In Matthew there is a problem, for Zechariah is stated to be the son of Berakiah (Matt. 23:35). 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 says that he is the son of Jehoiada, who possibly had Berakiah as a second name, and it is significant that in Luke 11:51 'the son of Berakiah' is omitted. It should be noticed that in both cases (Abel and Zechariah) a reckoning for them would be made, 'Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground' (Gen 4:10 N.I.V.); 'May the Lord see this and call you to account' (2 Chron. 24:22 N.I.V.).
There is no reference here to the prophet Zechariah. Christ further charged the lawyers with 'taking away the key of knowledge from the people'. They had hindered them by artificial explanations of Scripture and their many traditional additions to it. They refused its plain meaning, thus not entering into knowledge, and hindered those who wished to enter (verse 52). No wonder we are told in the next verse that the Pharisees and Scribes began to oppose Him fiercely.
Meanwhile the crowds multiplied. Many thousands had gathered, so much so that they trod upon each other (12:1). Foreseeing the future with its suffering and persecution, the Lord Jesus began to prepare the disciples for this time of trouble. He warns them first of all of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (verses 1 & 2). In Mark 8:15 the Lord had warned them of this leaven, coupling it with that of Herod and in Matthew 16:6 with that of the Sadducees. And there are earlier references to the same thing in Matthew 6:2,5,16.
It was a mask of sanctity to hide an evil heart. But this could not be permanently hidden. The time would come when all would be manifested and open (verses 2 & 3). Verses 2-9 are parallel with Matthew 10:26-33 spoken to the Twelve on their tour of Galilee. This is another example of Christ repeating His teaching when He deemed it necessary. What the disciples needed now was to be free from the paralysing effect of fear of their enemies and this the Lord deals with in the context. He said:
"I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you Whom you should fear: Fear Him Who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him." (verses 4,5 N.I.V.).
The parallel account in Matthew 10:28 reads:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One Who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Note the power of Gehenna, hell, to destroy the soul as well as the body. Gehenna is a transliteration of Ge-Hinnom, the valley of Hinnom, where children were thrown into the fires of Moloch. Josiah (2 Kings 23:10) abolished this awful abomination and then it became the place for all kinds of refuse which burned ceaselessly. The bodies of criminals were thrown there (see Isaiah 66:24). The gehenna of Matthew 10 & Luke 12 is a place of complete destruction of body and soul (Matt. 10:28).
As a tremendous contrast to all this, the disciples were reminded by the Lord that they were absolutely safe, for they were in the protective care of their heavenly Father, who knew the very hairs of their heads and counts and provides even for sparrows, so notwithstanding all the fierce opposition and venom of the enemy, their safety was assured (verses 6,7) for they were in the hands of One Who knows the tiniest details of our lives.
To this the Lord Jesus adds the need for faithfulness in witness. Acknowledgment of Him before men will ensure that they are acknowledged by the Son 'before the angels of God'. The opposite, disowning, leads to being disowned 'before the angels of God'. Matthew 10:33 has 'before My Father Who is in heaven' instead of 'before the angels of God'.
Verse 10 deals with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This unforgivable sin is given by Mark 3:28,29 & Matthew 12:31,32 immediately after the charge that Christ was depending on the power of Satan (Beelzebub) to perform His miracles, and it means the same here in Luke. This should be remembered by those who feel they may have committed the unforgivable sin.
Those who are arraigned before earthly courts because of their Christian testimony have the comfort of knowing that they will be specially directed by the Holy Spirit as to what they should say in self-defence. There was no need of preparation. These words do not refer to preparation for public teaching.
The Evangelist now selects the parable of the Rich Fool. Someone in the crowd said to Christ, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me'. Luke does not give us any details so we do not know whether the man's request was a just one or not, but we may be sure that the Lord would not countenance injustice of any sort. What He does do is to take the opportunity of teaching the priority of spiritual values over earthly and temporal ones. 'Watch out', He said, 'be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'.
This is a vital truth that needs sounding out today. The great god of materialism dominates the world, and believers can be ensnared by it. So many people at the present time imagine that they would be much happier and content if only they had more material possessions and even if they experience this and find that this idea is not true, they still cling to it and allow it to dominate their minds and their plans. It is because of this great world-wide failing that Christ gives the parable of the Rich Fool. A rich man had good land that yielded a good crop. He turned things over in his mind and said to himself, 'I have not sufficient space to store my crops, so I had better pull down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I will be able to say that I have plenty of good things (material things) stored for many years. I can then stop working and take things easily and indulge myself in pleasure' (Note it is all self -- my fruits, my barns, my grain, my goods).
But he had reckoned without God. What was God's attitude to all this?
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God." (verses 20,21 N.I.V.).
Responding to the truth of God and His claims, made known in the Scriptures, is the only wealth that matters and that lasts.
The Lord now turns from the crowd to the disciples (verses 22 to 40) when Peter interrupts the discourse. The material given here in Luke appears in Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount, 6:25-33) and the discourse on the Mount of Olives (chapter 24). As we have noticed before, Christ, like any wise teacher, repeats from time to time what He deems to be important. The section in Luke deals with the problem of the cares and worries of this life which are apt to press upon us all and interfere with the divine peace of mind which is one of the Lord's greatest gifts. He said:
"... do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." (verse 22 N.I.V.).
Worry is one of the greatest destroyers of health of mind and body.
Christ pointed to the birds who do not sow or reap or store their food; yet God feeds them and they do not starve. Can worry add a single hour to life? (verse 25). The flowers of the field and even the grass are attended to by God, how much more then will He not look after and show His care for His children, for He knows all their needs! Worry is the lot of the pagan who has no almighty and loving Heavenly Father to look after him. The things to be concerned about are eternal things, like the Kingdom which should come first in life (Matt. 6:33).
The words that follow are comforting indeed:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (verse 32 N.I.V.).
It is a little flock who respond to Christ. Nowhere does He predict that multitudes will believe in Him and become His children and His servants. That will be true when the Saviour returns and establishes His kingdom in the age to come. Now, in the time of His rejection, true believers are in the minority, but they must hold fast and be watchful nevertheless.
This is stressed in the next verses which are parallel to the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13).
The Lord exhorts the disciples to be dressed ready for service ('be girded about' verse 35 A.V.). The long flowing clothes of the Jews and other Eastern races needed fastening up with a girdle to allow freedom of movement. They should be like men who were waiting for their master to return from a wedding, so that when he knocks the door they can immediately open it to him. This would meet with his approval, and he would show it by waiting on them in return (verses 35-38). But they must be prepared for him to come at any time, even during the night, and the Lord sums it up by saying:
"You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him." (verse 40 N.I.V.).
This is the constant testimony of the Lord and the New Testament Scriptures, in spite of some who have made clever computations or imagined that God had given them a special revelation concerning the day and hour of His Second Coming. All have been wrong and will be wrong. The only certain thing that prophecy reveals is that it will happen after the completion of Daniel's last week (seven) of his seventy sevens of years (Dan. 9:24), and it will be a time of world apostasy and declension from God. And if anyone did know the exact day, and hour, why the divine urge to be ready at any time, day or night?
Peter's question in verse 41 arose from the fact that the Lord's previous words were addressed to the disciples and he wanted to know if they applied to everyone.
This question draws out another parable from Christ, that of the wise and faithful steward. The word 'steward' is oikonomos, which is cognate with oikonomia, stewardship, and oikonomeo, to act as a steward. Oikonomos literally means house-manager and such a one had certain responsibilities; he was a manager of someone's property. Oikonomia is the word that is translated 'dispensation' and is one of great importance in the interpretation of Scripture. Later on Luke is going to give us the parable of the unrighteous steward (16:1-13) whose master calls him to give an account of his stewardship (oikonomia, dispensation, verse 2).
This gives us a clear idea what the scriptural meaning of a dispensation is. Often it is confused with the word 'age', a period of time, but this is wrong and confusing. Being put in trust with someone else's property to look after and manage is the thought behind the word and must convey responsibility and this is emphasized in the present parable and the later one in chapter sixteen. The employer's work can either be done well and faithfully or in a slack and unfaithful manner and this is why faithfulness, loyalty and reliability are stressed here. We shall have more to say about this when we reach chapter sixteen.
Answering Peter's question in verse 41 the Lord says:
"Who then is the faithful and wise manager (oikonomos), whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?" (N.I.V.).
A house manager whom the master finds faithfully carrying out his responsibilities he will reward by putting him 'in charge of all his possessions' (verse 44). Such are judged to be absolutely loyal and reliable and can therefore be trusted with more responsibility.
On the other hand if some managers misconduct themselves, ill-treating those under their charge and getting drunk, they will be caught out by the sudden appearance of the master who will surely punish them. Such punishment is graded according to the manager's knowledge of the master's requirements. To everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded by the employer and failure will merit severe punishment. Those with smaller responsibility receive less punishment (the difference between many and few stripes, verses 47,48). The judgment is absolutely fair and righteous. No one will be required to attempt the impossible.
The Lord Jesus now goes on to show the divisive effect that His truth will make, for truth can never successfully mate with error and falsehood and this must be faced. It is easy to say that Christ came to bring peace, but peace can come only when sin has been removed. There can be no peace between Him and those who choose to be His enemies, no matter what the human relationship is.
The Lord threw out a challenge when He said:
"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (verses 49-53 N.I.V.).