Archives For Easter

The early church saw in John 19:34, the piercing of Christ’s side and subsequent flow of blood and water, an allusion to Eve’s creation (Genesis 2:21-22).  By the end of the second century we find the Apologist Tertullian saying,

If Adam was a figure of Christ, the sleep of Adam was the death of Christ who was to fall asleep in death; that in the injury of His side might be figured the Church, the true mother of the living.

According to Alban Maguire,

This teaching had been foreshadowed before the time of Tertullian, and after his time we can find no doctrine more honored among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Few scholars today, however, actively engage this interpretation and those that do dismiss it as foreign to John’s intent.  Raymond Brown sees “little evidence that the Genesis story was in John’s mind here.”  Mark Stibbe thinks, “(it) requires ideas which are properly speaking extrinsic to the gospel.”  It’s no wonder Andreas Koestenberg in his comprehensive A Theology of John’s Gospel doesen’t even include it as a “Possible Instance of the New Creation Motif in the Passion Narrative.” 

But far from being an unfounded interpretation such a meaning appears to have been intended by John himself.  It demands renewed consideration. As allusion, John 19:34 is the Fourth Gospel’s keystone, holding this narratives most important themes together.

In the series of posts to follow we will examine the evidence for this implicit reference.


Many scholars today believe the Gospel of Luke offers no theology of substitutionary atonement. In other words they hold that Luke does not present Jesus’ death as doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Greg Herrick states,

The reason for the scholarly movement away from a vicarious interpretation of the death of Christ in Luke-Acts is due to the fact that apart from two passages Luke never appears to make that equation.  That is, apart from these two passages, he never explicitly links the death of Christ with forgiveness of sins.  The problem is further compounded by the fact that the two passages in question, namely, Luke 22:19-20 and Acts 20:28 are fraught with both textual and interpretive problems.

It’s not my intention to rehash all the issues here.  You can find excellent overviews here and here.  Instead I want to offer an entirely overlooked way through the haze.  It’s my contention that Luke does present Jesus and his death as overturning the curse placed upon us due to Adam’s sin.  Luke does this by depicting Jesus as a new victorious Adam.


1. Luke presents Jesus as a new Adam.

This is beyond a doubt Luke’s purpose in the placement and arrangement of Jesus’ genealogy.  Unlike Matthew who places his genealogy at the outset of his gospel, Luke places it immedietly after Jesus’ adult baptism and just prior to the temptations.  It’s thus bookend by the issue of Jesus’ sonship.  In the baptism God declares Jesus to be His “beloved Son” and in the temptations Satan challenges Jesus on precisely this point.  “if you are the Son of God…”

Also instead of beginning with Abraham and working forward to Jesus, as Matthew does (Matthew 1:1-16), Luke genealogy begins with Jesus and works backwards to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). The net effect makes his genealogy a list of sons rather than a list of fathers and points to Adam rather than Jesus.  Of course Luke’s intention is not to diminish Jesus but rather, in light of the context, to make a comparison between Jesus and Adam.  Both are said to be God’s son.

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2. Luke presents Jesus as tempted like Adam.

Jesus’ three temptation follow immediately after the genealogy. If Luke intends to present Jesus like Adam than the temptations could not have been better placed. But Jesus’ success here is merely the beginning of a battle that will continue in the later part of Luke. Luke tells us that after the temptations the devil, “left him until an “opportune time” (4:13).  In Luke, Satan finds this opportunity at the beginning of the crucifixion plot, entering into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3).

This suggests that the events surrounding the crucifixion are themselves a continuation of the temptation. Certainly there are echoes of the devil’s challenge at the trial when the leaders ask, “Are you the Son of God…” (22:70).  And it’s Jesus’ bold “Yes!” which seals his fate and overcomes the desire to save his own skin.

As with the other gospels Jesus confession is juxtaposed with Peter’s denial. If Peter’s denial is due to, as Luke tells us, the sifting of Satan (22:31-32) then there is little doubt Satan is also present in this challenging question to Jesus.  It echoes the devil’s challenge in the earlier temptations.

3. Luke presents Jesus undoing the curse of Adam.

At Jesus’ death, the centurion declares, “surely this man was innocent!”  Here Luke differs remarkably from the centurion’s confession in the gospels of Matthew and Mark.  In those accounts the centurion says, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Owing to the fact that Luke has already declared Jesus to be the Son of God, it is doubtful that Luke wants to downplay this fact here.  Instead it appears the verdict of innocence is in some sense connected to Jesus being like Adam, the Son of God.

For Luke, Jesus’ innocence is not simply in reference to the crime for which He has been charged but His victory over all temptation. What Christ has done in his persistent innocence is to reopen the way closed by Adam. Jesus final words to the thief on the cross are directly connected to this second Adam motif, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” “Paradise” is the same Greek word used elsewhere in Septuagint and the book of Revelation for the “garden” of Eden.

Several of these points have been noted by others (here and here) but as of yet I have found no one who sees in Luke’s Adam the key to Luke’s theology of vicarious atonement. Does Luke teach that the crucifixion of Jesus satisfies God’s punishment for sin? Absolutely. Jesus is the victorious Son of God who’s final victory over temptation reverses the curse of Adam.

In preparation for my class on the Life of Christ I’ve once again been studying the gospel of Mark.  Mark focus’ on Jesus’ unflinching journey to his own death in Jerusalem and the devastating failure of those called to follow Him.

There are three things that I think most people find particularly puzzling about Mark

  1. The young man who runs away naked in Mark 14. He’s not found in any other gospel. Who is this man? And why does he appear in Mark?
  2. The ending of Mark at 16:8. The women are told that Jesus is alive and that they should go tell the disciples. But instead the woman run away afraid and say nothing. The longer ending we now have is most likely an attempt to solve the somewhat messy feeling this leaves. Why does Mark end his gospel here and in this way?
  3. The Meeting in Galilee. In Mark the disciples are told to go to Galilee in order to meet the risen Jesus but in Luke’s gospel the disciples meet Jesus outside of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives and He specifically tells them to stay in Jerusalem. Why does Mark say Jesus will meet them in Galilee?

I think I know the answers to these questions.  I want you to keep them in the back of your mind as we look closely at Mark’s message.

Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. In his succinct narrative he focus’ like a laser beam on the person of Christ and on those who follow him, his disciples. Like a modern action film, Mark uses rapid cutting. Jesus hits the ground running and never stops. He is a man with a lot to accomplish in a very short amount of time.

From the opening quotation from the prophet Isaiah, Mark defines the action of Jesus as a journey. Three times in this quotation we read of the “way of the Lord” and or a “path for our God.”

Throughout the gospel we see Jesus on a journey, a path towards his own death in Jerusalem. It is the disciples alone who called to follow Him. The first thing Jesus does, after his own calling, is to return to Galilee and call his first disciples. “Follow me,” he says to Peter and Andrew on the shores of Galilee and immediately they leave everything to “follow him.” He likewise calls to James and John and they too leave everything to “follow him.” In chapter two, Jesus calls another man, Levi the Tax collector, in much the same way. “Follow me” he says to Levi and Levi like the disciples before leaves everything to follow him. The act of following is again emphasized in Jesus choosing of the twelve Apostles. Mark says that Jesus chooses twelve men that “they might be with him…” The first objective in his selection is a call to nearness. The Apostles are to be where he is. They are to follow him on the road.

And they do follow, at least in the beginning. In Galilee we find the disciples journeying with Jesus back and forth across the Sea. They are with him when His mother and brothers come to take custody of him and when He speaks his first Parable. They are with him when he calmly quiets the storm as well as when he confronts a man possessed with a legion of demons. They are with him when He heals the woman with the issue of blood and they are with him when he raises Jarius’ daughter from the dead. The disciples are with Jesus more than anyone. But the disciples, the group closest to him, don’t have a clue who Jesus is. They are comically and ultimately tragically a dim witted group.

As Jesus abruptly cuts his way through the pages of Mark, people are impelled to wonder, “Who is this man.” The Scribes and Pharisees are confounded by him. When Jesus casts out a demon, they wonder, “What is this, a new Teaching with authority?” When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, they ask, “Why does this man speak that way? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The questions go on and on. “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” “Why don’t your disciples fast?” “Why are your disciples doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?

But the disciples, the ones called to follow him, marvel just as much. In Mark 4, they ask Jesus about his parables. In Mark 5, they wonder at His cool reaction to a storm. And later they are dumbfounded when Jesus, bombarded by a crowd, asks who touched me? In chapter 6 they are perplexed when Jesus instructs them to feed the five thousand and again are just as perplexed when he tells them two chapters later to feed the four thousand. When Jesus, in Mark seven speaks in very plain language, the disciples turn around and ask Jesus to interpret the parable. ITS NOT A PARABLE, a fact which underscores the disciple’s total lack of intelligence. And even after Jesus has fed the five thousand and the four thousand with a few loaves of bread, Jesus finds the disciples once again concerned about how many loaves they have.

You may not like the fact that Mark is so hard the disciples. You know we can all relate. But that’s why Mark is so hard on the disciples. That’s the very point. Mark is hard on the disciples precisely because we can relate. Mark wants us to see ourselves in this bumbling group of men.

In chapter eight the journey truly begins. Jesus asks the disciples the central question everyone’s been dying to know. “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples provide a few stock answers. And then Jesus turns the question on them, “but who do you say that I am.” Peter in his boldness shouts out “You are the Christ.” It’s the right answer but Jesus takes it in an unexpected direction.

Immediately He begins for the first time to teach that he must suffer be killed and after three days rise again. Peter doesn’t get it. Though Jesus states the matter rather plainly, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. You see the Christ, according to Jewish expectation, was to be a conquering hero, a military leader who would kick the Romans out and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. When Peter called Jesus the Christ, he certainly had this in mind. Jesus, however, doesn’t have the same plan. He is a suffering Christ and not the Christ of Peter’s expectations.

Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” He then gathers his disciples and calls them once again to follow.

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it.

Jesus calls his disciples to follow in his death.

With this dramatic exchange Jesus will set out on a straight path to Jerusalem, beginning in the extreme north of Israel, down through Galilee and on into Judea and Jerusalem. Three times on this journey Jesus will teach his disciples that he is going to suffer, die and be raised from the dead. Each time the disciples will fail to understand and each time Jesus will attempt to correct their faulty understanding. Jesus encounter with Peter at Caesarea Philippi is the first of these three instances.

The second instance is in 9:31. Jesus having journeyed from the extreme North enters Galilee and teaches his disciples once again that,

The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, he will rise three days later.

But the disciples still don’t understand and Mark tells us that they are afraid to ask. When Jesus enters Capernaum, a city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, he questions them about what they were talking about “on the way.” Mark states, “But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.” Their Lord has just proclaimed the impending hour of his own death and here they are arguing about which one of them is the best. Like Peter they simply don’t understand the mission Jesus has in mind. Jesus once again sits them down and teaches a paradox. “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.”

How many of us have seen these internal power plays, Christians envious and fighting over others prestige? Those prepared to die are never concerned about such things.

In 10:33 Jesus will enter Judea and give the most detailed information about his impending death yet.

Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.

But James and John in the very next verse approach Jesus with an astonishing request. “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” They just don’t get it. They still think that Jesus is going to be crowned king in Jerusalem. They’re looking forward to being close to an earthly king. Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They reply all to rashly, “we are able.” Jesus affirms that they will indeed be able but as for sitting on his right and left he cannot grant because “it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Surprisingly, the only other people we find in the gospel of Mark that are ever on Jesus right and left are the two thieves on the cross. Jesus glory is the cross and he’s calling his disciples to once again follow him on the road. Jesus again teaches a paradox. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

But sadly the disciples never get it. When they finally arrive in Jerusalem, they show themselves to be tragically and traitorously inept. Judas, one of the twelve, goes to the leaders and offers to betray Jesus. When Jesus predicts this, Peter and the other disciples respond with oaths of loyalty. But in Gethsemane, Mark states that at the sight of the soldiers, “they all left him and fled.” At the sight of the soldiers, the disciples abandon their call. At the first sign of danger, they all run away. Jesus has called them to follow him to his death. He has called them to suffer. The disciples choose life instead.

It is here in this moment that we find the young man running away naked, leaving his linen sheet behind. Who is this man and why does he appear here? There are some interesting clues. First, a linen sheet only appears one other time in the gospel of Mark and its wrapped around the dead body of Jesus. Secondly, nakedness, after the fall, is always a sign of shame. For these reasons as well as one other that I will reveal in a moment I believe Mark uses this young man as a symbol for the very failure of the disciples. They have been called to follow Jesus to his death but in this moment they all run away in shame leaving the death that Christ has clothed them in behind.

Shocking! The disciples, the very twelve apostles, when confronted with the death that Christ demands turn around and flee. But they are our fathers, they are our representatives. And like them we Fat Christians have abandoned Christ’s call. I’m sure each of us can remember the sweetness of our conversion when Christ first called us to follow. Like the disciples we left everything. Like their time in Galilee, the beginning was trouble-free. It was easy to follow because everything was so sweet. But as the years passed life seemed to seep back in. We got married, had some kids, bought a house in which live. Now there were mortgages to pay, vacations to plan, and cars to fix and repair. We sought people and places that would affirm us. We’ve looked for glory in the eyes of others. Suffering for Christ became the last thing on our minds. And now it’s not a question whether we would follow him to his death for we ceased to follow all ready. Like the disciples we’ve already denied him. We’ve already turned and walked away. Examined in light of Christ’s own example we find ourselves totally lacking. Can we do what Jesus did? Can we walk the road he himself has blazed?

That’s the powerful question in Mark’s disturbing ending. Mark tells us that the women who go to the tomb on Sunday Morning are met by a young man clothed in white. Notice how Mark alone among the gospels doesn’t call this figure an angel. Instead he calls him a “young man.” It’s the same description used for the streaking disciple, the young man that runs away in the Gethsemane, leaving the linen sheet behind. Well, now he’s clothed in white and he has a message for the disciples. “’He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.” But again in the very next verse the women, like the disciples before, run away and say nothing for they themselves are afraid. The end? Yup, that’s it.

All the questions you had about the disciples, Mark doesn’t answer. Did they go to Galilee? Did they meet Jesus again? He doesn’t say. Why not? Why doesn’t he say? Answer: Because he leaves it to you. Without denying the difficulty, Jesus extends his forgiveness in reestablishing the call. He goes before you. Will you follow? The answer and the end is up to you.

Originally Posted October 15, 2007

Have you ever wondered who will sit on Jesus right and left in his glory?

In Mark 10:40, Jesus responds to James and John

To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.

The answer has been in front of us all along.


The Request

In Mark 10:33, Jesus, nearing Jerusalem, gives the most detailed description of his impending death.

Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.

James and John approach Jesus.

Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.

Jesus responds,

You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?

They reply,

we are able.

Jesus affirms that they will be able but as for his right and left this he cannot grant because  they have been granted to others.

Jesus’ Glory

The only place we find anyone on Jesus right and left is in the crucifixion.

They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. (15:27)

And what’s interesting is that the detail comes at the culmination of a list of coronation elements.

  • At the Praetorium (read Ceasar’s guard),
  • the soldiers put a purple robe on him (15:16)
  • They put a crown on his head (15:17)
  • They said, “hail, king of the Jews (15:18)
  • They fell on their knees and paid homage to him (15:19)
  • They post a sign above him: “king of the Jews.” (15:26)
  • They place men on his right and his left (15:27)

Jesus’ glory is not something past the horror’s of the crucifixion.  In an ironic twist those who mocked and crucified Jesus because of his claim to the throne placed him on the throne.

The Disciples Misunderstanding

Jesus tells James and John,

You don’t know what you are asking.

The disciples all appear to have believed that Jesus was heading for His coronation in Jerusalem.  From the moment Peter declared Jesus to be “the Christ,” they had thoughts of earthly glory.

Three times Jesus banishes all these thoughts, telling them he’s going to suffer, die and be raised again (8:31, 9:30-31, 10:32-34).  But the disciples just don’t get it.  Peter rebukes Jesus.  The disciples argue about which one of them is the greatest.  And here James and John have the audacity to request to sit on his right and left in his glory.

 You don’t know what you are asking.

He is the Christ, the King, but he’s not the king of the disciples expectations.

Nor ours.

If you desire share in Jesus’ glory remember such places are prepared only for those who die with Him.

What do you think?

In Mark the figure at the empty tomb is no ordinary angel.  In fact Mark doesn’t call him an angel at all.  He’s described as “young man” and it’s significant.  Only one other person in Mark is so described and he’s found at the arrest of Jesus.

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (14:51)

For years people have speculated as to the identity of this man.  Does the ending of Mark offer a clue?  Not exactly.  It does, however, reveal a powerful meaning in Mark’s abrupt ending.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said.  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him just as he told you.'”  Trembling and bewildered, the women went and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The end.

That’s it!

The copies closest to the original do not contain 16:9-20.

Why doesn’t Mark record Jesus’ encounter with the disciples?  Why show himself in Galilee and not immediately in Jerusalem as Luke records?  The answers are found in the description of these two men.

The Disciple Who Abandons His Call

Whatever the naked man’s identity, he’s clearly a symbol in Mark.  Note the ways in which he embodies the disciples.

He’s “following Jesus.” “Following” for Mark is the essence of discipleship.  Three times Jesus calls men to follow him and each time they leave everything to follow him (1:14-20, 2:13-14).  The five men (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Levi) form his core.  In all, He chooses twelve men so “that they might be with Him” (3:13-14).  When Jesus returns to his hometown, Mark poignantly adds they, “followed him” (6:1).  In “following Jesus” the young man is acting like a disciple.

He’s “wearing nothing but a linen garment.”  Two “linen” garments are mentioned in Mark.  The other is wrapped around the dead body of Jesus (15:46).  Given Mark’s penchant for symbolic connections, it looks like the linen garment here represents the death Jesus has called his disciples to die.  On the road to Jerusalem, after prophesying his own death, Jesus teaches his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Dietrich Bonhoffer aptly said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  The linen represents that death.

“He fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” The disciples left everything to follow Jesus (1:14-20, 2:13-14, 10:28).  By deserting him, they left the one thing that still remained – the call to follow Jesus.  The “young man” likewise leaves the linen garment and embraces his nakedness, the biblical symbol for shame (Genesis 2:25, 3:7-11, 9:20-29, Exodus 20:26, Isaiah 47:1-15, Revelation 3:17).

The Disciple Who Embraces It

This isn’t the last word on the “young man” however.  If he’s a symbol of the disciples desertion at Gethsemane, the “young man” at the empty tomb, hints at their future restoration.

He’s “wearing a white robe.”  Note how this man is also described by his attire.  Instead of nakedness or a linen garment, he wears a “white robe.”  The only other mention of such a robe is in Revelation 6:11

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

It’s a symbol for the martyrs.  The first “young man” fled from death.  This “young man” appears to have embraced it.

He is “sitting on the right.” When James and John requested to be seated on Jesus’ right and his left in his “glory,” Jesus turns their attention to the cross and asks them if they can do the same (10:35-40). The position of the two thieves clearly reveals that such places are prepared for those who die with Him (15:27).

He calls the disciples to once again follow Jesus. The young man’s message is simple and direct. “Go tell the disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him just as he told you.'”

Why do they have to return to Galilee?

Why dosen’t Jesus just meet in Jerusalem as he does in Luke?

For Mark It’s the place where the disciples were called.  Jesus through this young man is calling them to start over again.  Like His message to the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:5) “Consider how far you have fallen, Repent and do the things you did at first.”  Jesus continues to go before them.  The only question is will they start over – will they follow – will they follow him this time to the end?

Your Choice

Mark’s sudden ending leaves the call and the failure of the women ringing in his audiences ears.

Will you follow?  Will you?

Jesus is waiting.

What do you think?