In Luke 9:51-19:40 the author recounted Jesus’ teaching as He approached Jerusalem for the last time. Of all the controversies surrounding Jesus’ ministry, none surpassed the discontinuity between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel regarding the Sabbath. According to Jesus, godliness was not manifested by what Israelites refrained from doing on the seventh day, but by what His followers were to practice each day: humility before all, and commitment to Him. Jesus lamented Jerusalem’s stubborn opposition to God’s word and instructed His disciples in the humility and devotion that would characterize all who would enjoy the eschatological banquet. In Luke 13-14, Jesus depicted His ministry as the grid for interpreting the narrative of Scripture.
(1) In Luke 13:16 and 28, Jesus referenced the patriarchs as participants in the kingdom of God. In Genesis 12 and 15, God expressed His promise to Abraham, assuring Abraham land and lineage. Through Abraham, God promised to bless the nations. When Abraham and Sarah were past the age of childbearing, God gave them a son, Isaac (Gen 21:1-7). Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob by his wife Rebekah, and the Lord chose Jacob to continue the line of blessing from Isaac and Abraham (Gen 25:19-26:6). When Jesus healed the crippled woman in one of the Galilean synagogues on the Sabbath, the leader of the synagogue was indignant with Jesus for working on Israel’s sacred day. Jesus justified His act of kindness toward the woman based on the fact that she was a descendant of Abraham (Luke 13:16). Later when someone in the crowds following Jesus asked Him if there were only a few being saved, Jesus answered, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able” (Luke 13:24). Jesus taught that works of righteousness are consistent with the way of salvation, concluding that at the judgement the unrighteous would be in the place of despair (Matt 8:11-12//Luke 13:28-29). From the realm of torment, the unrighteous would see “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28).
(2) In Luke 13:10-17 and 14:1-6, Jesus healed the diseased on the Sabbath. Jesus’ power and mercy expressed toward the woman who was crippled for eighteen years in Luke 13:10-17 anticipated Jesus’ healing of the man with dropsy in Luke 14:1-6. Based upon the commands in Leviticus 13-14, the discharge of fluid from this man’s body would have made him unclean. Yet, somehow, he found his way into a Pharisee’s house on the Sabbath when the Pharisee was hosting Jesus for a meal. The Jewish leadership watched to see if Jesus would heal the man—on the Sabbath. Jesus did, and taught that the Sabbath had a different function in the kingdom of God than what was generally accepted by the Jewish leadership. God jealously instituted the Sabbath to test Israel’s reliance upon Him. As the Israelites rested from their work and were yet satisfied, other nations would ask Israel about the Lord and want the Lord to be their God (Exod 16:1-30; Num 15:32-36; Deut 4:1-8; 5:12-15). Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that they had too high a view of the Sabbath, but their understanding of the Sabbath was insufficient. Earlier in Luke’s account, Jesus had permitted His disciples to pick grain and eat on the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8//Mark 2:23-26//Luke 6:1-5), declaring Himself the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).
(3) In Luke 13:35, Jesus quoted Ps 118:26 to proclaim His messianic authority in pronouncing the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the city where the royal figure Melchizedek served as priest to God Most High (Gen 14:17-20). Jerusalem was the city of David, where the Lord established Israel’s temple and monarchy (1 Chron 21:18-22:1; Pss 2:6; 48:2; 137:3). Jerusalem and the temple became polluted by Israel’s idolatry. God condemned the city to destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kgs 24:10-12) according to the words of the prophets like Jeremiah (Jer 1:15; 5:1-13; 7:1-11). Jesus portrayed Himself as one of the prophets Israel rejected (Luke 13:34) and pronounced that the city would be destroyed. But Jesus’ word of condemnation would not be His last. Jesus took up Ps 118:26, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” to prophesy the chorus the people would sing when they recognized His glory. Psalm 118 is a song of victory for the Lord’s saving power over Jerusalem despite the fact that the city had been rejected and attacked by the surrounding nations. The One coming in the name of the Lord would bring final deliverance.