In Judea, Jesus’ life was seriously endangered. For this reason, he centered his activity mainly in Galilee. (John 7:1)
His brothers, James, Joseph (Joses), Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3), did not appear to have been aware of the threat to his life. They did not have faith in him as the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God. In their estimation, he was a worker of miracles who wanted to be more extensively known but had avoided the very region where he would have received greater public attention. Therefore, with the approach of the Festival of Tabernacles in the month of Tishri or Ethanim (mid-September to mid-October), they recommended that he go to Judea and there let his disciples see the work that he was doing. As far as they were concerned, no man acts in secret if his aim is to be widely known. Their advice to Jesus was, “Show yourself to the world.” (John 7:2-5)
Rejecting their recommendation, he pointed out that it was not yet his time to act but that, for them, the time was always opportune. This was because the “world” or the unbelieving populace could not hate them, implying that his brothers had not done or said anything that would incur hostility. He, however, had become the object of the world’s hatred, for he had presented the testimony that exposed the works of the unbelieving people as bad. (John 7:6, 7)
Jesus then told his brothers to be on their way to the festival without him. His time for going had not yet arrived. After his brothers had left, Jesus remained in Galilee for a time and then, with some of his close disciples, headed for Jerusalem. He chose to do so at a time when most of the people had already left Galilee to attend the festival, which would have made it possible to avoid having the news about his departure spread. Thus he left Galilee in secret, not openly. (John 7:9, 10)
In his going to Jerusalem, Jesus was aware that the time was drawing near for his being “taken up.” This being “taken up” likely refers to his return to his Father, which would be preceded by his being rejected, abused, and mocked, suffering an agonizing death, being resurrected, and then ascending to heaven. Although he knew what lay ahead for him in the comparatively near future, he was determined (literally, “set his face”) to go to Jerusalem. He chose to travel the more direct and less commonly used route through Samaria and sent messengers ahead of him to find a place where he could stay for the night. When the inhabitants of the Samaritan village learned that Jesus intended to go to Jerusalem, which city they regarded as a competing center of worship to their sacred mountain (John 4:20), they refused to extend hospitality. (Luke 9:51-53)
The response of the people in this Samaritan village infuriated James and John. They asked Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven upon them and destroy them. (Luke 9:54) James and John knew what Elijah had done when he was addressed disrespectfully by two captains and their 50 men, demanding that he come with them to King Ahaziah. On each of these captains and their subordinates, Elijah called down fire from heaven, and they perished. (2 Kings 1:9-12; see the Notes section regarding Luke 9:54.)
Based on this example from past history, James and John felt justified in seeking the destruction of the Samaritan village. Jesus’ teaching about loving and praying for enemies had not as yet taken firm root within them. (Matthew 5:44-48) Jesus turned and then rebuked them for suggesting the fiery destruction of the inhospitable Samaritans. With the disciples, he headed for another village. (Luke 9:55, 56; see the Notes section for the expanded reading found in later manuscripts.)
On the way, a certain scribe expressed his willingness to follow Jesus wherever he might go. In reply, Jesus indicated that this decision would not lead to apparent gain. Unlike foxes that had dens and birds that had roosts, the Son of Man did not have a place where he could lay his head. He had no permanent residence. (Matthew 8:19, 20; Luke 9:57, 58)
Jesus’ reply suggests that this scribe’s words were not the product of serious reflection but stemmed from surface emotion. Possibly knowledge about Jesus’ miracles had led the scribe to think that much was yet to be gained from close association with Jesus, including the benefit of being in the presence of a remarkable teacher.
To another man, Jesus extended a direct invitation to follow him. While not declining it, the man asked for permission to first bury his father. As it was customary to bury the deceased on the day of their death, it does not appear that the father had actually died. Otherwise, the son would have been in mourning and attending to the burial. Possibly the father was advanced in age or ailing. Whatever the circumstances, the man basically revealed that he was not yet ready to follow Jesus. (Matthew 8:21; Luke 9:59)
In response, the Son of God told him, “Let the dead bury their dead,” and urged him to proclaim the “kingdom of God.” He was not to postpone accepting the call to follow Jesus as an active disciple, stalling for time to look after his father in the declining part of his life until he actually died. The spiritually dead, those dead in sin on account of their unbelief in Jesus, could attend to the burial of their own dead, removing any valid basis for delaying acceptance of the invitation to fulfill the requirements of discipleship. This involved proclaiming the message that centered on Christ and the need for repentance to become part of the realm where God reigns by means of his Son. (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60)
Still another man acknowledged Jesus as Lord and agreed to follow him but first wanted the opportunity to say farewell to those of his household. Jesus admonished him not to delay, telling him that one who had put his “hand to the plow” was unfit for the kingdom of God if he looked back to the things behind. Putting the “hand to the plow” indicated setting out on a particular pursuit. The person who accepted the call to be a disciple should not look back, giving in to second thoughts. For the man to have talked about his decision with relatives and friends could easily have led to their seeking to dissuade him from following through on the commitment he had made. (Luke 9:61, 62)
In Luke 9:54, many later manuscripts add “even as Elijah did” when referring to the calling down of fire from heaven.
In Luke 9:55, 56, a number of later manuscripts add words of rebuke. “You do not know of what spirit you are, for the Son of Man came not to destroy [the] souls of men but to save [them].”
The chronological placement of the events narrated in Matthew 8:19-22 and Luke 9:57-62 is based on Luke’s account, which seems to follow the chronological order more closely than does Matthew’s account.