The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

6. The nature of the Messiah's kingdom, 9:1-50

vi] Meaning of greatness in the kingdom of God.


In the context of an argument among the disciples over who, among them, is the greatest, Luke records a set of two sayings on humility, of welcoming little children and the least is the greatest, which sayings are linked by "in my name" to the incident of the unofficial exorcist.


For Jesus, "the rejected stone came not to be served but to serve", thus discipleship entails humble service, not precedence. "Humility is not served by rivalry. In fact, greatness for a disciple does not come through stature, but through knowing Jesus", Bock.


i] Context: See 9:1-9. The meaning of greatness in the kingdom of God is the sixth episode of The nature of the Messiah's kingdom. The six episodes serve to expand our understanding of the messiah and his eternal reign. This sixth episode concerning the unofficial exorcist, v49-50, serves to round off this section. In these six episodes we have witnessed the glory of the suffering messiah and the consequences of a failure to identify with / express faith in his cross-bearing on our behalf. This failure is evidenced in the unofficial exorcist who does what the disciples had the power to do in Christ, but failed to do. Seen introductory notes, 9:37-45


ii] Structure: This passage, The meaning of greatness in the kingdom of God, presents as follows:

The issue of greatness, v46-48:

Setting, v46:

a dispute over who is the greatest.

A lesson, v47-48:

"whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."

"he who is least among you all is the one who is great."

The unofficial exorcist, v49-50:

"whoever is not against you is for you."


iii] Interpretation:

The question concerning greatness. This issue is shaped by two sayings:

The first saying on welcoming little children, of receiving Jesus in the person of a child, closely represents the saying found in a similar context in Mark, 9:33-37. The analogy is not overly clear, but the child obviously represents a disciple. Is innocence in mind, or lowliness, humility, insignificance, ....? Possibly dependence sums up the image - as a child depends on an adult, so the disciple depends, in faith, on Christ. True greatness is found in union with the glorious suffering messiah. The disciples missed the point of discipleship by wanting to know who was the greatest among them - all are equally great in Christ.

The second saying, the least is the greatest, sums up this truth. This saying appears in different forms within the gospel tradition, with Mark, in the same context, giving his particular take; "whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Note how Mark positions his saying differently, Mk.9:35. Again, the image is of abandoning self-reliance for a (child-like) dependence on the cross-bearing Christ. When it comes to eternal verities, we are truly great when we are nothing in Christ. A quietist resting / depending, rather than doing, is in mind.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 9:46

The meaning of greatness, v46-50: i] The question concerning greatness, v46-48. a) Setting, v46: The gospel writers always examine the nature of discipleship after each passion prediction, so Luke here records the disciples' discussion about "greatness".

de "-" - Here connective, rather than adversive. Luke, more so than Mark, ties the disciples' question on greatness to Jesus' prediction of his humiliation.

dialogismoV (oV) "an argument [started]" - inward reasoning/considering or an outward discussion/debate [entered]. "A dispute developed between the disciples."

en autoiV pl. dat. "among the disciples" - in/with them. Expressing space/sphere. The plural points to "among" rather than an inward reasoning of an issue.

to "which" - who. Technically the article functions as a nominalizer serving to introduce an object clause standing in apposition to dialogismoV, "an argument"; "a dispute arose among them, namely, who might be the greatest of them", Culy. Note though, Luke often uses a neuter article to introduce an indirect question.

autwn gen. pro. "of them" - [who might be greatest] of them. Partitive genitive, ie. the part (member) which "of them" is the greatest, or the part (member) greater "of them", depending whether the genitive is related to "which" or "greater" - the greatest disciple.

tiV an ei[h "would be" - might be. This indirect question with a potential optative, expresses a modest assertion. Only Luke uses this construction in the NT. The more common construction takes the future tense, cf. Zerwick #356.

meizwn (megaV) comp. adj. "greatest" - greater. Although a comparative, "greater", it is best rendered as a superlative, "greatest". Possibly, but unlikely, "who is greater than they." Either way, the disciples are concerned with their own importance, even ranking of importance, and this in contrast to Christ's role as servant.


b) A lesson, v47-48: The Son of Man is the rejected and humiliated one and so Jesus takes an insignificant child and uses the child as an illustration of true greatness. The acceptance of a humiliated messiah has eternal ramifications. When a person associates with Christ in his humiliation, sets aside the pretensions of self, becomes in Christ the least, it is then they find true greatness. The person who welcomes this little one in Christ, welcomes Christ, and thus welcomes the one who sent him.

eidwV (oida) perf. part. "knowing" - perceiving, understanding. The participle may be adjectival, attributive, describing "Jesus", "who know what was going on in their minds", REB, but adverbial, causal, is also possible, "because he know what was in their minds."

thV kardiaV (a) gen. "[their] thoughts" - [the thought] of the heart [of them]. The genitive is ablative, expressing source/origin, "the thoughts that stem from the heart (mind). "Possibly indicating that the disciples were not verbalizing their thoughts, but more likely that they were discussing the issue of greatness, but doing so in a "loving" way, while hiding their selfish ambitions.

epilabomenoV (epilambanomai) aor. part. "took" - having taken hold of. The participle is possibly adverbial, temporal, "then, Jesus ....... took a little child ...", or simply attendant circumstance.

par + dat. "beside [him]" - beside [himself] = by his side. Spacial. Unlike Mark, where the child is placed in the midst of the disciples, Luke has the child standing prominently beside Jesus. As noted above, the child most likely represents a dependent disciple. It seems a rather long-shot, but it has been argued that the child represents Jesus - the humiliated Christ! A child, old enough to be taught the Torah and therefore listen and follow Jesus, is perceived as culturally inferior and so is a good example of a dependent disciple.


autoiV dat. pro. "[then he said] to them" - [and he said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

o}V ean + subj. "whoever" - As with o}V an, this construction forms a conditional clause, 3rd. class, in the form of an indefinite relative clause; "whosoever, as the case may be, ..... then ...." To honour the child "in my name" is to honour Jesus and to honour Jesus is to honour the Father. The disciples are on about precedence, but they have failed to understand that they follow, not a glorious Son of Man, but a lowly humiliated Son of Man. Therefore, the dependent disciple, here as a child, is most worthy to be honoured and best represents Christ and thus, true greatness.

dexhtai (decomai) aor. subj. "welcomes" - receives. To "honour and respect / recognize their value."

epi + dat. "in [my name]" - in/on/upon [the name of me]. Possibly causal, "on my account / for my sake / because." "In my name" = "because you are my disciple / a representative acting under my authority." Nolland suggests "as though he were I. " True greatness is found in the suffering and humiliated Son of Man, and honour toward him is not without its reciprocation (on the assumption of the time that greatness is bestowed on those who show hospitality to great ones).

o}V an + subj. "whoever [welcomes me]" - As above.

ton aposteilanta (apostellw) aor. part. "the one who sent [me]" - the one having sent [me]. The participle serves as a substantive.

gar "for" - Possibly expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining something about the saying v48a, although as Evans notes "the connection between [the least to be the greatest and the receiving of Jesus in the person of a child], and the relation of the second to the original question about greatness, are obscure." It well may be that Luke intends gar here as a stitching device between two sayings on a related theme rather than there being a causal relationship between them.

mikroteroV (mikroV) adj. comp. "[he who] is least" - less. Predicate adjective. Best rendered with the superlative "least". An unusual grammatical occurrence, but the comparative does at times wonder into the superlative. Commentators argue whether greatness is found by honouring the "least" disciple, or, by honouring all disciples (on the assumption that if the least is the dependant disciple, then all disciples are great, ie. believers are without distinction, all count). In my denomination, particularly at major assemblies, great care is taken to get the processional order right, for you see, the first must last!!!! Determining the least, and therefore the most worthy, is not much different from working out "who is the greatest." So, given the context, the "least" must be inclusive of all those who rest on the cross-bearing messiah, in whose company one finds greatness. It is worth noting that Jesus is not suggesting that spiritual enlightenment is found in human degradation, as though by honouring the poor, destitute, etc. we somehow honour, even find God.

megaV (mega) adj. "is the greatest" - great, large. Here a positive predicate adjective is rendered as a superlative. Again, unusual, particularly without its own article.


ii] The unofficial exorcist, v49-50. For the disciples, the nature of discipleship is defined in official status. How dare someone, other than the officially appointed followers of Jesus, act for Jesus. Yet with Jesus, a disciples' greatness has nothing to do with their precedence. True greatness is found in the humiliated Christ. Instead of claiming precedence, the disciples would do well to consider their own standing. Their failure to cast out the demon from the epileptic boy can only show that they have yet to discover true greatness in the suffering Christ.

de "-" - This connective, along with John's "answered/replied", rather than just "said", makes it clear that Luke ties this short episode to the episode on greatness. Here is an example of the disciples' understanding of greatness (status, position) as apostles of Jesus and their sense of a superior status in comparison with others who follow.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Master] said [John]" - [John] answering [said]. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant; Semitic idiom.

ekballonta (ekballw) pres. part. "driving out [demons]" - casting out, driving away [demons]. The participle serves to form an object clause, dependent statement of perception expressing what the disciples saw.

en + dat. "in [your name]" - in, by, with [the name of you]. Instrumental, "by your authority"; local, space/sphere, "under your authority"; accompaniment / association, "with your authority." Possibly, "using your name", but given the close proximity to v48, "in your place" = something like "as if he had your authority to this", "as if he were your representative." He is obviously Jesus' representative, since he is casting out demons, unlike some of the apostles who have just made a hash of it.

ekwluomen (kwluw) imperf. "we tried to stop [him]" - we hindered him. This imperfect verb is often translated as if conative expressing attempted, uncompleted action, as NIV; "we attempted to prevent him", so Fitzmyer. Of course, it may just be durative expressing a process over time; "we had to put some pressure on him to get him to stop." A variant aorist exists; "we got him to stop."

oJti "because" - for, because. Here expressing cause/reason, introducing a causal clause.

ouk akolouqei (akolouqew) "he is not" - he does not follow. John is saying that this disciple is not a member of the permanent apostolic band who travel with Jesus.

meq + gen. "one of [us]" - [because he is not following] with [us]. Expressing association.


mh kwluete (kwluw) pres. imp. "do not stop" - The present tense, being durative, even iterative, may give the sense "do not try again to prevent him", Zerwick.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why the disciples should not hinder the unofficial exorcist.

o}V rel. pro. "whoever" - "He", the subject of the verb to-be, estin, "he is", = "who[ever] not against you."

uJmwn pro. "you" - Unlike Mark, who uses "us" in the proverb, Luke has "you" and so underlines the lesson for the disciples who are struggling with the issue of status. If they weren't so bound up by their own self importance they would include the other brother, rather than exclude him.

uJper + gen. "[is] for [you]" - Here expressing representation / advantage, benefit; "the man who is not your opponent is your supporter", Barclay.


Luke Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]