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Jesus' vindication involves the exercise of God's power bringing him to life in a new, glorified state. After the discovery of the empty tomb (vv. 1-12), Luke narrates the conversation with the Emmaus-bound disciples, an account unique to him (vv. 13-35). Then follows the Gospel's closing scene, where Jesus visits the disciples (vv. 36-53). This final visit also is unique to Luke. Here Jesus appears to them (vv. 36-43) before giving them final instructions and departing (vv. 44-53).
A key feature of this section is the note of surprise among the disciples that Jesus is raised. Among the women, the disciples and the Emmaus travelers there is no hint that resurrection was anticipated. Such surprise is important, because it shows that even Jesus' own followers had to be convinced of his resurrection. They were not a gullible group that simply took resurrection as a given. Their surprise itself might seem strange, given Jesus' predictions of his resurrection as early as 9:22. But as late as 18:34, it is clear that the disciples never grasped the point of what Jesus was promising.
God's power underlies Jesus' resurrection. In addition, Scripture's claim (24:44-47), Jesus' promise (24:5-7), the angelic messengers' testimony (24:3-5, 23) and the testimony of disciples, both men and women, make up an impressive range of witnesses to this event (24:1-35). God's power stands behind the resurrection, because a passive verbal idea points to God's being responsible for it. This event is part of the reassurance Luke promised Theophilus in 1:1-4. The resurrection leads to the ascension and the events that grow from it.
As we come to the end of the Gospel, it is important to recall that Luke is only half finished with his story. The sequel comes in Acts. The resurrection-ascension is the link between the two volumes. That Luke regards the ascension as crucial is clear from Peter's speech in Acts 2. Now that Jesus is raised and seated at God's right hand, the mediating Ruler at the Father's side can pour out the blessing of God's Spirit (Acts 2:30-36). As the first ten chapters of Acts will make clear, the gospel can go to all because Jesus is Lord of all. The apostle Paul becomes the supreme example of a mission to all of humanity.
First thing in the morning, the women come to the tomb with their spices, fully expecting to find Jesus' remains. All the accounts agree that it was early morning. Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:2 refer to the dawn or early morning, while John 20:1 notes that it was still dark when they started their journey.
The following point cannot be stressed too strongly: these women did not go believing in resurrection. They did not go to check and see if the tomb was empty. The fact that they took spices along to anoint the decaying body shows what they expected to find, and this despite six resurrection predictions in Luke. So the first people who had to be convinced of the resurrection were the disciples themselves. They may have belonged to the era of the ancients, but they did not think as a matter of course that resurrection would occur. In a real sense they were the first skeptics to become convinced that Jesus was raised!
The first hint that something had happened was the rolled-away stone. This stone, as was typical of ancient tombs, had covered the entrance. It was laid in a channel that had been carved out for it. While Mark 16:3 shows that the women had debated how they would get the heavy stone moved, Luke simply presents what confronts them on their arrival: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
The women are at a loss, stymied, filled with perplexity. Their quandary is broken by the appearance of two men in clothes that gleamed, a description that suggests Luke means angels. Heavenly appearances are often bright (9:29; 10:18; Acts 9:3; 22:6). Any doubt that Luke means they are angels is removed in verse 23. The presence of the pair may invoke the "two witnesses" theme of the Old Testament (Deut 19:15). Luke's noting of two angels corresponds with John 20:12, while Matthew 28:2-4 and Mark 16:5 mention only one figure. The angelic appearance frightens the women, who bow to the ground in reverence. They know heaven is visiting the earth (Dillon 1978:26-27). The reason becomes clear in the angels' response.
It begins with a mild rebuke that is also an explanation: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Put simply, Jesus is alive, so do not expect to find him in a tomb. Then the angels ask them to recall the promise he made to them in Galilee. "Remember how he told you, . . . `The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again' " (9:22; 18:32-33). God is not surprised at Jesus' resurrection, and neither should they be surprised. Jesus' authority is summarized in the crucial Son of Man title. Here is a man who bears the authority of deity, through judgment given over to him by the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13-14). Luke 22:69 is coming to pass. In fact, the key term dei ("it is necessary") is used here to express the idea of divine design. God, the great cosmic director, has orchestrated what took place here (compare Acts 2:22-24). From the arrest through the death to the resurrection, Jesus walked in God's will. The women need not have wasted their money on the spices to preserve Jesus' body; God has taken care of it and has been in control all along.
The angels' words bring Jesus' words back to mind. The women cannot keep to themselves what has just happened--they return to tell the eleven and those with them. The entourage had included a large group of women, but Luke only names Mary Magdalene (8:2), Joanna (8:3) and Mary the mother of James (Mk 16:1).
Though the women are convinced, the rest are not. They come to belief slowly. Many of the disciples are originally skeptics about resurrection. At first they regard the women as hysterical, telling an idle tale. Leros (NIV nonsense), used here for "idle tale," was used in everyday Greek to refer to the delirious stories told by the very sick as they suffer in great pain or to tales told by those who fail to perceive reality (4 Maccabees 5:11; Josephus Jewish Wars 3.8.9 405). The other disciples think these women must be dreaming. Luke notes most of them do not believe their story, except for perhaps one or two present.
Yet Luke 24:12, if a part of the original document, indicates that Peter cannot sit still upon hearing the report. He has learned to trust what Jesus predicts. So he gets up and runs to the tomb, sees the linen clothes by themselves and departs. He wonders, or marvels, about what has come to pass. There is a little debate among interpreters whether Peter believes at this point. In fact, most doubt it, arguing that the term "marveling" (thaumazo; NIV wondering) is ambiguous (see 4:22; 11:38; Acts 13:41). But surely it is hard to call Peter doubting here, and the term can be positive (as in Lk 1:21, 63; 2:18, 33; 7:9; 8:25; 11:14; 20:26; 24:41; Stein 1992:607). Something stirs him to check out the story when others are incredulous. In addition, his recent experience with his denials has surely taught him to trust what Jesus says.
Peter walks away from the tomb simply contemplating what may be ahead. Something is happening, and its reality is slow to sink in with Jesus' followers. Just how much they struggle to understand the reality of Jesus' exaltation is indicated in the Emmaus incident that follows.
Though the church proclaims the resurrection confidently today, the original witnesses had to be convinced that it had occurred. Resurrection had been promised by Scripture and by Jesus, but only slowly, grudgingly and methodically did the disciples come to see that it had come to pass.
This resurrection account is one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. Part of what makes it such an enjoyable story is that the reader knows more about what is taking place than the two disciples who unknowingly encounter Jesus. The British would call such a story "cheeky," because it pokes fun boldly at the doubting of resurrection. The reversal of emotion within the account shows how powerful a truth resurrection is. If God has power over Jesus' life and death, he also has power over all life and death. God is the Creator of life and is sovereign over death. If he points an endorsing finger at Jesus, how can humanity doubt him?
This meeting occurs as two disciples journey to Emmaus. They are sixty stadia, or about seven miles, from Jerusalem (the exact location of ancient Emmaus is not known today). The recent events have given them plenty to discuss, just as a major political event does among us today. In fact, the text portrays their discussion as rather intense, since syzeteo can refer to debating (Mk 8:11; Lk 22:23; Acts 6:9).
As they journey, a man joins them. Now Luke cleverly notes that it is Jesus, but he also mentions that the men cannot recognize him as Jesus. For once the joke is not on the reader but on the participants. Jesus is not being cruel here, but his gradual revelation of himself allows them to learn certain lessons about trusting God's promises. The disciples had been told about these events many times, but they cannot conceive how they could come to pass. The gradual revelation drives the point home vividly and calls on them to remember God's Word while trusting that what he says will come to pass. As we remember God's promise, we should rest in it (vv. 5-7). Luke's detailed account gives the reader an inside glimpse at how events were understood by disciples before they became aware that Jesus had risen from the dead. In all of these encounters, God shows himself to be in total control (note also v. 31).
So Jesus asks the two men about their conversation. Their countenance says it all: they stood still, their faces downcast. For these disciples, hope had been buried in the tomb provided by Joseph. In fact, one of them, Cleopas, is shocked that their new companion is unaware of recent events. His question's irony can hardly be overstated: "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" (so correctly RSV). If anyone knows, it is the One they are speaking to! But to draw them out, he asks them about their discussion.
Reviewing the story of Jesus of Nazareth, they refer to him as a prophet, a popular conception of who Jesus was (4:16-30; 7:16; 9:7-9, 18; 13:31-35). In fact, this view of Jesus, when comparing him to a prophet like Moses, correctly reflects an aspect of his ministry (Acts 3:14-26; 10:38-39). This Jesus was powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. But the leadership, chief priests and rulers, handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him (23:13). The disciples' hope had been different: "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." For them, Jesus' death had spelled a seeming end to that hope. The leaders had handed the promise over to Rome, and their persistence had extinguished its flame. Where these disciples place responsibility for Jesus' death is clear, and so is their disappointment.
But the story is not over. Three days have passed, and new events have caused a stir. Some of the female disciples journeyed to the tomb, only to find no body inside. They claimed to have seen a vision of angels. They claimed that he was alive. Still others went to the tomb and found it empty, but they did not see Jesus. This empirical note seems to be key for the two, since it seems they are not yet convinced that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Thomas gets all the contemporary press as a doubter of the resurrection, but Luke 24 makes it clear that he was merely one of a crowd, including these two followers. Like modern people in their skepticism, they will be persuaded only if they actually see Jesus. As readers we almost want to yell at the two, "Take a close look!"
Here is the major lesson of the Emmaus Road experience. Though resurrection is hard to believe, be assured that it took place. Its reality means that Jesus' claims are true. He was more than a teacher and more than a prophet. He was the promised, anointed one of God. A host of skeptics saw that this was so, and they believed. Do not be skeptical as these men were. Remember what God required of his Messiah: suffering, then vindication in exaltation.
Jesus starts to break their misconceptions with a rebuke: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" For the second time in the chapter, Luke notes how these events were necessary (dei; compare v. 7). Jesus reviews the rest of the story from the book that reveals it. Events and Scripture together raise the issue of faith in God's promises. The disciples have been slow to believe. They have not read Isaiah 52--53 or Psalm 16 with understanding, not to mention Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 118 or Daniel 7:13-14. No doubt when beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself, Jesus used many of the texts that show up in other places in Luke and Acts. By taking them back to the Scripture, Jesus is noting that what took place was part of God's plan and promise. Luke highlights the point by speaking about all the Prophets and interpreting all the Scripture. Scripture's promise centers on Jesus. This text is a primary witness to Jesus. We can rest assured that Jesus is who he claims to be.
The lesson has not ended, but it is getting late. So as they draw near to Emmaus, Jesus pretends (NIV acted as if; Greek prosepoiesato) he would journey on, but the men prevail upon him to stay with them. Since he has revealed the plan, now it is time to reveal the person.
It is in the intimacy of fellowship that Jesus is recognized. This setting is no mistake; it is a major Lukan theme. Many of the resurrection appearances he describes are associated with table fellowship (Lk 24:41-43; Acts 1:4; 10:41; also Jn 21:9-15). As Jesus sits at the table, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, their eyes were opened. In a situation that recalls the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper, the disciples realize that they have been talking with the Lord himself (Lk 9:22; 22:19). Though not a reenactment of the Last Supper, this meal does show that Jesus is present and is known when his disciples remain close to him. The lack of recognition of verse 16 is reversed. Their perplexity over recent events is removed. It is through sitting with Jesus and listening to him that we get to know him.
After his recognition by the disciples, Jesus disappears. That Jesus is alive is all the disciples need to understand. They can now appreciate that he is with them. All of a sudden the entire discussion on the road makes sense. Like a lost key found or a huge mystery solved, the direction of recent events becomes clear and the way to understand life anew is opened up. Because of this new awareness, the disciples recall their recent scriptural review in a new light: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Their words point to how emotional the exposition had been for them, like a message being sown into the soul.
With a flame relit in their hearts, they return to the gathering of disciples in Jerusalem. The news is too good to keep to themselves. To know Jesus is to be thrilled at the prospect of sharing news of him with others.
Good news travels fast, and news of the verification of the resurrection was no exception. Jesus has, in effect, been everywhere. The two returning disciples are greeted with a report like their own: "The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" This is a new detail in chapter 24, since earlier all Luke had reported was the empty tomb Peter saw (v. 12). So the message of the Emmaus disciples is preempted. Jesus is among all of them. It is becoming clear to all in the community that the women were right after all. Jesus is alive, and their hope remains as firmly in place as ever. The Emmaus report follows. Luke stresses that Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples during the breaking of the bread. In the quietness of the table Jesus is especially revealed.
We can imagine the flood of emotion in the room as these stories of Jesus' appearances flowed in. It must have been like a newsroom full of reporters collecting facts on a breaking story. The room was probably abuzz.
What is more, though it is late and much has already happened, Jesus' appearances are not over quite yet. Despite his "physical" absence, he has actually been with all of them all along through resurrection--a very crucial message for the disciples to learn about how Jesus will be with them in the future. To say Jesus is risen is to say that he is with us.
Though Luke is concluding his Gospel, the real story is just beginning. Ahead is the disciples' empowerment through the bestowal of the Spirit so they can carry out their call on behalf of God. Beyond that is the mission to proclaim to the world what they have experienced and understood. Jesus had ministered to them to prepare them for this time. Now it is nearly time to go. Training camp is just about over; a long season of ministry lies ahead.
This account is unique to Luke and allows him to link the Gospel with Acts, given that the ascension ends and begins each volume. This final Gospel unit has a few similarities to the Emmaus account. Both include a resurrection appearance, a meal and scriptural exposition. Jesus is present with his disciples and is present in the Word. The union of the two reflects what life is designed to be.
Though I have separated these final verses from the Emmaus account, Luke has effectively woven the two stories together. As the room is buzzing with reports of Jesus' self-manifestations, he appears and says, "Peace be with you."
The disciples are still trying to take it all in, so peace is hardly their reaction. Rather, they are startled and frightened. They think for sure it is a spirit (pneuma; NIV a ghost). Even with the numerous reports of appearances, the idea that Jesus is alive and present is hard to accept. Empirical modernists are not the only skeptics: for the first disciples Jesus' resurrection was a difficult truth to swallow. Only a rapid-fire succession of demonstrations convinced the community it was so.
Jesus deals with their shock by challenging them. "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Jesus invites them to determine once and for all that what has been reported is true. Offering himself to be handled, Jesus wants to lay to rest for all time any doubt about his resurrection's truthfulness. He showed them his hands and feet. This is no phantom. There is no hallucination. The disciples have not fabricated the stories that they heard. Psychosis has not created an account to fill an emotional hole. This is no immaterial Jesus, as the Gnostics later claimed had come, a Jesus who walked but left no footprints. No, this is the crucified Jesus with the marks of nails in his hands to prove he had gone the limit to overcome sin. It is Jesus raised from the dead, pure and simple.
It is all too much. The disciples still fight unbelief, but it is mixed with joy as the truth is slowly but surely dawning like morning light. Amazement is the dominant emotion. To prove the point, Jesus asks for food: "Do you have anything here to eat?" He accepts the broiled fish, probably obtained in the city, and eats it. The meal's consumption destroys the disciples' now short-lived "spirit" hypothesis. Jesus is really in their midst. He has come to have a final word on this momentous day.
Jesus reminds them that everything that had occurred had been discussed by him. His life has been a fulfillment of Scripture. "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Once again Luke highlights the divine design by using the term dei, "it is necessary." The Bible is an open book on Jesus' life and mission.
Then Jesus explains the Scriptures. Like a prophet-teacher, he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. A careful look at the syntax shows that three themes dominate his exposition, since verses 46-47 are governed by three Greek infinitives (pathein, anastenai, kerychthenai). It is crucial to appreciate that fulfillment centers on the person of the Christ. It is in the promised Son of David that these events are fulfilled. Old Testament hope is being realized here (though at the time Jesus spoke the scriptural texts were not known as the Old Testament, but simply as the revered writings of the Jewish faith, the Scriptures). Jesus says he is the completion and fulfillment of scriptural promise and hope: What God promises, he brings to pass. In fact, you are experiencing the center of his plan right now. To know Jesus is to be in the will of God.
First, the Christ had to suffer. Jesus had predicted this all along (9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31-33; 22:37). His death was anticipated by Scripture. Luke has quoted Psalm 118 in describing Jesus' rejection, along with portions of Isaiah 53 in relation to his suffering. In addition he alluded to Psalm 22, Psalm 31:5 and Psalm 69 in the passion account.
Second, Messiah was to be raised. In this concept are bound up Psalm 16:10, Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 118:22-26. The disciples are experiencing this truth even as Jesus speaks.
Third is what remains to be accomplished. Five elements dominate this mission statement.
1. The disciples will be called to preach. They began to fulfill this call in Acts 2, and ever since the church has been proclaiming Jesus through the preached word. Preaching the gospel is an honorable ministry with the most ancient of roots.
2. Their message is a call to repentance. Since Jesus draws attention to the Old Testament roots of this concept, he is not merely discussing the "change of mind" that the Greek term metanoia suggests but the "turning" that is bound up in the Hebrew concept of repentance. Those who need a relationship with God are called to turn to God in faith. Coming to God involves the awareness that the road one was traveling was the wrong one. To come to know him is to change one's direction in life.
3. What is offered is forgiveness of sins. There need no longer be an obstacle between humankind and God because of sin. As we turn to God through Jesus, the offer of forgiveness manifests God's willingness to be gracious and to cancel the debt of sin that Jesus paid (Rom 1--8, especially 3:21-31).
4. The authority for it all resides in Jesus' name. Here is a major theme in Acts. Events are tied to his personal presence and his regal authority. Baptism, healing and forgiveness are especially noted in Acts (Acts 2:38, 3:6; 4:7; 8:16; 9:15-16; 10:43, 48; 15:14). As the Risen Lord and Christ, Jesus himself carries out these things.
5. The message is for all nations, and the preaching will start in Jerusalem. It took the church until Acts 10 to get this point. They initially thought Jesus had meant preaching in all nations to Jews of the diaspora. But God's vision to Peter showed that the message was for all humanity. Jesus is Lord of all, so the message can go to all (Acts 10:34-43).
The Old Testament elements behind the preaching seem to be the promises of the various covenants. The Abrahamic covenant included the promise that through Abraham's seed all the nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3; Gal 3). The Davidic covenant had promised a ruler who would be a son to God and a source of blessing to Israel and the nations (2 Sam 7:5-16; Ps 2; 45; 89; 110; 118; 132; Is 2:2-4; especially Is 9--11; Ezek 34 on the Davidic son as shepherd). The new covenant promised a new heart, which Joel 2 tells us comes by the pouring out of God's Spirit. Luke calls this the what my Father has promised in verse 49, and John the Baptist had said the bestowal of the Spirit was the evidence of Messiah's arrival in Luke 3:15-17. The arrival is proclaimed in Acts 2, and Gentiles are seen as included in Acts 11:15-18.
With the mission set forth, Jesus calls all present his witnesses (compare Acts 1:8, 22; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41; 13:31; 22:15; 26:16). They have seen with their eyes and held in their hands the truth that Jesus is alive. So he calls them to this preaching task. They have experienced truth into which angels, kings and prophets had longed to look (Lk 10:23-24; 1 Pet 1:10-12).
The task's scope and difficulty mean that they are not simply to launch out, but they must wait until God has given them authority from above, what Jesus calls being clothed with power from on high. First Chronicles 12:18 shows the Old Testament roots of this image. The Lukan reference to God's promise describes the coming of the Spirit's enabling power. In this brief statement is the Synoptic equivalent of the great Paraclete address of Jesus in John 14--16. The church's task will be difficult; special ability will be needed to accomplish it. It is not to be carried out in mere human strength. Just as Jesus' presence at the table has shown, God's intimate, indwelling presence is necessary to make it work.
It is also significant that it is Jesus who sends this promise (I am going to send). He is now the mediator of blessing from God. Acts 2:33 makes a similar point. To experience the Father's goodness, one must pass through the Son.
Luke describes Jesus' departure very briefly. The conciseness of this account is probably because Luke also spends time narrating a departure in Acts 1. It is much discussed whether this event is the same as the one in Acts 1 or is a distinct event. If it equals Acts 1, then Luke has simply summarized quickly here what took place forty days later to establish a literary tie to Acts. The possibility of literary compression makes a choice very difficult to establish (for one event, see Parsons 1987:193-94; for the options, Osborne 1984:137-38 and especially 266-70; Osborne opts for two perspectives on the one event: Lk 24 as theological and Acts 1 as historical).
The Gospel's final scene closes with a note of blessing and worship. Such an ending is perfectly appropriate, for Jesus came to offer hope. From the opening words of the infancy material to the end of the Gospel, Luke has sounded the trumpet that Jesus brings God's promise and blessing in fulfillment of God's design. What he did was necessary. What he did brought a new era, as God moved from a time of promise to the beginning of realized promise. Jesus is to bring more, as Acts 3 makes especially clear, but the corner has been turned in God's plan. Blessing is available in a way only dreamed of before Jesus.
Many people wish that they had lived in the Old Testament times of great miracles. To see Moses or Elijah at work would have been inspiring. But Luke's perspective is that these Old Testament saints would have seen our era as the blessed one. What they had worked toward met its realization in Jesus. So the Gospel's closing note of blessing is very appropriate. To experience Jesus' presence is to be blessed. The disciples head to Jerusalem with hearts filled with joy, gratitude and worship--attitudes that we too should experience as we learn to appreciate God's grace.
The disciples' response is to await the blessing. They journey to Jerusalem, obeying the Lord's command to wait for the Spirit there. But more than their obedience is the attitude that accompanies it. They are filled with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. There was not just obedience, there was joy, praise and thanksgiving, along with a commitment to be constantly present with the Lord. The resurrection has strengthened these disciples' relationship with God. Their sense of privilege at being involved in God's plan did not waver even years later, when persecution and rejection of their message became strong. They loved their enemy and took the message of the living and ascended Christ to the world. They challenged the world to receive blessing from Jesus and, without shrillness, warned of the judgment to come (Acts 2:36-41; 10:42-43; 13:23-41; 1 Pet 3:15-16). But their mission was not a task or a business to them. It was a joy, an act of worship to experience Jesus' presence and do his will.
The Gospel of Luke has an open-ended conclusion. In a real sense it ends at a beginning. No longer is the story about what Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Now it is the saga of what he continued to do through God's people, whom he equipped to perform a task and carry a message. That message is not one of words alone but of life, love and light. The message is both proclaimed and lived out before a world covered with darkness.
As the Gospel closes, it is important not to forget the words that came early in this Gospel when both John the Baptist and Jesus were introduced:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Jesus departed into the heaven from which he came. He did so not to leave us but to guide us, not to disappoint us but to intercede for us. He departed with a blessing. He departed to equip us. For those who know him, his blessing is always with us. So we worship him with joy and serve him with gladness, continually blessing God for the gift of his Son.
Great is God's faithfulness. That is the understanding, desire and assurance Luke longed to leave in the heart of his reader Theophilus. That is the precious legacy Luke left to the church.
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.