God’s Word for You
Luke 9:12 infinitive of purpose
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, January 20, 2019
12 He said: “A nobleman went to a distant country to be appointed king and then to return.
My wife and I had a discussion about this verse the other day, and she raised a question that is so good, I want to share it on this rare Sunday edition of God’s Word for You.
Her question was whether there should be some more words in the final phrase. It seems as if good English would demand that the last phrase should be something like “and then he planned to return,” or something like that.
Greek and English follow similar rules of grammar, but they’re not identical. In this case, the words “to be appointed” and “to return” are both infinitives, and they both express the prince’s intentions (grammatically this is called an infinitive of purpose). So his intention was to go, and his intention was to return. Another way of translating the phrase would be: “A nobleman went to a distant country in order to be crowned king and in order to return again.”
Why was all this necessary? This is where the meaning of the parable supersedes the grammar of the parable. He “is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). He had to ascend into heaven to be received as King, but his intention (infinitive of purpose) was always to return. He said: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
Jesus’ plan was to ascend into heaven in order to show that the sacrifice he had made was acceptable to his Father in heaven. If he had remained on earth—even if he had remained after he had risen from the dead—he would have made us wonder whether God the Father had accepted him, or abandoned him to a freakish eternal existence here on earth, where everything is ruined by sin. No, his intention was always to ascend. At his resurrection, he told Mary Magdalene: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17). By ascending into heaven, and by means of his descent into hell just before his ascension (Colossians 2:15; 1 Peter 3:19-20), he has proclaimed his victory over the devil. He fulfilled his promise to crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and to rescue us from the devil’s power.
So what have we found out? The translation has made us curious, and a closer look has reminded us that it was always God’s purpose to redeem mankind from the bonds of death, the devil, and our own sinful nature. He went in order that he might return, and bring us all home to be with him forever in heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith