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Bible Commentaries
Luke 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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B. The relationships of disciples 10:25-11:13

The three incidents that compose this section all concern various aspects of the life of disciples. Luke continued to focus Jesus’ teaching on discipleship by his selection of material. All three incidents are unique to Luke’s Gospel, though again there is evidence that Jesus taught similar lessons and made similar statements at other times that the other evangelists recorded in other contexts.

Verse 1

This verse gives the setting for the teaching that follows. This is the fifth time that Luke referred to Jesus praying (Luke 3:21; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18; Luke 9:28; cf. Luke 22:32; Luke 22:40-44; Luke 23:46). It was apparently Jesus’ frequent praying that alerted His disciples to its importance and made them feel their need for His help in their praying. This is the only time the Gospel writers recorded that someone asked Jesus to teach them something, another indication of the importance of this instruction. They seem to have felt the need for help in learning to pray more than in learning how to preach. The disciples did not ask for instruction on the subject of prayer theoretically. They wanted help praying. Evidently they wanted Jesus to give them a prayer that they could use that would be appropriate in view of their distinctive relationship to God as believers in Jesus. Other Jewish groups, such as John’s disciples, had their own distinctive prayers. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 456.] Perhaps being in the area of John’s former ministry brought him to the disciples’ minds.

Verses 1-4

The Lord’s Prayer 11:1-4 (cf. Matthew 6:9-13)

Luke’s record of Jesus’ teaching the Lord’s Prayer differs significantly enough from Matthew’s account that we can safely conclude that Jesus gave similar teaching on separate occasions. This repetition illustrates the importance that Jesus attached to the subject of prayer.

Verses 1-13

3. The relation of disciples to God the Father 11:1-13

Jesus continued to point out the disciple’s proper relationships. Having explained their relation to their neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and to Himself (Luke 10:38-42), He now instructed them on their relation to their heavenly Father. This pericope, as the former one, clarifies the meaning of the first commandment (Luke 10:27).

This whole section consists of teaching on prayer. Luke presented prayer as a major subject in which Jesus instructed His disciples whereas in Matthew prayer instruction is incidental to other themes. The teaching in the present section of this Gospel gives help to disciples who need to learn how to pray and encouragement that God will hear and answer their prayers. The disciples’ request for instruction on how to pray (Luke 11:1) resulted in Jesus giving them a pattern prayer (Luke 11:2-4). He then gave them a parable that illustrates God’s willingness to answer (Luke 11:5-8), a promise that God would answer (Luke 11:9), and further assurance showing God’s readiness to answer their prayers (Luke 11:10-13). Prayer is a discipline of dependence on God and as such is the life breath of every disciple of Jesus.

Verse 2

Jesus’ introduction to this prayer implied that He intended the disciples to repeat it verbatim. His introduction to the teaching that Matthew reported implied that He was giving them a model or sample prayer (Matthew 6:9). "Whenever" (Gr. hoten) implies that they would pray this prayer frequently.

Jesus first focused attention on the person of God. The term "Father" (Gr. pater, Aramaic abba) is both an intimate and a respectful title. By using it the disciples were expressing the relationship that they enjoyed with God because of their relationship with Jesus (cf. John 20:17; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6). The closeness of their relationship with Jesus is apparent in that they could now address God as their Father as Jesus addressed God as His Father (cf. Luke 10:21). This does not mean, of course, that disciples enjoy exactly the same relationship that the Son of God enjoys with the Father.

"The use of the intimate form was the amazing new thing that Jesus wished to teach his disciples, initiating them into the same close relationship with the father that he enjoyed . . ." [Note: Ibid.]

Two sets of petitions follow. Two petitions relate to God’s cosmic purposes and three to the disciples’ personal needs.

The clause "hallowed be your name" means "may everyone regard your name as holy" (cf. Leviticus 22:32; Psalms 79:9; Psalms 111:9; Isaiah 29:23). God’s name is essentially the sum of His attributes, and effectively it is His reputation among people. This petition is as much an expression of worship as it is a petition. It asks God to act so people will regard Him as holy, to cause situations in which they will reverence and obey Him rather than blaspheming and sinning against Him.

"The aorist tense here suggests that a specific time of fulfillment is in mind. This may be the coming of the kingdom." [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 947.]

This view finds support in the recurrence of the aorist tense and a specific reference to the kingdom in the second petition. However the first petition is also for the honor of God’s name generally. The coming of the kingdom is a desirable condition because it will result in universal blessing as well as great honor for God. If the messianic kingdom had already begun, as some scholars affirm, this prayer would hardly be necessary. This second petition addresses God’s program.

This was a typically Jewish prayer so far except for the addition of "Father." Both petitions were concerns of the Jews as they anticipated the arrival of the messianic kingdom.

Verse 3

The third petition, the first one in the second group of petitions, deals with the disciples’ provisions. The parallel request in Matthew has the aorist tense indicating a simple act of giving (Matthew 6:11), but this one has the present tense suggesting a continuing daily provision. The ideas are complementary rather than contradictory.

Matthew’s prayer also has "today" stressing the present need whereas Luke’s prayer has "each day" pointing to the disciples’ continuing need for God’s supply. "Daily" (Gr. epiousion) not only means day by day but also carries the connotation of sufficient or necessary. [Note: Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Daily Bread Motif in Antiquity," Westminster Theological Journal 28 (1965-66):147-56.] This idea may be primary in epiousion here since "each day" has already expressed the idea of God providing day by day.

"Bread" (Gr. artos) frequently represents food generally and probably does here too (cf. Luke 7:33; John 13:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Thus it is improbable that Jesus meant that disciples should only request the barest necessities of life. The Jews in the wilderness learned to trust God for their food day by day (Exodus 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:6-10). People in Jesus’ day normally received their pay daily, so they understood this need too. It may be harder for us to remember that we are dependent on God for our daily sustenance since most of us do not live from hand to mouth so literally. Nevertheless we live in a state of continual dependence on God (cf. John 15:5). This petition should remind us of that.

Verse 4

The fourth petition requests God’s pardon. Luke used the simple word "sins" (Gr. hamartia) rather then the Jewish idiom "debts" (Gr. opheilemata) that Matthew employed. The believer in Jesus has already received forgiveness from the guilt of his or her sins (cf. Luke 5:20; Luke 7:47; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1:7). Therefore the forgiveness Jesus spoke of here is the forgiveness that is necessary for the maintenance of fellowship with the Father (cf. 1 John 1:5-10). A person’s unwillingness to forgive others who have wronged him or her may indicate that he or she knows nothing of God’s forgiveness (cf. Luke 7:47). Conversely one’s willingness to forgive other people shows that one recognizes his or her own need for forgiveness.

The fifth petition requests divine protection. This request does not imply that God might entice us into sin (cf. James 1:1-15). Nevertheless God does allow people to undergo temptation (Gr. peirasmos) in the sense of the testing of their faithfulness (Luke 4:1-12; cf. Deuteronomy 6-8). This petition expresses the disciple’s awareness of his or her need for God’s help in avoiding excessive temptation and enduring all temptation. It is essentially a request for help in remaining faithful to God. The unusual reverse form of this petition is due to its being a figure of speech (i.e., litotes) in which the writer expressed a positive idea by stating its negative opposite. Luke made frequent use of litotes in the narrative portions of Acts (cf. Acts 12:18; Acts 15:2; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12; Acts 19:24; Acts 27:20). This construction accentuates the contrast with the preceding fourth petition. [Note: See also Thomas L. Constable, "The Lord’s Prayer," in Giving Ourselves to Prayer, compiled by Dan R. Crawford (Terre Haute, Ind.: PrayerShop Publishing, 2005), pp. 70-75.]

Verses 5-6

Hospitality was a sacred duty in the ancient Near East. When visitors arrived, the host would normally provide lodging under his roof and food to eat. The host in this parable did not have enough bread for his guest, so he appealed to his neighbor for some. The fact that he came knocking on his friend’s door at such a late hour as midnight indicates that this was an inconvenient time for the neighbor. Jesus did not explain why the man came so late, and the reason is immaterial.

Verses 5-8

The parable of the persistent friend 11:5-8

Having helped his disciples pray, Jesus now gave them incentive to pray. He contrasted the character of God and the character of the reluctant neighbor in His story (cf. Luke 11:13; Luke 18:1-8). This parable contains a very helpful and encouraging revelation of God’s character (cf. Luke 10:22). Understanding the character of God removes many of the problems we have with prayer. [Note: See C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God’s Ear, for a fuller development of this truth.] This parable also encourages disciples to pray in spite of no immediate answers. It addresses the common feeling that prayer may be useless since God does not grant answers as one might expect Him to.

"The point of the parable is clearly not: Go on praying because God will eventually respond to importunity; rather it is: Go on praying because God responds graciously to the needs of his children." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 462.]

Verses 7-8

This unfriendly behavior of this "friend" is understandable since in the typical one-room Palestinian home the whole family, and even often the household animals, all slept near each other. In the parable the sleeping neighbor’s desire to avoid shame in the eyes of the knocking host, and probably in the eyes of all his neighbors once his inhospitable behavior became known, led him to get up and give his neighbor bread. The Greek word anaideia means shameless, or avoidance of shame, not persistence. [Note: See Alan F. Johnson, "Assurance for Man: The Fallacy of Translating Anaideia by ’Persistence’ in Luke 11:5-8," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22:2 (June 1979):123-31.]

Jesus was contrasting, not comparing, God’s attitude with the friend’s attitude (Luke 11:9-13). [Note: See Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, pp. 125-33.] God’s attitude toward His children is the opposite of the attitude of the friend toward his knocking neighbor. God will not grant answers to prayer to avoid shame, as this man did. He will grant them unselfishly and lovingly. Jesus’ point was that if shame was effective with such a friend how much more eagerly shall the heavenly Father respond when His children make requests of Him. God is more than the friend of disciples; He is their father.

Verse 9

Jesus introduced this promise with a phrase that underlined its reliability and gave His personal guarantee. Everyone who asks of God will receive from Him, not just the persistent (cf. Matthew 7:7-8). In the context everyone is every one of His children (Luke 11:13). Jesus urged His disciples to pray. He probably meant that we must ask to receive (cf. James 4:2). Those who seek God’s attention and response in prayer will find it (cf. Jeremiah 29:12-13). Those who knock on the closed door of God’s heavenly house will find that He will open to them and give them what is best (cf. Luke 11:7).

"In other words, don’t come to God only in the midnight emergencies, but keep in constant communion with your Father." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:215. Author’s italics removed.]

Verses 9-10

A promise from Jesus 11:9-10

Verses 9-13

Encouragements to pray 11:9-13

Jesus continue His instruction by providing further encouragement to ask of God in prayer.

Verse 10

Luke 11:10 gives the justification for the promise in Luke 11:9. It sets forth the absolute certainty of what Jesus just said. God will definitely respond to the prayers of His children. A stronger promise is difficult to imagine.

The response of many Christians to this promise is: I asked but did not receive. I sought God but did not feel I got through to Him. I knocked at His door, but He did not admit me. However the unusual strength with which Jesus gave this promise should encourage us to believe Him in spite of appearances. We may not have received yet. We may not feel that we got through to God, but Jesus said we did. We may feel that we are knocking on heavens of brass, but Jesus promised that God entertained our prayer.

Verses 11-12

These two examples further enforce the point that God will respond to our prayers, and they stress that He will do so kindly (cf. Matthew 7:9-10). Since God is our heavenly Father, He will do no less than a normal earthly father would do. Even a good earthly father would not give his son who asked for a fish or an egg a snake or a scorpion. A snake can look like a fish, and scorpions sometimes bred in eggs. [Note: Edersheim, 2:242.] Such a response would be cruel rather than loving since the substitution would involve no real giving but deception and even danger.

Verses 11-13

An argument from logic 11:11-13

Verse 13

Jesus drew His climactic conclusion (cf. Matthew 7:11). Since God is perfect He will do much more than a sinful earthly father would do. When Jesus gave this teaching the Holy Spirit did not yet indwell every believer (Acts 2:33; cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). The greatest blessing God could give a believer then was the possession of His Spirit. Thus the gift of the Holy Spirit was God’s greatest possible gift for the disciples who first heard this teaching. In effect Jesus was saying that the heavenly Father would give the very best gifts to those who ask Him. Believers today do not need to ask God to give them the Holy Spirit because He does this when we trust in His Son (Romans 8:9).

The fact that God gives only good gifts to His children explains why He does not give us everything we request, even things that look good to us. Thus we need to understand Jesus’ promise that God will give us what we ask (Luke 11:9-10) as referring only to things that are good for us. God will without fail give only what is best to His children who request of Him in prayer.

In this important teaching on prayer Jesus gave His disciples a distinctive prayer to pray that expressed appropriate concerns for them because of their unique relationship to God. Then He showed how eager and ready God was to answer their prayers. Finally He promised that God would definitely respond to their prayers but only by giving them truly good gifts. Throughout He stressed the character of God and the disciple’s privileged relationship to Him. [Note: For a biblical theology of prayer, see Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer.]

Verses 14-16

Luke again first presented the setting for the confrontation that followed. Jesus cast a demon out of a man whom it had made dumb. This sign of His messiahship amazed the multitudes that observed it (cf. Luke 4:36; Luke 9:42-43; et al.). Some of them attributed Jesus’ power to the head demon, namely, Satan (Luke 11:18). The spelling Beelzebul (NASB) is most common in the Greek text. Beelzebub (NIV) has come down to us from the Latin manuscript tradition. "Beelzebul" probably came from the Hebrew baal zebul meaning "Prince Baal." Baal was the chief Canaanite deity, and the Jews regarded him as the personification of all that was evil and Satanic (cf. Matthew 10:25). Another possible meaning is "lord of the dwelling" (cf. Mark 3:22).

Others demanded from Jesus an even more powerful sign than demon exorcism to validate His messianic claim. This unwarranted request constituted a test or provocation of Jesus.

"The narrator previously distinguished between the attitudes of the scribes/Pharisees and the crowd or people (Luke 7:29-30). Now the opposition to Jesus characteristic of the former is emerging in the latter." [Note: Tannehill, 1:150.]

Verses 14-26

1. The Beelzebul controversy 11:14-26 (cf. Matthew 12:22-37; Mark 3:19-30)

The placement of these events in Luke’s Gospel again raises the question of whether Luke recorded the same incident as Matthew and Mark or whether this was a similar but different one. I, along with many other students of the passages, believe it was probably a different occasion in view of the differences in the accounts.

The connecting idea with what precedes is the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Luke had stressed the Spirit’s influence in Jesus’ life and ministry, but the religious leaders rejected that possibility concluding rather that Satan controlled Jesus.

"To understand the significance of Jesus’ miraculous work, especially his exorcisms, one must understand Luke 11:14-23." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 317.]

Verses 14-54

C. The results of popular opposition 11:14-54

Luke recorded the climax of the rejection of Jesus and His message and then narrated Jesus’ instructions to His disciples about how they should live in view of rejection.

Verses 17-20

Jesus at least knew the thoughts of his critics by their request for a greater sign (Luke 11:16) if not by prophetic insight. He argued first that the head of an army would hardly work with his enemy against his own troops. Second, if Satan was behind Jesus’ exorcisms, it was logical to assume that he was behind the exorcisms that some recognized Jewish exorcists performed (cf. Acts 19:13-14). Jesus’ antagonists would have been unwilling to concede that. They wanted to maintain a double standard believing that their approved exorcists operated with God’s power, but Jesus used Satan’s. God gave the Jewish exorcists their power too. Jesus believed in a real devil who heads a kingdom that is strong and united (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Ephesians 6:10-18).

Jesus’ allusion to the finger of God (Luke 11:20) goes back to Moses’ miracles in Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 8:19). There the Egyptians confessed that the finger (i.e., action) of God was at work when they could no longer reproduce Moses’ miracles. Jesus claimed the same divine source of power for His miracles. His miracles indicated the coming of the Messiah and the approach of His kingdom. This was Jesus’ third argument.

Verses 21-22

The strong man in this parable is Satan, and the stronger man is Jesus. Satan had amassed much booty in terms of human captives and had kept these people imprisoned. Jesus had come, had attacked Satan in the instances of His exorcisms, and had overcome him. He had removed Satan’s defenses, namely, his demons, and had set free those whom he had taken captive.

Verse 23

Continuing the figure of battle, Jesus reminded His hearers that whoever was not on Jesus’ side was on His enemy’s side. Changing the figure to reaping and herding, He made the same point again. Laborers in God’s field and among God’s flock who did not gather people as sheaves and sheep into the barn and fold of the kingdom with Jesus scattered them abroad. There was no neutral ground. People either supported Jesus or opposed Him.

Verses 24-26

These verses were probably a word of warning to Jesus’ critics who were scattering rather than gathering with Him (Luke 11:23). [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 479.] If so, they climax Jesus’ argument. They warn against casting out demons, which some of these critics were evidently doing, without replacing them with something stronger, namely, the life of God that entered those who believed in Jesus (cf. John 3:16). A formerly demon-possessed person who did not believe on Jesus was in greater danger after his exorcism than he was before it. The expelled demon could return to inhabit his or her spiritually empty spirit with additional demons.

These final words then carried Jesus’ warning further. Not only was it bad to oppose Jesus and attribute His works to Satan, but it was worse to exercise God’s expulsive power without also preaching the gospel to people.

Verses 27-28

2. The importance of observing God’s Word 11:27-28

Instead of attacking Jesus’ works, His critics should have received and obeyed His words. A woman’s comment, called out from the crowd, triggered this response from Jesus that provides a fitting conclusion to the previous incident.

The woman expressed how wonderful it must have been for Mary to have given birth to such a son as Jesus. This was an indirect way of complementing Jesus. His response did not reflect unfavorably on Mary. Her privilege as the mother of the Messiah was great indeed (cf. Luke 1:45). However those who heard God’s word of salvation through Jesus and His disciples, believed it, and acted upon it had an even greater position. The implication that His hearers should do so was obvious. In the immediate context, the word of God was the teaching that Jesus had been giving. Jesus’ words should also warn us against venerating Mary too highly.

"Such praise must have been peculiarly unwelcome to Christ, as being the exaltation of only His Human Personal excellence, intellectual or moral. It quite looked away from that which He would present: His Work and Mission as the Saviour. Hence it was, although from the opposite direction, as great a misunderstanding as the Personal depreciation of the Pharisees." [Note: Edersheim, 2:202.]

Verses 29-30

Luke’s reference to the crowds increasing ties this verse in with the previous incident involving the criticism of His miracles (Luke 11:14-26). Jonah himself was the sign of impending judgment to the Ninevites. His supernatural appearance and preaching triggered widespread repentance. Likewise the supernatural appearance and preaching of Jesus and the repentance that accompanied it signified impending judgment. The difference was that the positive response to Jonah’s ministry, by Gentiles no less, postponed God’s judgment. The negative response to Jesus’ ministry did nothing to postpone God’s judgment on Israel. This judgment consisted of the postponement of the kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem. The rejection of Jesus’ preaching was even more serious because miracles accompanied it. The title "Son of Man" presents Jesus as superior to Jonah.

Luke did not mention Jesus’ reference to Jonah’s three days and nights in the great fish, though that would be a sign that Jesus had come from God after the Resurrection (cf. Matthew 12:40).

Verses 29-32

3. The sign of Jonah 11:29-32 (cf. Matthew 12:38-42; Mark 8:11-12)

This teaching responded to the request of Jesus’ critics for a sign (Luke 11:16; cf. Matthew 16:1-4). It is the second main part of His answer to these opponents.

Verses 31-32

The Queen of the South (i.e., Sheba) traveled a great distance to hear Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 10:1-13), yet the people of Palestine paid little attention to Jesus’ wisdom. This was true even though the Son of Man was greater than Solomon. Therefore their judgment was sure. Similarly the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, yet Jesus’ hearers did not repent at His preaching despite His superiority to Jonah. Furthermore the Queen and the Ninevites both responded to spoken messages without any authenticating signs.

The neuter "something" may refer generally to the authority of the Son of Man, but it may refer specifically to His superior wisdom in the first comparison and to His preaching in the second. Another view is that the "something" refers to God’s action in Christ. [Note: Morris, p. 202.] Significantly for Luke’s original readers, the people who responded so admirably to the two Old Testament characters Jesus cited were Gentiles. By comparing Himself to the most wise and glorious Israelite king and the most effective Jewish prophet (in terms of audience response), Jesus taught His superiority in both roles.

Verse 33

The parable of the hidden lamp 11:33 (cf. Matthew 5:15)

This was another parable that Jesus evidently used repeatedly during His itinerant teaching ministry. In Matthew’s account He used it to encourage the disciples to bear witness publicly (cf. Luke 8:16). Here He used it to illustrate His own role as someone who dispels darkness.

Verses 33-36

4. The importance of responding to the light 11:33-36

This exhortation concluded the controversy about signs (Luke 11:16; Luke 11:29-33), as Jesus’ teaching about the importance of obeying God’s Word (Luke 11:27-28) concluded the controversy about casting out demons (Luke 11:14-26). Both conclusions called on Jesus’ hearers to respond to His teaching rather than continuing in the darkness of ignorance.

Verse 34

Jesus also used this parable, at least the negative part of it, in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus compared the human eye to a lamp in both situations, not in the sense of being sources of light but as vehicles through which illumination comes. In Matthew’s Gospel He taught that a person’s attitudes can affect his ability to "see" (i.e., comprehend spiritual truth) with the emphasis on the eye. Here the emphasis is on the light and the point is the importance of admitting the light, in this case the gospel message, by accepting Jesus’ teaching. Failure to receive Jesus’ teachings results in spiritual blindness. The clear or healthy eye represents the ability to comprehend truth as it is, to "see" clearly, whereas the bad eye represents the inability to do so.

Verses 34-36

The parable of the bad eye 11:34-36 (cf. Matthew 6:22-23)

Verse 35

If a person rejects Jesus’ light (truth) for another so-called light, he or she will discover that that other light brings no true illumination. Normally people’s eyes respond to light by admitting it, and the result is their illumination. That is how Jesus wanted His hearers to respond to His teaching because the result would be spiritual illumination.

Verse 36

This verse presents the alternative to the situation described in the preceding verse. It concludes Jesus’ exhortation on a positive note. Jesus, of course, used the body to represent the whole inner person, the personality, in the parable. The person who believes all of Jesus’ teaching will experience full illumination.

Verses 37-38

Many of Jesus’ teaching opportunities arose during meals (cf. Luke 14:1-24; Matthew 15:1-20; Matthew 23:1-36; Mark 7:1-22). This was one such occasion. Jesus offended His host by not washing ritually before eating. Luke omitted an explanation of the Jewish custom (cf. Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-4) and only recorded the reason for the Pharisee’s objection. The Mosaic Law did not demand this washing (Gr. baptizo), but it had become customary, and the Pharisees viewed it as a safeguard against defilement.

Verses 37-41

The question of true cleanliness 11:37-41

"Bitter as was the enmity of the Pharisaic party against Jesus, it had not yet so far spread, nor become so avowed, as in every place to supersede the ordinary rules of courtesy." [Note: Edersheim, 2:204.]

Verses 37-54

5. The climax of Pharisaic opposition 11:37-54 (cf. Matthew 23:1-36; Mark 12:38-40)

The theme of opposition to Jesus continues in this section, but the source of opposition changes from the people generally to the Pharisees and, even more particularly, to their lawyers (scribes). Jesus’ responses also changed from warnings and exhortations to denunciations. Jesus condemned the teachings of the Pharisees, the light that was darkness (Luke 11:35), rather than the Pharisees and the lawyers as individuals.

The differences in the Matthean account of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36) raise questions about what Jesus really said and how the evangelists recorded what He said.

"We know from his practice elsewhere that Matthew combines material from several sources and rearranges the order, whereas on the whole Luke does not conflate his sources or re-order his material. It is, therefore, unlikely that Matthew has preserved the original order here . . ." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 492.]

Probably we are again dealing with two different teaching occasions. This is Jesus’ last address to the Pharisees recorded in Luke.

Verses 39-40

Jesus did not criticize this Pharisee and his religious brethren for washing their hands before eating or for observing ritual purification beyond what the law required. He used His host’s objection as an occasion to point out the hypocrisy involved in Pharisaic teaching and practice. The Pharisees typically neglected more important things while stressing the necessity of much less important things (cf. Luke 6:27-36; Luke 10:25-37). By washing ceremonially they were only doing half of what God expected of them. They needed to purify themselves internally as well as externally. To wash the outside of a person and not cleanse the inside is as foolish as only washing the outside of a bowl without washing the inside.

"Did not he (the potter or God) who made the outside also make the inside (and therefore you must cleanse both)?" [Note: Plummer, p. 310.]

"The way to clean up a dirty vocabulary is not to brush your teeth but to cleanse your heart." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:217.]

Verse 41

Jesus’ point was that giving to the poor would demonstrate that the person had cleansed himself inwardly and adequately. He may have been continuing the metaphor and speaking of a dish or vessel, which the NIV has supplied, but He was thinking of a person. He may have meant that the Pharisees should give food as an act of charity, but the giving of what was theirs was the important thing.

Verses 42-43

The Pharisees typically tithed scrupulously, even their garden herbs, two of which Jesus specified (cf. Leviticus 27:30-33; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-15). This was acceptable to Jesus, but they neglected giving more important things to God including justice and love. Normally the leaders of the synagogues occupied the front seats, so Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees’ love of position and glory. Respectful greetings in public places pandered to their pride too.

Verses 42-44

Three woes against the Pharisees 11:42-44

Jesus now specified two examples of the Pharisees’ spiritual myopia (Luke 11:42-43), and then He compared them to something similar that defiles (Luke 11:44). Emphasis on externals leads to error. When people "concentrate on the trivial they are apt to overlook the important." [Note: Morris, p. 204.] Jesus announced His condemnation with the use of "woe."

Verse 44

The Pharisees scrupulously avoided touching graves to avoid ritual defilement. However they themselves defiled other people who contacted them as hidden graves defiled those who unknowingly walked over them (cf. Numbers 19:16). While trying to remain ritually pure themselves, they were defiling many other people who were unaware of the Pharisees’ evil influence on them. Their sins contaminated the whole nation.

Verses 45-46

The lawyers (or scribes) were a distinct group, though most of them were Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees often acted together. The lawyer who spoke up wanted to distinguish his group from the Pharisees, but Jesus refused to do so because the scribes were as hypocritical as the Pharisees. The lawyers involved themselves more in the interpretation of the law whereas the Pharisees generally advocated and enforced those interpretations. The former group was a professional class and the latter a religious party. By interpreting the law strictly the scribes placed heavy moral burdens on the Jews. However they had cleverly found ways of escaping their own responsibility to keep the law while at the same time giving the impression that they were obedient. This reflected lack of love for the rest of the Jews who had to labor under their demands.

"The Mishnah lays it down that it is more important to observe the scribal interpretations than the Law itself (Sanhedrin Luke 11:3). The reasoning is that if it was a serious matter to offend against the Law which was sometimes hard to understand, it was a much more serious matter to offend against the interpretation which, the scribes thought, made everything clear." [Note: Ibid., p. 205.]

Verses 45-52

Three woes against the lawyers 11:45-52

Verses 47-48

It was not morally wrong for the lawyers to take the lead in building new tombs to replace the older tombs of Israel’s prophets. However, Jesus saw in this practice an ironic testimony to their opposition to God’s recent prophets, specifically John the Baptist and Himself. By building these tombs the lawyers appeared to be honoring the prophets, but they were also walling them in and sealing them off from the people. That was really what they were doing when they turned the people away from the prophets whom God had recently sent to Israel. In this they were following in the footsteps of their ancestors who killed the prophets.

The relatives of a guilty criminal have sometimes given money to the family members of the victim of the criminal’s crimes, blood money to atone for their shared guilt. Perhaps the lawyers were building the prophets’ tombs with the same motivation. [Note: J. D. M. Derrett, "’You Build the Tombs of the Prophets’ [Luke 11:47-51; Matthew 23:29-31]," Studia Evangelica 4 (1968):187-93.]

Verses 49-51

The lawyers claimed the greatest wisdom in Israel by declaring that their interpretations of Scripture were the correct ones. However, Jesus cited a greater source of wisdom.

The "Wisdom of God" may be a title for Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3). [Note: Geldenhuys, p. 346.] However it seems unusual for Jesus to refer to Himself this way. Moreover what follows is Old Testament revelation. It could mean "God in His wisdom" making God the source of the words that follow (NIV). [Note: Danker, p. 146; Manson, p. 102.] God is definitely the ultimate source of wisdom and the wisdom that follows in the context, but this is an interpretation of the text rather than a translation of it. Another possibility is that it means "divine wisdom" and refers to wisdom personified (cf. Proverbs 1:20-33; Proverbs 8). [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 503.] However what follows is not a revelation of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament that such a personification would imply.

The words that follow (Luke 11:49-51) are not a quotation from the Old Testament. Rather they embody the essence of Old Testament revelation about the fates of the prophets and those who oppose them. Therefore I tend to think that the "Wisdom of God" refers to the Old Testament that Jesus here summarized and added to (i.e., fulfilled, established).

The content of this revelation was that God’s people would typically reject the prophets and messengers (cf. Luke 9:1-6; Luke 10:1-16) whom He sent to them. The result would be that God would hold the present generation of rejecters responsible. This last rejection would be "the straw that broke the camel’s back." It was the rejection of God’s Son, not just His servants (cf. Luke 20:9-19). It would prove to be the rejection that would add the last measure of guilt that would result in God pouring out His wrath for all those unjustified murders throughout history. Abel was the first righteous martyr (Genesis 4:8) and Zechariah the prophet the last (cf. Matthew 23:35; 2 Chronicles 24:21-22). There had probably been other victims since Zechariah, but his murder was the last one in Old Testament history.

Verse 52

Jesus’ third woe against the lawyers condemned them for taking the key of spiritual knowledge away from the people. This key is probably a reference to Jesus’ teachings. Jesus called this the key of knowledge, not the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:19). The scribes professed to have the key to the understanding of the Old Testament. The people viewed them as the experts in it. However, they rejected Jesus’ teachings and, therefore, would not enter into the knowledge that acceptance of His teachings would have opened to them. Moreover they opposed Jesus and thereby discouraged the people who were entering into that knowledge. This last woe is the climax of the six (Luke 11:42-52) and revealed the most serious offense of Israel’s religious leaders.

Some interpreters view this verse as a clear statement that the messianic kingdom was a present reality when Jesus spoke these words. [Note: E.g., Ibid., p. 507.] However, I believe this conclusion is improper for the following reasons. First, knowledge is the stated subject of the verse, not the kingdom. Second, the subject of the kingdom is not in the context, but the subject of spiritual understanding is (Luke 11:33-51). Third, the Gospel writers did not present Jesus as inaugurating the kingdom at His first advent but as offering it and then postponing it due to the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah (cf. Matthew 12).

Verses 53-54

The hostility of the Pharisees and lawyers 11:53-54

These inflammatory words of criticism and condemnation fanned the smoldering embers of Pharisaic hostility into an inferno of hatred and hostility. Luke wrote that these religious leaders now questioned Him closely on many subjects. He had challenged their expertise. Now they sought to defend themselves by discrediting Him. They plotted against Him seeking to trip Him up and trap Him. They also tried to get Him to say something wrong, unwise, or inappropriate. This antagonism escalated shortly after the encounter that Luke just described (Luke 11:53). These verses document the Jewish religious leaders’ official rejection of Jesus (cf. Matthew 12; Mark 12).

Luke’s original readers would have learned the importance of accepting and believing Jesus’ teachings as a result of Luke’s selection of material in this section (Luke 11:14-54). To fail to do so results in dire consequences. Listening to the Word of God continues to be a major emphasis in this section. Furthermore the hypocrisy that characterized the Pharisees and scribes can also mark disciples of Jesus if we elevate ritual observance above real worship. Jesus developed this idea in the next pericope (Luke 12:1-12).

"The issues Jesus raises here [Luke 11:37-54] are dangers that those of a conservative theological bent always face. In pursuit of truth and the way of God, far too many people conduct their zeal for righteousness by making sure that every ’i’ is dotted and every ’t’ crossed, and by watching over others to make sure they are acting properly. On the other hand, these same people have often lost sensitivity to God’s call for justice. God wants us to care about those whose plight is less fortunate than our own (Romans 12:16)." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 333.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-11.html. 2012.
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