Luke 22: "The Time of Trial"
Since mid-way in the story of Luke, Jesus has “set his face toward Jerusalem” and he knows he’s going to die. The whole gospel is culminating in this moment of the death of Jesus and the surprising events afterward.
Jesus during the prayers in Gethsemane twice calls this the “time of trial” and calls the disciples to pray that they would not “come into the time of trial.” Another word for trial here is “temptation.” I’m calling these moments before the cross and death of Jesus “The Time of Trial,” all the events of the plot, passover supper, betrayal, dispute, prayer, denial, arrest, beating, and trial of Jesus that Luke narrates and we find in chapter 22.
Let’s go to the last week of the life of Jesus before his death and learn what happened as he literally prepared Israel and the world for his death.
The plot to kill Jesus has been hatching since Luke 4:29 when hometown folk praising Jesus for his reading in the synagogue suddenly turned on him and tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. Luke has been leading us along, showing us how the kingdom of God is incompatible with and even opposes the ways of the kingdoms of this world.
The cool thing here is that in preparing the disciples for Jesus’s death, Jesus is showing them that this new Exodus is in his own blood, not the blood of the Nile, not the blood of lambs on the doorframes, but his own blood that will be shed for the sins of the world.
N.T. Wright makes a great point here, saying that no theories are put forward in the gospels, about the theological meaning of Jesus death. Theories such as “atonement” are often drawn out of Pauls’ letters. Jesus doesn’t work with theories but with concrete imagery, symbol that casts minds back centuries to the Passover, the Exodus. When Jesus wants to show the significance of his death, he sits down with his disciples at a table for a meal. And it’s not just any meal. This is the meal of the Passover, the celebration of the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
The Lord’s Supper is a new celebration like the Passover that celebrates the conquering of Jesus over death. Like the Passover that celebrates how God rescued Israel and judge Egypt, so also The Lord’s Supper celebrates the liberation of Israel and the nations, all of us, from the evil one. During the meal, Jesus says some important and very specific things about how his death paradoxically leads into a new way of life.
N.T. Wright says,
But in Luke’s understanding – and this is vital to what he sees going on at the supper itself – ‘the satan’ is using Judas for a purpose. The satan’s purpose is always to accuse. Jesus is to be accused of being a deceiver, a rebel, a false prophet, a fake Messiah: in other words, a liar who is endangering Israel. Judas’ betrayal is the first step in this process of accusation. But Luke will tell us in a hundred ways, between now and the end of his gospel, that Jesus is in fact innocent of the charges laid against him, and that it is Israel itself that is guilty. The blend of celebration and betrayal in the scene at supper is preparing us for the blend of triumph and tragedy in the crucifixion itself. Jesus accomplishes his true mission by being falsely accused. He achieves his divine vocation by submitting to the punishment that others had deserved. As God took the arrogant opposition of Pharaoh in Egypt and made it serve his own ends in the spectacular rescue of his people, so now, through this one man at supper with his friends, we see God doing the same thing. When the powers of evil do their worst, and crucify the one who brings God’s salvation, God uses that very event to defeat those powers. We who, daily, weekly or however often, come together to obey Jesus’ command, to break bread and drink wine in his memory, find ourselves drawn into that salvation, that healing life. The powers may still rage, like Pharaoh and his army pursuing the Egyptians after Passover. But they have been defeated, and rescue is secure.
Wright, Tom. Luke for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 263-264). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Satan entered into Judas (22:3), so Satan is using Judas to thwart the redemptive work of Jesus. The plot to kill Jesus and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot are woven into the Lord’s Supper narrative, and rightly so, because while Jesus is liberating, the powers of this dark world and the agents of sin are trying to thwart the divine work of Jesus to overcome evil. The plot and betrayal are attempts to counteract what Jesus is doing to redeem Israel and the world.
Judas comes with a crowd of Jewish ruling council soldiers and approaches Jesus on the Mount of Olives where he is praying with the disciples (who are sleeping!). Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Jesus questions the irony of Judas betraying him with a sign of love.
We wonder about the disciples arguing over who is most important. How can they be so petty at such an important time. They didn’t know all that we know. They didn’t understand Jesus was going to die, rise from the dead, that the events they were living through were the most important of all history.
So, in their perception, they were part of a movement where they wanted to be valued for contributing. Just as when we are on a team, a ministry, a project, we want to lead, we want to serve, we want to be valued. So, let’s not get too overly down on the disciples. We’ve all been there. We’ve all wanted to be the most valuable player, the most valued employee, the hero who pays the bill, saves the day, plans the best, serves to make the boss’s event super successful. We want credit, thanks, appreciation, and if possible we’d like to know just exactly how valuable we are to the organization. We know the pay is not much, but at least tell me where I rank!
Jesus is trying hard to show them how important this moment is. It’s much more important than they realize. N.T. Wright has a funny and telling quote about the importance of this moment for the disciples. He’s talking about soccer here, and since he’s a Brit, it’s called “football.”
A great football manager, Bill Shankly, denied that football was a matter of life and death. ‘It’s much more important than that,’ he said. But the issue that the disciples faced that night at the supper, if Jesus was right and if Luke is right, was the most important of all time. This was to be the turning-point of history, and they simply weren’t ready for it.
Wright, Tom. Luke for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 266). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Luke says Jesus had a habit of going to the Mount of Olives to pray, and he prays while the disciples nod off to sleep. Luke doesn’t emphasize how the disciples are slugs for sleeping. He even says they slept because of their grief, doesn’t mention it happens more than once, and there’s no hint of Jesus’s frustration with them sleeping, except for a question, “Why are you sleeping?” Jesus also, again warns the disciples to pray and prepare themselves for this time of trial.
Renovare Bible has something really good to say here:
The idea that our spirituality must stoically and triumphantly face all suffering is extinguished by Jesus’ struggles in Gethsemane. He knows what he should do, but he desperately hopes there is another way to do it. He is looking for a way out of the agony and the darkness. Many consider this verse an important affirmation of the humanness of the divine Son of God. But it is just as much an affirmation that our spirituality can express weakness and pain and fear and reluctance and still be an honest-to-God spirituality. In fact, a spirituality that suppresses what we ought to feel is no spirituality at all. It is a mask that bears no resemblance to Christ.
Just as the kiss of Judas is ironic, Jesus is astonished at another irony. Every day Jesus was teaching openly and they could have arrested him. Now they come with clubs and swords. Jesus had mysteriously mentioned to the disciples to sell a cloak and get a sword, then he says two swords is enough. We don’t understand it and the disciples were mixed up as well. We do know that when the disciples ask Jesus for orders to fight, and not waiting for the command from Jesus one of the disciples swings the sword and cuts off the ear of slave of the high priest. Jesus shouts, “No more of this!” Then Jesus touched the ear of the high priest’s slave and healed him.
An important phrase we often miss is spoken by Jesus. After he marvels at the irony of the crowd of the high priest coming out with swords and clubs, Jesus says, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Jesus had come not to shine a light in the darkness but to utterly destroy the powers of darkness.
If Peter is the captain of the team, then the captain is going to fail the team miserably. He’s going to botch the game winner, and he’s going to be booed off the court. In the press conference he’s going to deny the team, deny even the coach and owner and ask to be traded. Luke tells about how Jesus prepares Peter for his denial by saying, “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Imagine Jesus saying this about you. Jesus knows you’ll fail, but he’s praying that you won’t stay down. He knows you’ll lose the game but you’ll come back. Peter claims he’ll never deny him, but he does (Luke 22:31-34; 54-62).
The moment of Jesus’ realization is a very sad moment in the story, where Peter weeps bitterly. We assume he is weeping because of the grief and pain of denying his friend and his claim to be strong, that he would never deny he even knew Jesus, but his weakness in doing just that.
The more I read about, watch documentaries of evil oppressors and their minions, the more I see the insidious nature of evil and mockery that accompanies it. Evil people think it’s funny to ridicule, mock, and beat people. The soldiers holding Jesus blindfolded and beat Jesus. They mocked him, saying, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” In other gospels we learn they jam a mock crown made of sharp thorns onto Jesus’s head, they strip him of his clothes and put a purple robe on him to mock him as a king. This kind of mockery has some some reference to practices in antiquity where a failed Messiah is paraded and mocked because they wanted to overtake the throne.
In Luke, Jesus goes before three powers that be in the Roman and Jewish world. He first goes before the Jewish Ruling Council. In Luke the council is most concerned with his claims to identity as Messiah and being the Son of God. Jesus does not play into their questions, doesn’t waste another declaration, saying, “If I told you I was (the Messiah), you wouldn’t believe me.” Then they asked if he is the Son of God. Jesus simply says, “You say that I am.” They heard this and asked themselves, “What further testimony do we need!?”
Then the whole assembly of the Jewish Ruling Council, chief priests, scribes that had gathered, took Jesus mob style to Pilate.
In the next blog, we’ll pick up the narrative at the trial before Pilate, Luke 23.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.