Written by Paul J Bucknell on September, 14, 2023
Luke 9:51-62 Jesus’ Merciful Mission
We cannot follow Christ except through His work on the cross, but we become free to seek God’s work.
"What is a Christian?" This question may generate various responses from different individuals. However, Jesus provides a clear answer in Luke 9:51-62 where He engages His disciples in a discussion about what it means to follow Him. The second section (57-62) focuses on Jesus calling individuals to follow Him. Luke uses the first part of the passage to explain to His disciples the true meaning of following Jesus.
Is ‘belief’ in Christ the same as ‘following’ Jesus?
In Luke 9:51-62, Jesus explains His mission to accomplish God’s will for His life. He knew that He had to go to Jerusalem despite the rejection He would face like the former prophets. For believers and truth-seekers alike, following Jesus means to search for God’s will just as Jesus did. The second paragraph highlights this purpose.
A godly life requires believers to have a strong and vibrant faith. Jesus emphasizes the necessary commitment to follow Him in Luke 9:51-62. Earlier in the same chapter, He also mentions this commitment.
“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23)
Some may wonder whether or not Christianity is the best religion; let me point you to study and follow Jesus rather than a course on comparative religions. Jesus rose from the dead and lives today, making His challenge to follow Him very relevant.
1. Understanding Jesus (Luke 9:51-56)
51 When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem.”
Determined to go to Jerusalem
Luke provides insight into Jesus’ thinking in verse 51, “When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem“ (Luke 9:51). The words, “He was determined,” carry a sense of destiny about them. Literally, it says He “set His face” to go to Jerusalem.
These verses give a glimpse of the total framework of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus came to earth to go to Jerusalem, die on the cross, and rise again to complete His earthly ministry.
Just before this passage, James and John saw Jesus in His radiant glory. He spoke with Moses and Elijah about what “He would accomplish at Jerusalem”-his earthly work.
30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)
Jesus attempted to keep His disciples focused on the greater mission, not the miracles or the spectacular.
“But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:43-44)
Later, closer to Jesus’ necessary suffering during Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus spoke more sternly to the twelve disciples, telling them that all the prophecies would be fulfilled.
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. (Luke 18:31)
Jesus’ redemptive work, before He came, was written in the Word of God and describe His suffering. Isaiah 53 is a sample prophecy describing what Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.
It's important to understand why Luke wrote about Jesus' determination to go to a place that would mistreat Him and become famous for the world's greatest injustice. Despite our sins, Jesus is the Righteous One who died for our salvation. Our faith in Christ effectively applies this work to our lives, where we find complete forgiveness through Jesus.
It’s one thing for Jesus to accept these things as the Son of God, but the cross became, for the twelve, others, and us, a difficult aspect of faith. Some want to skip over the cross and accentuate His glory. Others want a religion with a good teacher. Jesus emphasizes that His disciples focus on the central part of the Gospel and the cross in our spiritual lives.
But this does lead to the question of what happens next. What are we to do since Jesus is no longer on earth? In these next verses, Jesus continues to shape His disciples’ mindset. In the following verses, He reminds us of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work to renew our minds.
Determined to Show Mercy (Luke 9:52-56)
52 And He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. 54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.
Jesus’ destination was Jerusalem; it directly related to His ministry—His purpose. Jesus didn’t die to generally support mankind but to die for their sins, that is, to become an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of all who believe in Him.
Jesus repeatedly stated this so that we would understand and benefit from His earthly ministry. He saw that His closest disciples lacked what they needed to accomplish the mission. They could not understand the heart of His mission.
This recorded incident of the disciples’ advice to Jesus startles us but maybe not as much as Jesus’ rebuke!
Jesus’ disciples, showing off their faith in Jesus’ power, asked if Jesus wanted them to bring fire upon the Samaritan villagers for not opening their doors to Jesus. “When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Elijah’s ministry may have been on the disciples’ minds,
“Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty” (2 Kings 1:10).
The disciples who witnessed Jesus’ glory on the mountain recognized the importance of accepting Him and the consequences of rejecting Him. They now acknowledged that Jesus had vastly more power and authority than Elijah. However, their conclusion had a major flaw. Sadly, this flaw is still present in many leaders today. Once leaders gain authority, Satan takes it to their heads, blinding them to mercy. Jesus’ disciples did not understand that this was the day and time to display mercy, even as it continues to this day.
Second, let’s consider Jesus’ rebuke.
But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.
Some individuals believe that rebuking others is not an appropriate response, even if the person is in the wrong. They think that showing love and respect means avoiding confrontation. However, Jesus had a different approach and believed that rebuke was necessary at times. The reason for this can be seen in how it prevents the destruction of God's greater work of mercy. Hebrews 12 provides a clear explanation of how God reproves us and is an example for parents toward their children. Reproving others is necessary when misunderstandings negatively impact people’s attitudes and actions. Misunderstanding the truth can lead to harmful consequences and interfere with God’s redemptive plan. Our current generation is becoming foolish and dangerous because they can’t discern and prize truth over personal opinions. The young and old can’t distinguish between Satan’s whisper and God’s voice.
The context is crucial. The point is not whether they deserved judgment; this we equally deserve. There are higher principles and more noble opportunities at hand. Without prioritizing truth, we cannot rightly value Jesus’ own life and merciful saving mission.
A Confusing Response (Luke 9:54-56)
Some of you might be troubled by the verse here. Please don’t get distracted and miss its meaning. Jesus rebuked His disciples for suggesting destruction for that village.
I don’t want to spend much time on this, but a brief explanation is helpful to avoid getting hung up on different translations of this verse.
We have many Greek manuscripts of this Luke text. Some of them, the oldest, do not include the explanation of Jesus’ rebuke. Most manuscripts, following the Byzantine text like the KJV, include an explanation of the rebuke. The question is not whether Jesus rebuked His disciples but whether the explanation for His rebuke was in Luke’s original writing. Like in all the discrepancies of manuscripts, major doctrines are not in dispute. The explanation: [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] is in debate but it is consistent with other biblical support. Whether these words are later added or not doesn’t matter much because other verses validate this truth. Consider these two passages, the first being very familiar.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
This overview in the above diagram shows how God has delayed judgment so that many can find salvation through faith in Christ. Once this age is over, Judgment Day comes immediately. If you are dilly-dallying over whether or not to follow Jesus, remember that without Christ, you perish. Only faith in Jesus brings eternal life. This is only possible because of God’s mercy found in Christ, giving us this day to believe in Him.
This redemptive framework focuses on Jesus’ work on the cross, which became the central point of His ministry. His death, resurrection, and ascension marked the end of His earthly ministry, but His Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us.
Although we all deserve God’s wrath for our sins, this is a day of mercy. It is important to spread the message of salvation. One way to apply this is to show mercy to those disbelieving in the Gospel or mistreating Jesus’ followers. Without Jesus, we would be like them, but with Christ, they can likewise experience God’s grace and shine forth.
2. Following Jesus (Luke 9:57-62)
Verses 57-62 include three conversations with those interested in following Jesus. Each set has two verses; the first verse has the word ‘follow’ in it.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This passage demonstrates the ultimate glory of following Jesus—no matter what. Once we resolve this, many of life’s worries are gone. God’s mercy minimizes all other life concerns. Once we see our sins, God’s grace becomes all important to us. We end up saying to ourselves, “If Jesus died for me, a sinner, then certainly I will live for Him and tell others of Christ’s love.”
Three Scenarios of Following Jesus
The three scenarios show the importance of affirming our faith. Everyone is unique; Jesus takes in our different personalities, circumstances, and life purposes when portraying His love and mercy to us.
Where are you today in your determination to follow Jesus? In each case, Jesus asks the individual to acquire the proper perspective of their lives. Behind these stories are those who have made commitments to follow Jesus. They want to follow Jesus; there are driving reasons they want to make this sacrifice to follow Jesus.
(1) Impulsive (Luke 9:57-58)
Quick to respond but doesn’t think it through.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
It’s great to hear, “I will follow You wherever You go,” yet Jesus challenged this man’s commitment. “Wherever” is an open word, but has he thought it through?
Though this statement is affirming, Jesus’ response indicates that this person did not think things through carefully. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus, the Son of Man, would travel all around, making it difficult for His followers.
Some people, like Peter, speak whatever is on their minds—sometimes without thinking about the possibilities. We can never fully understand the implications of following Jesus; however, we can anticipate our commitment.
Jesus welcomes us to commit to God, but wants us to think through the implications of such commitments.
(2) Called (Luke 9:59-60)
59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
This time Jesus initiates the conversation on commitment by stating, “Follow Me.” It is a broad call to follow Him. The statement instantly riles up struggles as we think about its implications, just as it did with this person. Though there are several ways to understand this passage, it seems that this man’s father was still living. Perhaps, the son felt an obligation to him, and once he passed away, he could see himself as free to follow Jesus. It’s very possible that he would face being disinherited if he left at this point. It reminds me of many men I challenged with the Gospel in Taiwan. As the older son, they had obligations to their father. Once he was free, then he would follow.
But Jesus challenged him—and us, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Jesus challenges us to place Jesus as our first priority.
Holding a good impression of Jesus is inadequate. Postponing our commitment is full of flaws. Jesus is King and Savior and demands that we follow Him wherever He leads. We shouldn’t conclude that Jesus does not care for our families, wives, children, jobs, ministries, etc., but that He can only bring help and fulfillment as we fully trust and follow Him. He helps us follow Him and takes care of our needs. No outstanding need or commitment should interfere with a full commitment to Jesus.
Is Jesus second in your priorities? Why? Let us rightly assess that only Jesus can help us fulfill our earthly obligations and certainly only He can lead us to accomplish the good deeds assigned to us (Eph 2:10). Once we make this commitment, the adventure starts. Off we go; we can fully trust Him to help with our concerns.
(3) Conditional (Luke 9:61-62)
61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This third individual, perhaps hearing the former’s response, stated his willingness to follow Jesus. In all three cases, Jesus did not affirm any of their responses. Evangelistic services seem to go out of their way to convince people of the goodness of following Jesus without helping them to see the implications. Follow-up is critical. Jesus, however, is transparent and upfront about the challenges of following Him. Jesus would rather us not make this decision if we are not fully committed.
In this situation, the man only requested to go home and say good-bye. The request seemed innocuous, but Jesus knew that following Him has nothing to do with what others think of your decision. He pointed out that house, family, and business decisions will cause that person to rethink his shallow commitment to follow Jesus. One family member might say he is foolish; the other greedily agrees, thinking he will gain the home business. On and on, the earthly thoughts of others will undermine one's decision. Jesus did not say, “Don’t go home…,” but clarified what it means to follow Jesus.
While plowing a large field, the farmer must keep his eye on some fixed point in the distance across the field; it’s critical for plowing a straight line. If not, the plow goes swerving back and forth—even as our cars when the driver glances at his screen. Fixing our eyes on that distant point pictures what kind of commitment we need and the distractions we might face.
When brought up in Christian homes and cultures, becoming a Christian makes sense; this struggle is never faced. Only as our culture becomes more hostile can we see how our commitment to follow Jesus is fraught with difficulties. Some might discover this tension after becoming a Christian, etc. Jesus spoke to help each believer rightly assess his faith and follow Him.
It’s good for all of us to consider our response to Jesus’ statement, “Follow me.” Let’s think this through together in summary.
- Are you looking for a full life or the fulfillment of God’s will for your lives?
- Following Jesus calls us to prioritize the cross, God’s grand display of His mercy, displacing all our other concerns.
“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
Is following Jesus the same as being a Christian? It should be! When we grow up in church, consider baptism, hear the Gospel, we should instantly be challenged with His Lordship. The whole idea that Jesus can be Savior and not Lord is wrong. Belief in Jesus is not just to be saved from the penalty of sin but the opportunity to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
• Can we believe in Jesus but not follow?
Has God’s mercy and grace been planted in your life so that you are merciful and gracious? Why do you follow Jesus?
We cannot follow Christ except through His work on the cross, but in doing so, we are free to experience God’s complete work in us.
There are risks to following Jesus, but He will fully bless us and lead us; we never need to worry. We don’t know what will happen, and there are no guarantees. Of course, this is life itself. But if you follow Jesus to guarantee an easy life, don’t follow Jesus. But if we find ourselves overwhelmed by God’s mercy and willingness to forgive our sins, then we ought to minimize all our life’s concerns to spread His mercy during this quickly closing age of mercy.
Bible Study Questions for Luke 9:51-62
- What does “ascension” refer to in verse 51? Why do you think Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem (51)?
- What did James and John learn about Jesus and Jerusalem in Luke 9:30-31?
- How does Luke 18:31 verify what Jesus associated with going to Jerusalem?
- Why did Jesus’ disciples want a fire to consume the Samaritan village (9:52-54)? Do you see any possible connection between this and the disciples’ viewing of Jesus on the Mount of Glory (Luke 9:30-31)?
- Why did Jesus rebuke His disciples when they acknowledged Jesus’ power to destroy the Samaritan village?
- Summarize how the word mercy describes what happened when Jesus went to Jerusalem.
- Read Luke 9:57-62 and state how it is divided.
- What was the problem of the first willing follower of Jesus (57-58)?
- Why might Jesus call a person to follow Him (59-60)?
- Explain Jesus’ response to the disciple in verses 61-62 the best you can.
- Which warning best suits your life? How so?
- Does Luke 9:23 help summarize these three situations?
- Would you say that believing in Jesus and following Him is the same?
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