This week’s reading comes from Luke 23. Amongst the sayings recorded in the Synoptics stands one ominous paragraph that both Matthew and Mark do not record: Luke 23:26-31. Many atheists will argue that occasions like this in Scripture prove that the text can’t be trusted because something as simple as a quote of Jesus is only recorded by Luke and not the others. However, when we explore the historical background of the text, and look for clues in the text and in outside sources, we can be confident in the truth of the Scriptures we have.
Each Gospel author had a specific purpose in their writing, as well as a unique audience to which they wrote. Recognizing these unique qualities of Luke, what reason might he have in including this otherwise unrecorded statement by Jesus from the cross? To answer this question we will need to examine the statement, its meaning to the original audience, and the context of Luke’s original audience.
Luke’s statement about a large crowd, including women who were weeping, is critical to our understanding of this comment. In fact, Luke indicates that this very group of women is to whom the warning is spoken by the words “…and said to them.” Jesus is not rebuking these women for mourning His fate, rather He calls for these women to weep for themselves. Jesus is indicating there is something else coming which will cause greater weeping. Jesus’ indication that these women might wish they never had children shows the severity of this warning. He then follows this statement with a reference to Hosea 10:8, a passage where Israel and Ephraim are facing severe punishment for the sin of idolatry. According to David Hubbard’s commentary on Hosea, the call to the mountains and hills is a suicidal death-wish brought on by the stark reality of the punishment they now face. Jesus is applying this same sentiment to the situation that would eventually face Jerusalem.
Finally, Jesus concludes this statement with a reference to their actions by comparing them to green and dry trees. According to Plummer, this statement could be interpreted three different ways:
(1) If the Romans treat Me, whom they admit to be innocent, in this manner, how will they treat those who are rebellious and guilty?
(2) If the Jews deal thus with One who has come to save them, what treatment shall they receive themselves for destroying Him?
(3) If they behave thus before their cup of wickedness is full, what will they commit when it overflows?
It seems very clear in these few verses that Jesus is once again warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, an event He had wept over earlier in the week. Most scholars believe Luke’s Gospel was written just prior to the actual fall of the Jerusalem, and certainly after Mark’s Gospel (see Lk. 1:1-4). It is clear that the Holy Spirit moved Luke to include this specific statement in his Gospel, just as He inspired every word in Scripture. Therefore He equally inspired Mark, Matthew, and John not to include this statement from Jesus. There was something unique about the time, audience, or intent of Luke’s Gospel that required this admonition from the cross.
Just as you would certainly tell a story differently to your closest friend than to your boss or or a stranger, the Gospel writers each had a different reason, audience, and time they were writing to. The Spirit decided Luke’s original audience would need this passage. How awesome is our God to send just what his people needed at just the right time!