Last time, we finished our study of Luke 5. Recall that the overarching theme of that chapter was the spiritual re-birth in Christ by which those who hear and believe the Gospel become the chosen children of God, and followers of Jesus. We looked at the stories of three fishermen and a tax collector whom Jesus had called, and saw that their lives were transformed when they immediately left their old lives behind to follow Him.
In Luke 5, we also saw Jesus’ claim to the authority to forgive sins – a power reserved for God alone – thus concluding that Jesus is, indeed, God. Finally, we saw Jesus for the first time in Luke’s account referring to Himself as the bridegroom and ourselves as His bride.
Moving on, now, into chapter 6, we find the first instances of what would become an ongoing dispute between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment over what works are permissible on the Sabbath.
Luke 6:1-5 (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28)1Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. 2And some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”3But Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” 5And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
The Pharisees at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, like the orthodox Jewish establishment in Israel and in orthodox Jewish communities around the world today, have very strict rules about what constitutes lawful and unlawful activity on the Sabbath. Recall God’s mandate for this weekly day of rest in the 4th Commandment.
Exodus 20:8-118“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
The Hebrew word – שַׁבָּת shabbath – here is used in the Old Testament to refer not only to the weekly day of rest, but also to the rest for the land which God directed every 7 years.
Leviticus 25:3-43Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
The children of Israel had been observing the weekly day of rest even before the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. We see this in God’s direction pertaining to the gathering of the manna in the wilderness after the nation was led out of captivity in Egypt by Moses.
Exodus 16:21-2621So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.22And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath [first use of שַׁבָּת shabbath] rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'” 24So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 25Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”
But the Sabbath day is not to be merely a day of rest. It is also a day for drawing near to God in repentance, and for gathering together in His Name.
Leviticus 23:3“Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
The Hebrew word translated “convocation” in this verse is מִקְרָא miqra’ – a calling together or a sacred assembly, specifically for the purpose of reading God’s Word together. Recall from our study of Luke 4, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah at such a convocation in the synagogue of His home town – Nazareth. Interestingly, apart from the general commandment to rest and gather together for the reading of His Word on the Sabbath, God gives very little specific direction as to what exactly can and can’t be done on the Sabbath. I could find only one specific direction.
Exodus 35:3“You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
Indeed, in Israel today no cooking is done on the Sabbath in observant Jewish homes or in Jewish-operated businesses like restaurants and hotels. Actually, one specific form of priestly labor was even directed by God to be performed on the Sabbath, which we will look at shortly. But apart from these two specific instances, God gives only general direction about proper conduct on the Sabbath.
This begs the question – Exactly what constitutes lawful effort on the Sabbath, and what is forbidden? For that matter, in a world of multiple time zones, exactly when is the Sabbath day? For the record, the Jewish Sabbath day begins at sunset every Friday and continues until sunset the next evening. Obviously, people must continue to live their lives during the Sabbath, so they must certainly breath, eat, drink, cloth themselves, tend to their animals, infant children, and invalid elderly family members, etc. But rather than simply rely on God’s leading and the prompting of their own consciences to guide them in proper Sabbath conduct, the Jewish people demanded that their leaders define specifically what was lawful and what was unlawful for them to do on the Sabbath.
So, by the time Jesus was born, there were perhaps thousands of specific ordinances for Sabbath behavior, and that trend continues even today. For example, many might consider that an afternoon walk might be a relaxing Sabbath activity, but at some point that relaxation might turn to labor. Consequently, in Israel today, every village has a wire strung from poles around its perimeter. Walking within this boundary of a Sabbath afternoon is deemed relaxation, while walking under the “Sabbath wire” outside the boundary of the village, becomes unlawful Sabbath labor.
In the hotels, on Sabbath, one or more of the house elevators is programmed to operate in שַׁבָּת shabbath mode, in which the car stops automatically on every floor without needing to be summoned or requiring the rider to select a desired floor. The act of pushing the elevator buttons has been deemed unlawful Sabbath labor. Interestingly, climbing the stairs of a 20-story hotel is perfectly fine!
There are thousands upon thousands of such ordinances, and the list continually grows. There are even rumored to be specific ordinances pertaining to what can lawfully be done during a trans-lunar or interplanetary space flight that carries over Sabbath (to say nothing of defining the specific period constituting the Sabbath in an environment where there is no sunrise or sunset).
One specific ruling is that no one is to labor in the acquisition of food on the Sabbath. This ordinance dates back, as we have seen, to the gathering of manna in the wilderness, and it was this prohibition against gathering food on the Sabbath that brought Jesus into conflict with the Jewish establishment in our study passage here in Luke 6.
Jesus’ response is a one-two punch. In the first place. He makes reference to the revered King David violating the Sabbath ordinance against gathering food, and indirectly refers to God’s direction for priestly labor which was to be performed on the Sabbath. Let’s look at that direction first, then look at the story about King David.
Exodus 25:23-3023“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. 24And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. 25You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. 26And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. 27The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. 28And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. 29You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. 30And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.
Leviticus 24:5-95“And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. 6You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. 7And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. 8Every Sabbath he [a Levite priest] shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. 9And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.”
These passages give God’s direction for the baking, and arrangement of the showbread on the golden table in the Holy place of the tabernacle and later on the temple in Jerusalem. The bread was to be replaced every Sabbath by one of the Levitical priests who had been consecrated to perform this service in accordance with the Law of Moses. The old showbread was to be eaten by the Levites serving in the tabernacle/temple. Any bread left over after the Levites had eaten was to be burned on the altar.
King David, was not a consecrated Levite. David was of the tribe of Judah. Yet, David had eaten the holy bread in a time of great need. Recall that David had to flee from Jerusalem after King Saul’s son Jonathon had warned him of Saul’s intent to kill him.
1 Samuel 21:1-61Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”2So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. 3Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found.”4And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”5Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”6So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day [שַׁבָּת shabbath] when it was taken away.
We see no record of either David, Ahimelech the priest, or David’s young men being chastised by God for this violation of the Law. The Pharisees who challenged Jesus because His disciples had gathered grain to eat on the Sabbath would have known this.
In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus clarifies that the priests themselves violate the ordinances against laboring to gather food on the Sabbath, and that they do so at God’s specific direction (as we just saw in Leviticus 24:8-9)…
Matthew 12:55Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?
These Pharisees would also have been aware of this law in Scripture. But while they were digesting His reminders of this story about King David, and the Biblical direction regarding the placement of the showbread, Jesus dropped a bombshell on them…
Luke 6:55And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
Matthew’s version of this declaration is fuller, giving a better understanding of the virulence of the Pharisees’ reaction…
Matthew 12:6-86Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ [Hosea 6:6] you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Greek word translated “Lord” that Jesus uses to refer to Himself here in verse 8 is κύριος kyrios. It means – the one to whom someone or something belongs, over which he has power of deciding; the owner and disposer of something. Clearly, Jesus declares Himself here to be the very God who created the Sabbath itself and the one who gave the directions about how His people were to honor it and keep it holy to Moses on Mt. Sinai!
Before we move on, let’s take a quick look at Mark’s narrative of this episode, because in it we find a reminder to both the Pharisees and to us about God’s purpose in giving us the blessing of our weekly day of rest…
Mark 2:23And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
Even after the tremendous labor of creating the universe, God Almighty [אֵל ‘el שַׁדַּי Shadday] had no need to take a “breather.” In His resting on the very first Sabbath, He was setting us an example, and creating for mankind an eternal blessing – a day set aside each week for us to take the physical rest that we (unlike Him) do need to not only heal our bodies, but to restore our spirits through communion with Him and with our fellow creatures.
Yet prideful man had taken this magnificent blessing and turned it into a burden of legalism. Still today, even among followers of Jesus, many of us turn our Sabbath into a time of business, even making the pursuit of relaxation a burdensome labor. How pitiful!
Luke 6:6-11 (Matt. 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6)6Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. 8But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. 9Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” 10And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. 11But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Taken in isolation, the report of this episode we find here in Luke might lead us to believe that Jesus was going around trying to pick fights with the legalists among the people. Indeed, in a certain sense, the Gospel He preached did arouse anger just as it continues to do today. By His example, Jesus clearly teaches the evangelist of today that the Gospel message can’t be compromised. Without doubt, God loves us. The love of God is far purer than mankind could ever offer or even imagine. But God could never abridge His righteousness and holiness to coddle His children in their error. He loves us far too much to allow this.
Proverbs 3:11-1211My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,Nor detest His correction;12For whom the LORD loves He corrects,Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
We’ve looked many times at Jesus’ own words on this topic, but they bear repeating.
Luke 12:49-5149“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
In order to establish the principle of His Lordship over the Sabbath, we see Jesus repeatedly choose – as He does in this story – to purposely violate the human traditions that had been built up around the Sabbath observance, making it a burden rather than a blessing. In so doing, He certainly began to raise the controversy that eventually led the Jewish leaders to call for His crucifixion. Indeed, we see the seed of that conspiracy sprouting here at the end of this account in Luke 6:11. Mark’s version of this story makes the virulence of their reaction even clearer.
Mark 3:66Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
In all fairness, we should look at Matthew’s report on this incident, where we find that it was the Pharisees who instigated this confrontation. In Luke’s report, this is implied. In Matthew’s it is explicit.
Matthew 12:9-109Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. 10And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.
Matthew also gives a much fuller account of Jesus’ response to the challenge.
Matthew 12:11-1411Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Although these accusers were anxious to prove Jesus to be a lawbreaker, they certainly knew that they were also guilty of laboring on the Sabbath in time of need. So Jesus’ counter-challenge to them was all the more piercing. Mark makes it clear that Jesus had become angry at their accusation even as He healed the poor crippled man.
Mark 3:3-63And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
This is a good passage to show folks who might have a mistaken image of Jesus as a timid man of peace who preached only love, tolerance and reconciliation. Yet even in His anger Jesus gives us a perfect model of God’s admonition to us when He says…
Psalm 4:4aBe angry, and do not sin.
Jesus wasn’t angry at the accusation against Him, although He knew that the controversy being raised would eventually lead Him to the cross. Nor was he angry at their blindness to their own sin. It was their total lack of compassion for the patient, silent, crippled man who had come seeking healing, which angered Him. This stubbornness of their hearts toward their fellow creature, in favor of their worship of the Law instead of the Law Giver who stood right before them, not only angered Jesus, but grieved His heart for them. This intensity of compassion and meekness in One who wields all power is awe inspiring, indeed. Even at the very moment of His death on the cross, this compassion for the lost still pervaded Him.
Luke 23:33-3433And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Luke 6:12-16 (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19)12Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
Before we consider this list of Jesus’ apostles, and exactly what it means to be called an apostle, take careful note that Jesus prayed all night long before He chose them. This is critically important. Since Jesus went out onto the mountain alone to pray, none of the gospel writers was able to give an account of the content of that prayer. We can only surmise.
First, as we’ve noted before, Jesus – being fully God and fully man – continually sought the will of His Father in prayer. Setting aside the great mystery of the Trinity implied by this need of Jesus to pray, we must certainly take it as a model for our own conduct. Whenever we are confronted with a decision to make – whether great or small – we must make it our habit to seek God’s will in prayer and the study of His Word. This is vitally important in the choosing of coworkers in the ministry of the Gospel.
Proverbs 12:26The righteous should choose his friends carefully,For the way of the wicked leads them astray.
John 15:16“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
Jesus, by this time had hundreds and perhaps thousands of followers whom Luke calls disciples here in Luke 6:13. Of these, He chose only twelve whom He called not only disciples, but also apostles. What exactly does this mean? The word ἀπόστολος apostolos means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders. It is important to note that these twelve apostles did not cease to be Jesus’ disciples. The Greek word μαθητής mathētēs translated “disciples” means learner or pupil. These twelve chosen ones would continue to learn at Jesus’ feet, even after having been set apart and sent forth to proclaim His Gospel, and to heal and minister to people in His Name. In fact, none of them truly realized who Jesus really is until after His resurrection.
We will take a closer look at this sending forth of the apostles a little later. In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at the lists of the twelve apostles we find in the Word…
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give lists of the twelve apostles. A similar list is found in Acts 1:13. John frequently mentions “the twelve,” but never gives a comprehensive listing. The scripture references for the lists of the apostles are noted in the column headings of the handout. The scripture references in the body of the table are the first mentions in each book of the names on the list.
The lists of the apostles are not completely identical, however the differences we find among them are not profound.
As we have already noted, Luke and Mark report Jesus calling a tax collector named Levi. The handout lists this person as Levi by first reference in the books of Luke and Mark. Matthew reports the calling of a tax collector named Matthew. None of the lists of the apostles (even those in Luke and Mark) mentions Levi. All of the lists contain Matthew’s name. Matthew’s own list further clarifies that this Matthew was a tax collector. The traditional assumption is that Levi and Matthew are one and the same.
The fishermen sons of Zebedee – James and John – are called by name in all of the lists except John’s own. John does mention the sons of Zebedee in connection with Jesus’ transfiguration, but never says they were part of “the twelve.” He never calls himself or his brother by name, but makes several mentions of a disciple “that Jesus loved.” Presumably, this beloved disciple was John himself.
Bartholomew is listed among the apostles in all of the lists, but John never mentions this name. He does tell the story of a Nathanael being called by Jesus after he was brought to Him by Philip, but John never says that Nathanael was one of the twelve. Although some scholars have proposed that Nathanael and Bartholomew were the same person, I can find no Biblical basis for this assumption.
Likewise, John never refers to James the son of Alphaeus, as all four of the other lists do. This second James may have been the brother of Levi who is also called the son of Alphaeus in Mark. However it is also possible that these men were the sons of two separate men both named Alphaeus, just as it is possible that Jesus called two tax collectors – one named Levi and one named Matthew.
All four of the lists mention a Simon other than Simon Peter. Two of them call him a zealot, and two call him a Cananite. But the word in Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18 translated in the KJV and NKJV as “Cananite” is Καναναῖος Kananaios which is a transliteration derived from the Hebrew word קַנָּא qanna’ meaning jealous, envious, or zealous. The word should not be confused to mean someone coming from the land of Canaan, which in Greek is Χανάαν Chanaan. Hence many other English translations (e.g. NLT, NIV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, and NET) more properly translate this word in Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18 as “the Zealot”. The sect of the Zealots at the time of Jesus’ ministry was a branch of the Pharisees which earnestly sought the prophesied Messiah, believing He would overthrow Roman rule and reestablish Jewish rule over the land of Israel. Apart from these four verses, nothing further is known of Simon the Zealot. He should also not be confused with Jesus’ half-brother, Simon, who was not a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry.
The lists of apostles in Luke and Acts mention a man named Judas the son of James. John also mentions a Judas saying only that he was not Judas Iscariot, and never says that this Judas was among the twelve. Matthew and Mark both list a man called Thaddaeus among the apostles, with Matthew pointing out that this was the man’s surname, and that his given name was Lebbaeus. This man may or may not have been the same man called Judas in Luke, John, and Acts.
Finally, the lists all agree on Judas Iscariot, who John also tells us was the son of Simon. Of course Judas had already died by the time the apostles gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension. In his place, the remaining apostles chose Matthias by lot, although he is not mentioned in the list of apostles we find in Acts 1:13.
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The handout associated with this post has been edited to correct the spelling of Philip’s name, and to remove the confusing note concerning the traditional contention that Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person. The text of this post has also been edited to reflect those changes to the handout.