off of the dust symbolized that those people were not part of the true Israel. Finally verse six tells us that the Twelve followed Jesus’ instructions and had a successful tour.
In verses 7-9 we find a brief account of the perplexity of Herod Antipas when he heard about what was going on. The Herod mentioned here was Herod Antipas, who ruled over Galilee and Perea. He was the son of Herod the Great. Herod heard speculations about who Jesus may have been. Three are mentioned. First, he had heard that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. As we see here, Herod himself had ordered the death of the Baptist. Matthew, in his parallel, attributes the statement to Herod himself, which suggests that Herod believed that was the case.
Second, Herod heard that Jesus was Elijah who had appeared. In Jewish tradition, Elijah was to make an appearance at the end of the age to be a herald of the end. And that would explain why some thought Jesus was Elijah. But you may recall that Jesus said that John the Baptist had fulfilled that Elijah forerunner role (Mt. 11:13-14).
Third, Herod heard that Jesus was one of the prophets, meaning one of the Old Testament prophets, come back to life. Obviously, there was a lot of wild speculation going on. And Herod was perplexed by it all. As a result, moved probably by curiosity, Herod expressed a desire to meet with Jesus.
Next, in 9:10-17, we find the famous story of the feeding of the 5,000. This is the only miracle by Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels (Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:30-44; Jn. 6:1-14). It occurred at the height of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, shortly after the Twelve reported back from their two by two ministry. Notice that Luke refers to the Twelve as “apostles.” The Twelve no longer were simply disciples of Jesus. They now were apostles of Jesus.
When they reported back, Jesus took them to the vicinity of Bethsaida a more isolated area presumably so that Jesus could debrief them on the mission, and as Mark tells us, so that the entire group could get some rest (Mk. 6:31). But the crowds soon discovered where they were and arrived on the scene. Jesus welcomed them and began to preach to them about the kingdom of God and to heal their sick (vv. 10-11).
The day quickly passed; and when evening came, the disciples suggested to Jesus that he dismiss the crowd so that they could go into the surrounding villages to find food and lodging. Instead, Jesus told the disciples to feed them. But they had only five loaves and two fish, a ridiculously small amount of food in the face of a crowd of 5,000 men, plus any women and children who were present. And they certainly could not afford to buy food for that many people. Mark’s account indicates that it would have cost 200 denarii, more than six months wages for a laborer (Mk. 6:37). Notice that the disciples quickly shared these realities with Jesus (vv. 12-13).
Then came the miracle. Jesus ordered the disciples to have he people sit down in groups of fifty. Then he took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. Amazingly, the food somehow multiplied, and everyone had plenty to eat with twelve baskets of food left over.
Notice that the emphasis is on the abundance of provision. The fact that there were twelve baskets of food left over indicates that everyone’s hunger was satisfied, and none of the Father’s abundance was wasted. The miracle itself is not described. That is, nothing is said about how the food was multiplied. Rather the emphasis is totally on the result of the miracle.
Notice also that nothing is said about the crowd’s reaction. This was a lesson for the disciples, not for the crowds. Herod had asked, “Who is this guy?” And the disciples still were asking the same question, as they did at the stilling of the storm in chapter eight, “Who then is this, that he commands even the wind and the water and they obey him” (8:25)? Now Jesus is showing them who he is. And then we see in the next segment (9:18-20) that Luke records, the so-called “Confession of Peter.”
In these brief verses we see the answer to the question about who Jesus is. Matthew and Mark give the geographical location of the event, namely, at Caesarea Philippi. Luke tells us that it took place on an occasion when Jesus was at prayer. As you can see, Luke places the account immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 and Herod’s confusion about who Jesus was. Therefore he wanted to answer the question about who Jesus was at this point.
Jesus asks the disciples what they had heard from the crowds about the question. They answer that they had heard the exact same things that Herod had heard, namely, that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life, that he was Elijah, or that he was an ancient prophet back from the dead (9:7-8). Then Jesus asked what they thought; and Peter, answering for all of them, declares that he is the Messiah, the Christ. Matthew adds, “the Son of the living God.” “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Notice that Luke leaves out of his Gospel everything in Mark 6:45-8:26 (Mt. 14:22-16:12). This is sometimes referred to as Luke’s “Great Omission.” The issue is debated, but most scholars believe the reason for the omission lies in Luke’s purpose. That is, he intentionally omitted the material. However, scholars can only guess what his purpose in omitting the material was, so the discussion doesn’t go very far.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration in 9;21-22 is what often is called “the first passion prediction.” This is the first of three occasions when Jesus plainly tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem (Mt. 16:21), suffer, be rejected, die, and rise again. Notice that Jesus first tells them to be silent about the revelation that he is the Messiah. The reason for that was the fact that Jewish public generally thought the Messiah was to be a human, earthly king like David, and Jesus was not that. So he didn’t want to be identified as the Messiah.
Luke has another small omission here. He doesn’t report the exchange between Peter and Jesus that is found in Matthew and Mark. They tell us that Peter rebuked Jesus for saying he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. But Jesus rebuked Peter back by calling him Satan: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Next, in 9:23-27, Jesus gave the disciples some conditions for discipleship. These instructions were for all disciples, not just the Twelve. Indeed Mark says that Jesus called the crowd to hear them (Mk. 8:34). Notice that there are three conditions. First, we must deny ourselves. Second, we must take up our cross. The metaphor of the cross was powerful and well understood in Jesus’ day. And it means the same for us as it did for first-century disciples. We must be willing to die for Jesus. And third, we must follow him. That is, we must go where he goes and do what he does.
The following sayings provide some details. Those who are not willing to die, who wish to save their lives, will lose them. But those who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake will save them. Those who are ashamed of Jesus in this life will find Jesus ashamed of them when he returns in glory.
Verse 27 was a promise to the people listening to Jesus that day that any among them who fulfilled the three conditions of discipleship would experience the kingdom of God before they died.