Jesus—His Life and Message: A Family Dispute, True Blessedness, and Herod’s Threat
July 21, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: A Family Dispute, True Blessedness, and Herod’s Threat
Throughout the Gospels there are a number of short, stand-alone accounts of things that Jesus and others said and did. Sometimes these events or sayings are only a few sentences long. In this article, and in some future ones, I will cover some of these short accounts or sayings. The sayings aren’t connected to one another, so each one will be in its own self-contained subsection.
A Family Dispute
At some point in Jesus’ ministry—we’re not told of the time or place of this incident—someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”1 By calling Jesus “teacher,” the questioner addressed Jesus as one would a respected Jewish rabbi. Rabbis would sometimes settle issues regarding inheritances, because the regulations regarding them were found in the Old Testament law2 and the rabbis were those who interpreted what Scripture taught.
It is likely that the man who was requesting Jesus’ help was the younger of two brothers. Because of his lower position within the household, he was looking for some outside assistance to convince his older brother to be more generous. There aren’t many details given, and it’s not clear if the older brother had refused to divide the inheritance or if the younger brother was asking Jesus to convince his sibling to be more generous by giving him a larger portion of the inheritance. What is clear, however, is that the man wasn’t asking Jesus to arbitrate between him and his brother, but rather he was directing Jesus toward the outcome he wanted, one which favored him over his brother.
But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”3 Jesus refused to get involved and to make a judgment. Starting the sentence with “man” is understood as a rebuke. Jesus wasn’t appointed as an arbiter between the brothers in this personal dispute, and His overall mission wasn’t to settle personal disputes, but rather to bring people to God.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”4 Jesus made this statement not just to the one brother, but broadened it out to them, to all who were present. Covetousness is an intense desire for wealth or possessions, a greedy desire to have more. It’s mentioned a number of times in lists of sins throughout the New Testament.
Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness.5
They, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.6
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you … evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.7
As seen in the brother’s dissatisfaction, greed can bring about disagreement and discord. It can distort one’s outlook on life and what is important. In the book of Ephesians, a covetous person is called an idolater—one who worships and honors images, who worships something other than God. Greed is dangerous, and thus Jesus strongly warns to be on guard against it.
Jesus warned about covetousness because He knew that greed is a matter of the heart. The brother who wanted Jesus to intervene on his behalf knew that getting more of the inheritance would not only boost his financial standing but could also mean greater honor within the community, as landowners enjoyed a higher social status. Jesus wisely chose to avoid getting pulled into an internal family matter regarding finances.
At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the parable of the rich fool, which also addresses the topic of greed. For more on this parable, see “The Stories Jesus Told: The Parable of the Rich Fool,” where it is covered in detail.
After Jesus had spoken to a crowd of people about unclean spirits,8 a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”9
We’re not told why the woman cried out, blessing Jesus’ mother, but cry out she did. Since women were generally expected to be silent in the presence of men, speaking out like this in a mixed crowd was both brave and bold. Her statement was an expression of gratitude for His ministry, through which His mother was honored, since in those days a mother was valued in the accomplishments of her son.
Jesus’ response shows that He wasn’t looking for praise but rather for action, for people to respond to His ministry. In addressing the woman’s statement, He gave His own beatitude: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” He made the point that blessings come to those who obey God’s Word.
He wasn’t refuting the woman’s statement, but neither was He fully affirming it. Her statement was correct, but not complete, so He expressed what was most important in the life of believers: keeping God’s Word. One author explains,
An expanded translation of the sentence would read: “What you have said is true as far as it goes. But Mary’s blessedness does not consist simply in her relationship with me, but in the fact that she heard the word of God and kept it, which is where true blessedness lies.”10
In the Gospel of Luke we read of an incident in which some Pharisees warned Jesus that His life was in danger. At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”11 Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee, and he was the ruler who had John the Baptist beheaded. This incident likely occurred in northern Israel, either in Perea or Galilee.
Commentators have differing opinions regarding the motive of these Pharisees. One author writes,
These Pharisees were genuinely interested in Jesus’ welfare … some Pharisees were sympathetic to Jesus and the Christian movement and in this incident Jesus did not rebuke them. These Pharisees were in fact friendly.12
Another author states,
While this looks like a friendly attempt to help Jesus, it might be an expedient way to get Jesus out of the region without resorting to violence.13
A further author notes,
It is perhaps more likely that they were Herod’s witting or unwitting agents. After this experience with John the Baptist, the tetrarch may not have wanted the murder of another prophet on his conscience; but he did want to be rid of Jesus. So he used the Pharisees to pass on a death threat.14
In response to the Pharisees’ warning, Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’”15 Calling someone a fox had a few different meanings. It could refer to a person of no significance, a deceiver, a cunning person, or a destroyer. It is likely that either deceiver or destroyer was intended, since Herod had murdered John the Baptist. Herod was the only person who Jesus is recorded as having treated with contempt.16 Later in this Gospel, when Herod wanted Jesus to perform a miracle, Jesus wouldn’t even speak to him.17 That Jesus instructs the Pharisees to “tell that fox …” indicates that they were in a position to pass on His reply, which would indicate that they had a cordial relationship with Herod.
There are differences of opinion regarding the phrase the third day. Was He speaking literally, stating that in three days He would go to Jerusalem? Was this a figurative way to express a day-by-day sequence of events, or was it referring to His resurrection? It is likely meant to be a figurative expression, that He would continue ministering to those in need and healing the sick for the time being, and then once that was done, He would go to Jerusalem in order to complete His ministry by dying on the cross.
“Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”18 Jesus would eventually go to Jerusalem, as He knew that fulfilling His mission was connected to that city. He also knew that throughout the Old Testament, God’s prophets suffered and some perished.19 He understood that part of His role was functioning as a prophet, something which was also acknowledged by others.
The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”20
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.”21
Jesus had already predicted His death earlier in the Gospel of Luke. He had asked Peter,
“Who do you say I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”22
He also told His disciples,
Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.23
Later in this Gospel He stated,
I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!24
Jesus knew what was in store for Him, but He also knew that it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem; therefore, He could confidently state that He didn’t need to worry about Herod Antipas at that time, as He was safe until He traveled south to Jerusalem.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Luke 12:13.
2 Deuteronomy 21:15–17; Numbers 27:1–11, 36:7–9.
3 Luke 12:14.
4 Luke 12:15.
5 Romans 1:28–29.
6 Ephesians 4:19 NAS. The Greek word which is usually translated as covetousness is translated here as greediness.
7 Colossians 3:5.
8 Luke 11:24–26.
9 Luke 11:27–28.
10 M. E. Thrall, Greek Particles in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 35.
11 Luke 13:31.
12 Stein, The New American Commentary: Luke, 382.
13 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1246.
14 Morris, Luke, 245.
15 Luke 13:32.
16 Morris, Luke, 245.
17 Luke 23:8–9.
18 Luke 13:33.
19 1 Kings 18:13; 19:10,14; 2 Chronicles 24:20–21; Jeremiah 2:30, 26:20–24, 38:4–6.
20 Luke 7:15–16.
21 Luke 24:18–20.
22 Luke 9:20–22.
23 Luke 9:44.
24 Luke 12:50.