Category Archives: S. Kent Brown

Seven Versions of Jesus’ Prophecy on the Mount of Olives

By S. Kent Brown

For Latter-day Saints, Luke chapter 21 presents readers with one of seven versions of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives. Naturally, we know the versions that are presented in Mark 13 and Matthew 24–25. But there are more. We first notice that the Joseph Smith Translation completely freshens the reports of the sermon preserved by Mark and Matthew with a large number of changes that render their records largely the same; fewer adjustments appear in Luke 21. In each of the JST versions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the alterations bear on the meaning and thrust of Jesus’ words. Thus far, we see six versions—those in the three synoptic Gospels and those in the JST version of those Gospels, one of which is partially reported in Joseph Smith—Matthew of the Pearl of Great Price. The seventh record of the sermon lies in Doctrine and Covenants 45:16–59. As a preface, the Lord tantalizingly declares that “I will speak . . . and prophesy, as unto men in days of old. And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh” “upon this mount,” the Mount of Olives (D&C 45:15–16, 48). With these words, we learn the vivid detail that Jesus imparts in the sermon while standing before his disciples, as a distinguished teacher, not sitting with them as Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:3 lead us to believe.

In contrast to Mark 13 and Matthew 24–25, Luke chapter 21 provides two delectable dishes, not just one, ending with crowds still seeking Jesus’ company (see Luke 21:38). The first small dish consists in the refreshing story of a poor widow’s two mites, complete with tasteless displays of wealth that contrast with her tiny gift to the temple that glows with her adoring devotion (see Luke 21:1–4). Why is this story in this place? Possibly because of Mark’s placement of it just before the Savior’s sermon on the future (see Mark 12:41–44). On this view, the fact that Luke includes this story here may demonstrate a dependence on Mark’s order of events for Jesus’ last week. Perhaps significantly, Matthew omits the story, effectively dulling the notion that Mark serves as Luke’s main or only source for Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, including the sermon on the Mount of Olives. Another possibility glimmers in front of us: Jesus’ mention of “widows’ houses” in the foregoing (Luke 20:47) may instead form a verbal bridge that brings the widow’s story here, pointing to a catchword association, a feature that may also infuse Mark 12:40–42.

But why recount this story about the widow before rehearsing the sermon about the fate of Jerusalem and its citizens? Because, after a first glance, her story brings together a raw, untouched comparison between her situation and the gleaming opulence of both the temple and its contributors, the latter offering a practiced yet worn piety that will not save the temple from destruction. In addition, we sense that, while the temple’s importance remains strong in the minds and hearts of even the poor, its officials and major contributors are out of touch with common persons, rudely flaunting their wealth in their presence. Such a perception may also give flavor to Jesus’ prior talk about those who “devour widows’ houses” (Luke 20:47).

In the eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives, the second and longest part of this chapter that rehearses Jesus’ grand and often frightful vision of the future (see Luke 21:5–36), the words of Jesus stir together a number of prophecies that appear elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel. The list is short: the exhortations to watch (see Luke 12:35–48; 21:34–36; especially JST 12:35–57); the warnings about deceptions (see Luke 17:20–24; 21:8–9); the desolation that stalks Jerusalem (see Luke 13:34–35; 21:20–24; JST 13:35–36); and the signs of the Second Coming (see Luke 17:26–37; 21:25–28; JST 17:26–40). The main question is whether the Savior indeed speaks such words away from Jerusalem, as Luke reports Jesus’ teachings. The answer is Yes, as both the JST version of Luke 12:41–45 and Jesus’ declarations about Jerusalem’s fate and the future kingdom make abundantly clear (see Luke 13:33–35; 17:20–37). Hence, we should see Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives as one wherein he brings together sayings uttered on other occasions, along with fresh prophecies, and shapes them into a whole piece that addresses the issues of the future of Jerusalem, of the disciples, and of the end-time.

In light of the Savior’s introduction to the sermon preserved in modern scripture, “As ye have asked of me concerning the signs of my coming” (D&C 45:16), no compelling reason exists to suppose that it is Luke who selects some of these sayings from their original setting in this sermon and inserts them into other, earlier contexts, or vice versa. Even so, we find what may be hints that Luke pens his version of the sermon after the Jewish War (AD 66–70), for he tops it with the vivid notation, “ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies” (Luke 21:20; also 19:43). The other accounts omit this detail. Instead, they feature the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14), an expression from the book of Daniel which the Joseph Smith Translation interprets as “the destruction of Jerusalem” (JST Matt. 24:12; JST Mark 13:14; see Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). This said, reasons exist to question the scholarly insistence that Luke writes in hindsight, after the end of the war.

This view of the discourse does not enjoy widespread support. Many see the sermon as a collection of disparate sayings that Mark, the first Gospel writer, artfully stitches together into an absorbing sermon that simply reflects the major concerns in the primitive church’s preaching, that is, warnings against false Christs and prophets, the sufferings of believers, the judgment upon Jerusalem, and the requirement of disciples to watch for Jesus’ return. In this view, much of the sermon illumines Jesus’ teachings, but Mark alone, or his source, is responsible for its ordering and flavoring, or even its composition.[1] For Latter-day Saints, both the inspired changes introduced into the Joseph Smith Translation of the synoptic Gospels and the first-hand account of the sermon that the Savior rehearses in Doctrine and Covenants 45:16–59 stand firmly against such a view. Instead of Mark presenting a table of teachings based on the church’s preaching interests, it seems more likely that it is Jesus’ words in the sermon that set the agenda for those interests.

In a completely different vein, this sermon will save the lives of uncounted disciples who, knowing of Jesus’ warnings about the fall of Jerusalem and its temple, will flee from the capital city which becomes the headquarters of the church in its early days. Rather than retreat into the city for safety, as thousands do when war breaks out with Rome late in AD 66 and again when Roman armies approach Jerusalem’s gates in AD 70, Christians flee northward, many of them settling in a gentile town, Pella, on the east bank of the Jordan River. There they wait out the war and survive intact.

This text is extracted from S. Kent Brown, The Testimony of Luke, 929–932. 

[1]Bultmann, History, 125; Francis W. Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 216; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1323–25; George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: The Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 350–65.

Jesus’ Suffering Visible in the Verb Tense

by S. Kent Brown
In the New Testament Gospels, the most striking pointer to Jesus’ unspeakable suffering in Gethsemane, of course, is the notation that Jesus’ “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44; see also Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18). Plainly, Jesus bleeds into his clothing and onto the ground. Importantly, other indicators exist in the Gospels that help us to grasp the enormity of his suffering. These appear chiefly in the tense of the verbs that describe these hours; but other hints appear in the Gospels. Continue reading

The Widow’s Two Mites

by S. Kent Brown
The verses in Luke 21:1-4 frame a bridge that links the Savior’s condemnation of the scribes (Luke 20:45–47) and his warning about the temple’s destruction (Luke 21:5–6). His critique of the scribes is direct and open. At the center of his harsh words stands his rebuke of how some of them treat women, specifically widows, the most vulnerable people in his society. All are under scriptural mandate, especially the scribes, the experts in interpreting scripture, to look out for the best interests of women and widows. But they do not (see Isa. 1:17, 23; 10:2; Jer. 7:6; Micah 2:9; Zech. 7:10; etc.; the Note on 20:47).

Widow's Two Mites photo by Kaye HansonOn a similar track, Jesus chastises temple authorities, but his reprimand is indirect. He speaks of the temple and gifts that come to it (see 21:3–4) and its eventual fate, not mentioning priests and Levites directly; yet he implicates them by condemning the temple culture that pays attention to gifts of the wealthy and barely acknowledges the gifts of the poor, in this case gifts from widows, the persons least able to afford to give.[1] But these women give from the inner depths of their souls. And no one notices. Except Jesus.

Because Jesus notices, he is able to draw his disciples into a lesson of ultimate sacrifice, ultimate devotion, ultimate worship, ultimate discipleship. The poor widow’s gift reaches into the fabric of her livelihood, into her empty cupboards, her spent storage jars, her bare clothes closet, her bed made lonely by the death of her husband. Her gift diminishes her ability to provide for herself in even the most basic ways: “she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had” (21:4). She is the true disciple, giving all. Continue reading

Peter’s Keys (Matthew 16:18-19)

By S. Kent Brown

Somewhere near the Gentile town of Caesarea Philippi, close to the base of Mount Hermon, Jesus speaks words to Peter, his chief apostle, that find no correspondence in ancient scripture: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). (Outside of scripture, Michael the Archangel appears as keyholder; see 3 Baruch 11:2 and 4 Baruch 9:5). The question arises, What is Jesus promising to Peter? What are these keys? Latter-day Saints usually think of keys as the divinely bestowed, authorizing powers that allow a priesthood holder to exercise priesthood authority when performing an ordinance such as a setting apart, or a baptism, or a sealing in a temple. Resting beside this LDS understanding of such priesthood and temple keys are patterns that illuminate how people in the New Testament world may have understood the nature of Peter’s keys. It will become clear that the promised keys bear links to “the gates of hell,” to the next world, and to a greater knowledge of God.

To begin, we first turn to Isaiah’s record that offers the one instance of an Old Testament person receiving keys. A man named Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, is called by the Lord through Isaiah his prophet to serve as the royal treasurer. In intriguing language, the Lord hands the duty to Eliakim with the words, “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). It appears that, among his duties, this man is to hold the key to the main door of the palace, part of his responsibility “over the [royal] house” (Isaiah 22:15). Continue reading

Call of the First Disciples

S. Kent Brown

All the New Testament Gospels preserve one memory or another of Jesus’ call of his first disciples. The most extensive account appears in Luke 5:1–11. Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ purposeful stroll along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and his call of Peter with Andrew and James with John; Mark adds the note that James and John leave their father Zebedee in the boat when they follow after Jesus (Matthew 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20). John’s Gospel records the initial curiosity of two of the Baptist’s disciples—one is Andrew and the other likely is John himself—which turns into commitment and leads to other disciples joining Jesus (John 1:35–51). Luke, on the other hand, narrates the miracle of the fish and how it affects the two pairs of brothers. Continue reading

The Chronicles of Mary and Joseph: part 4 of 4, Bethlehem and Beyond

By S. Kent Brown

           Matthew’s Gospel guides us into the events that follow Joseph’s and Mary’s visit to the Jerusalem temple. During the six weeks between Jesus’ birth and Mary’s sacrifice in the temple, Joseph seems to have secured needed housing for his young family, perhaps through family members. For Matthew writes of “the house” (Matthew 2:11). From this point, it seems that Mary and Joseph settle into a rhythm in Bethlehem. Joseph likely plies his considerable skills as an “artisan” who works with wood, stone, and metal in the ongoing temple renovations. This is the proper understanding of the Greek term tektōn which is translated “carpenter” in Matthew 13:55. Continue reading

The Chronicles of Mary and Joseph: Part 3 of 4, Joseph and Mary

S. Kent Brown           

            As with Mary’s trip to Elisabeth’s home months before, for safety Mary and Joseph travel in the company of others. It is a necessity. They likely go southward through the Jordan Valley to Jericho, then make the long westward climb toward Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The alternate route runs through the Samaritan hill country, a winding road with a lot of ups and downs. Because the season is evidently early spring, others are arriving in Jerusalem and its environs for Passover. This is a reasonable explanation for the filled inn that Luke writes about (Luke 1:7). In reality, the term translated “inn” can point to a caravanserai-like structure with open stalls that look out into a large, open area where a cooking fire is kept burning. Continue reading