Jesus Christ: Galilean Ministry

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The Scene

Galilee was divided into upper Galilee and lower Galilee. It has already been remarked that upper Galilee was inhabited by a mixed population--hence called "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Mt 4:15). The highroads of commerce ran through it. It was "the way of the sea" (the King James Version)--a scene of constant traffic. The people were rude, ignorant, and superstitious, and were densely crowded together in towns and villages. About 160 BC there were only a few Jews in the midst of a large heathen population; but by the time of Christ the Jewish element had greatly increased. The busiest portion of this busy district was round the Sea of Galilee, at the Northeast corner of which stood Capernaum--wealthy and cosmopolitan. In Nazareth, indeed, Jesus met with a disappointing reception (Lu 4:16-30; Mt 13:54-57; compare Joh 4:43-45); yet in Galilee generally He found a freer spirit and greater receptiveness than among the stricter traditionalists of Judea.

The Time

It is assumed here that Jesus returned to Galilee in December, 27 AD, and that His ministry there lasted till late in 29 AD (see "Chronology" above). On the two years’ scheme of the public ministry, the Passover of Joh 6:4 has to be taken as the second in Christ’s ministry--therefore as occurring at an interval of only 3 or 4 months after the return. This seems impossible in view of the crowding of events it involves in so short a time--opening incidents, stay in Capernaum (Mt 4:13), three circuits in "all Galilee" (Mt 4:23-25 parallel; Lu 8:1-4; Mt 9:35-38; Mr 6:6), lesser journeys and excursions (Sermon on Mount: Gadara); and the dislocations it necessitates, e.g. the plucking of ears of corn (about Passover time) must be placed after the feeding of the 5,000, etc. It is simpler to adhere to the three years’ scheme.

A division of the Galilean ministry may then fitly be made into two periods--one preceding, the other succeeding the Mission of the Twelve in Mt 10 parallel. One reason for this division is that after the Mission of the Twelve the order of events is the same in the first three evangelists till the final departure from Galilee.

First Period--From the Beginning of the Ministry in Galilee till the Mission of the Twelve

Opening Incidents

Healing of Nobleman’s Son

(Joh 4:43-54)

From sympathetic Samaria (Joh 4:39), Jesus had journeyed to unsympathetic Galilee, and first to Cana, where His first miracle had been wrought. The reports of His miracles in Judea had come before Him (Joh 4:45), and it was mainly His reputation as a miracle-worker which led a nobleman--a courtier or officer at Herod’s court--to seek Him at Cana on behalf of his son, who was near to death. Jesus rebuked the sign-seeking spirit (Joh 4:48), but, on the fervent appeal being repeated, He bade the nobleman go his way: his son lived. The man’s prayer had been, "Come down"; but he had faith to receive the word of Jesus (Joh 4:50), and on his way home received tidings of his son’s recovery. The nobleman, with his whole household, was won for Jesus (Joh 4:53). This is noted as the second of Christ’s Galilean miracles (Joh 4:54).

The Visit to Nazareth

(Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:16-30)

A very different reception awaited Him at Nazareth,"His own country," to which He next came. We can scarcely take the incident recorded in Lu 4:16-30 to be the same as that in Mt 13:54-58, though Matthew’s habit of grouping makes this not impossible. The Sabbath had come, and on His entering the synagogue, as was His wont, the repute He had won led to His being asked to read. The Scripture He selected (or which came in the order of the day) was Isa 61:1 ff (the fact that Jesus was able to read from the synagogue-roll is interesting as bearing on His knowledge of Hebrew), and from this He proceeded to amaze His hearers by declaring that this Scripture was now fulfilled in their ears (Lu 4:21). The "words of grace" he uttered are not given, but it can be understood that, following the prophet’s guidance, He would hold Himself forth as the predicted "Servant of Yahweh," sent to bring salvation to the poor, the bound, the broken-hearted, and for this purpose endowed with the fullness of the Spirit. The idea of the passage in Isa is that of the year of jubilee, when debts were canceled, inheritances restored, and slaves set free, and Jesus told them He had come to inaugurate that "acceptable year of the Lord." At first He was listened to with admiration, then, as the magnitude of the claims He was making became apparent to His audience, a very different spirit took possession of them. `Who was this that spoke thus?’ `Was it not Joseph’s son?’ (Lu 4:22). They were disappointed, too, that Jesus showed no disposition to gratify them by working before them any of the miracles of which they had heard so much (Lu 4:23). Jesus saw the gathering storm, but met it resolutely. He told His hearers He had not expected any better reception, and in reply to their reproach that He had wrought miracles elsewhere, but had wrought none among them, quoted examples of prophets who had done the same thing (Elijah, Elisha, Lu 4:24-28). This completed the exasperation of the Nazarenes, who, springing forward, dragged Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, and would have thrown Him down, had something in the aspect of Jesus not restrained them. With one of those looks we read of occasionally in the Gospels, He seems to have overawed His townsmen, and, passing in safety through their midst, left the place (Lu 4:28-30).

Call of the Four Disciples

(Matthew 4:17-22; Mark 1:16-22; Luke 5:1-11)

After leaving Nazareth Jesus made His way to Capernaum (probably Tell Hum), which thereafter seems to have been His headquarters. He "dwelt" there (Mt 4:13). It is called in Mt 9:1, "his own city." Before teaching in Capernaum self, however, He appears to have opened His ministry by evangelizing along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4:18; Mr 1:16; Lu 5:1), and there, at Bethsaida (on topographical questions, see special articles), He took His first step in gathering His chosen disciples more closely around Him. Hitherto, though attached to His person and cause, the pairs of fisher brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John--these last the "sons of Zebedee"--had not been in constant attendance upon Him. Since the return from Jerusalem, they had gone back to their ordinary avocations. The four were "partners" (Lu 5:10). They had "hired servants" (Mr 1:20); therefore were moderately well off. The time had now come when they were to leave "all," and follow Jesus entirely.

a) The Draught of Fishes

(Luke 5:1-9)

Luke alone records the striking miracle which led to the call. Jesus had been teaching the multitude from a boat borrowed from Simon, and now at the close He bade Simon put out into the deep, and let down his nets. Peter told Jesus they had toiled all night in vain, but he would obey His word. The result was an immense draught of fishes, so that the nets were breaking, and the other company had to be called upon for help. Both boats were filled and in danger of sinking. Peter’s cry in so wonderful a presence was, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

b) "Fishers of Men"

The miracle gave Jesus opportunity for the word He wished to speak. It is here that Mt and Mr take up the story. The boats had been brought to shore when, first to Simon and Andrew, afterward to James and John (engaged in "mending their nets," Mt 4:21; Mr 1:19), the call was given : "Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once all was left--boats, nets, friends--and they followed Him. Their experience taught them to have large expectations from Christ.

At Capernaum

(Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:31)

Jesus is now found in Capernaum. An early Sabbath--perhaps the first of His stated residence in the city--was marked by notable events. The Sabbath found Jesus as usual in the synagogue--now as teacher. The manner of His teaching is specially noticed: "He taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mr 1:22). The scribes gave forth nothing of their own.

a) Christ’s Teaching

(Mark 1:22,27; Luke 4:32)

They but repeated the dicta of the great authorities of the past. It was a surprise to the people to find in Jesus One whose wisdom, like waters from a clear fountain, came fresh and sparkling from His own lips. The authority also with which Jesus spoke commanded attention. He sought support in the opinion of no others, but gave forth His statements with firmness, decision, dignity and emphasis.

b) The Demoniac in the Synagogue

(Mark 1:23-27; Luke 4:33-37)

While Jesus was teaching an extraordinary incident occurred. A man in the assembly, described as possessed by "an unclean spirit" (Mr 1:23; Lu 4:33) broke forth in cries, addressing Jesus by name ("Jesus, thou Nazarene"), speaking of Him as "the Holy One of God," and asking "What have we to do with thee? Art thou come to destroy us?" The diseased consciousness of the sufferer bore a truer testimony to Christ’s dignity, holiness and power than most of those present could have given, and instinctively, but truly, construed His coming as meaning destruction to the empire of the demons. At Christ’s word, after a terrible paroxysm, from which, however, the man escaped unhurt (Lu 4:35), the demon was cast out. More than ever the people were "amazed" at the word which had such power (Mr 1:27).

Demon-Possession: Its Reality.

This is the place to say a word on this terrible form of malady--demon-possession--met with so often in the Gospels. Was it a reality? Or a hallucination? Did Jesus believe in it? It is difficult to read the Gospels, and not answer the last question in the affirmative. Was Jesus, then, mistaken? This also it is hard to believe. If there is one subject on which Jesus might be expected to have clear vision--on which we might trust His insight--it was His relation to the spiritual world with which He stood in so close rapport. Was He likely then to be mistaken when He spoke so earnestly, so profoundly, so frequently, of its hidden forces of evil? There is in itself no improbability--rather analogy suggests the highest probability--of realms of spiritual existence outside our sensible ken. That evil should enter this spiritual world, and that human life should be deeply implicated with that evil--that its forces should have a mind and will organizing and directing them--are not beliefs to be dismissed with scorn. The presence of such beliefs in the time of Christ is commonly attributed to Babylonian, Persian or other foreign influences. It may be questioned, however, whether the main cause was not something far more real--an actual and permitted "hour and the power of darkness" (Lu 22:53) in the kingdom of evil, discovering itself in manifestations in the bodies and souls of men, that could be traced only to a supernatural cause (see Demoniac). (The present writer discusses the subject in an article in the Sunday School Times for June 4, 1910. It would be presumptuous even to say that the instance in the Gospels have no modern parallels. See a striking paper in Good, Words, edited by Dr. Norman MacLeod, for 1867, on "The English Demoniac.") It should be noted that all diseases are not, as is sometimes affirmed, traced to demonic influence. The distinction between other diseases and demonic possession is clearly maintained (compare Mt 4:24; 10:1; 11:5, etc.). Insanity, epilepsy, blindness, dumbness, etc., were frequent accompaniments of possession, but they are not identified with it.

c) Peter’s Wife’s Mother

(Matthew 8:14,15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38,39)

Jesus, on leaving the synagogue, entered the house of Peter. In Mark it is called "the house of Simon and Andrew" (1:29). Peter was married (compare 1Co 9:5), and apparently his mother-in-law and brother lived with him in Capernaum. It was an anxious time in the household, for the mother-in-law lay "sick of a fever"--"a great fever," as Luke the physician calls it. Taking her by the hand, Jesus rebuked the fever, which instantaneously left her. The miracle, indeed, was a double one, for not only was the fever stayed, but strength was at once restored. "She rose up and ministered unto them" (Lu 4:39).

d) The Eventful Evening

(Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:40,41)

The day’s labors were not yet done; were, indeed, scarce begun. The news of what had taken place quickly spread, and soon the extraordinary spectacle was presented of `the whole city’ gathered at the door of the dwelling, bringing their sick of every kind to be healed. Demoniacs were there, crying and being rebuked, but multitudes of others as well. The Lord’s compassion was unbounded. He rejected none. He labored unweariedly till every one was healed. His sympathy was individual: "He laid his hands on every one of them" (Lu 4:40).

From First Galilean Circuit till the Choice of the Apostles — The First Circuit

(Mark 1:35-45; Luke 4:42-44; compare Matthew 4:23-25)

The chronological order in this section is to be sought in Mark and Luke; Matthew groups for didactic purposes. The morning after that eventful Sabbath evening in Capernaum, Jesus took steps for a systematic visitation of the towns and villages of Galilee.

The task He set before Himself was prepared for by early, prolonged, solitary prayer (Mr 1:35; many instances show that Christ’s life was steeped in prayer). His disciples followed Him, and reported that the multitudes sought Him. Jesus intimated to them His intention of passing to the next towns, and forthwith commenced a tour of preaching and healing "throughout all Galilee."

a) Its Scope

Even if the expression "all Galilee" is used with some latitude, it indicates a work of very extensive compass. It was a work likewise methodically conducted (compare Mr 6:6: "went round about the villages," literally, "in a circle"). Galilee at this time was extraordinarily populous (compare Josephus, Wars of the Jews, III, iii, 2), and the time occupied by the circuit must have been considerable. Matthew’s condensed picture (Mt 4:23-25) shows that Christ’s activity during this period was incredibly great. He stirred the province to its depths. His preaching and miracles drew enormous crowds after Him. This tide of popularity afterward turned, but much of the seed sown may have produced fruit at a later day.

b) Cure of the Leper

(Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)

The one incident recorded which seems to have belonged to this tour was a sufficiently typical one. While Jesus was in a certain city a man "full of leprosy" (Lu 5:12) came and threw himself down before Him, seeking to be healed. The man did not even ask Jesus to heal him, but expressed his faith, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." The man’s apparent want of importunity was the very essence of his importunity. Jesus, moved by his earnestness, touched him, and the man was made whole on the spot. The leper was enjoined to keep silence--Jesus did not wish to pass for a mere miracle-worker--and bade the man show himself to the priests and offer the appointed sacrifices (note Christ’s respect for the legal institutions). The leper failed to keep Christ’s charge, and published his cure abroad, no doubt much to his own spiritual detriment, and also to the hindrance of Christ’s work (Mr 1:45).

Capernaum Incidents

His circuit ended, Jesus returned to Capernaum (Mr 2:1; literally, "after days"). Here again His fame at once drew multitudes to see and hear Him. Among them were now persons of more unfriendly spirit. Pharisees and doctors, learning of the new rabbi, had come out of "every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem" (Lu 5:17), to hear and judge of Him for themselves. The chief incidents of this visit are the two now to be noted.

a) Cure of the Paralytic

(Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

In a chamber crowded till there was no standing room, even round the door, Jesus wrought the cure upon the paralytic man. The scene was a dramatic one. From Christ’s words "son," literally, "child" (Mr 2:5), we infer that the paralytic was young, but his disablement seems to have been complete. It was no easy matter, with the doorways blocked, to get the man brought to Jesus, but his four bearers (Mr 2:3) were not easily daunted. They climbed the fiat roof, and, removing part of the covering above where Jesus was, let down the man into the midst. Jesus, pleased with the inventiveness and perseverance of their faith, responded to their wish. But, first, that the spiritual and temporal might be set in their right relations, and the attitude of His hearers be tested, He spoke the higher words: "Son, thy sins are forgiven" (Mr 2:5). At once the temper of the scribes was revealed. Here was manifest evasion. Anyone could say, "Thy sins are forgiven." Worse, it was blasphemy, for "who can forgive sins but one, even God?" (Mr 2:7). Unconsciously they were conceding to Christ the Divine dignity He claimed. Jesus perceives at once the thoughts of the cavilers, and proceeds to expose their malice. Accepting their own test, He proves His right to say, "Thy sins are forgiven," by now saying to the palsied man, "Take up thy bed and walk" (Mr 2:9,11). At once the man arose, took his bed, and went forth whole. The multitude were "amazed" and "glorified God" (Mr 2:12).

b) Call and Feast of Matthew

(Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)

The call of Matthew apparently took place shortly after the cure of the paralytic man. The feast was possibly later (compare the connection with the appeal of Jairus, Mt 9:18), but the call and the feast are best taken together, as they are in all the three narratives.

(1) The Call.

Matthew is called "Levi" by Luke, and "Levi, the son of Alpheus" by Mark. By occupation he was a "publican" (Lu 5:27), collector of custom-dues in Capernaum, an important center of traffic. There is no reason to suppose that Matthew was not a man of thorough uprightness, though naturally the class to which he belonged was held in great odium by the Jews. Passing the place of toll on His way to or from the lake-side, Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. The publican must by this time have seen and heard much of Jesus, and could not but keenly feel His grace in calling one whom men despised. Without an instant’s delay, he left all, and followed Jesus. From publican, Matthew became apostle, then evangelist.

(2) The Feast.

Then, or after, in the joy of his heart, Matthew made a feast for Jesus. To this feast he invited many of his own class--"publicans and sinners" (Mt 9:10). Scribes and Pharisees were loud in their remonstrances to the disciples at what seemed to them an outrage on all propriety. Narrow hearts cannot understand the breadth of grace. Christ’s reply was conclusive: "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick," etc. (Mr 2:17, etc.).

(3) Fasting and Joy.

Another line of objection was encountered from disciples of the Baptist. They, like the Pharisees, "fasted oft" (Mt 9:14), and they took exception to the unconstrained way in which Jesus and His disciples entered into social life. Jesus defends His disciples by adopting a metaphor of John’s own (Joh 3:29), and speaking of Himself as the heavenly bridegroom (Mr 2:19). Joy was natural while the bridegroom was with them; then, with a sad forecast of the end, He alludes to days of mourning when the bridegroom should be taken away (Mr 2:20). A deeper answer follows. The spirit of His gospel is a free, spontaneous, joyful spirit, and cannot be confined within the old forms. To attempt to confine His religion within the outworn forms of Judaism would be like putting a patch of undressed cloth on an old garment, or pouring new wine into old wineskins. The garment would be rent; the wineskins would burst (Mr 2:21,22 parallel). The new spirit must make forms of its own.

The Unnamed Jerusalem Feast

(John 5)

At this point is probably to, be introduced the visit to Jerusalem to attend "a feast," or, according to another reading, "the feast’ of the Jews, recorded in Joh 5. The feast may, if the article is admitted, have been the Passover (April), though in that case one would expect it to be named; it may have been Purim (March), only this is not a feast Jesus might be thought eager to attend; it may even have been Pentecost (June). In this last case it would succeed the Sabbath controversies to be mentioned later. Fortunately, the determination of the actual feast has little bearing on the teaching of the chapter.

a) The Healing at Bethesda

(John 5:1-16)

Bethesda ("house of mercy") was the name given to a pool, fed by an intermittent spring, possessing healing properties, which was situated by the sheep-gate (not "market," the King James Version), i.e. near the temple, on the East Porches were erected to accommodate the invalids who desired to make trial of the waters (the mention of the angel, Joh 5:4, with part of 5:3, is a later gloss, and is justly omitted in the Revised Version (British and American)). On one of these porches lay an impotent man. His infirmity was of long standing--38 years. Hope deferred was making his heart sick, for he had no friend, when the waters were troubled, to put him into the pool. Others invariably got down before him. Jesus took pity on this man. He asked him if he would be made whole; then by a word of power healed him. The cure was instantaneous (John 5:8,9). It was the Sabbath day, and as the man, at Christ’s command, took up his bed to go, he was challenged as doing that which was unlawful. The healed man, however, rightly perceived that He who was able to work so great a cure had authority to say what should and should not be done on the Sabbath. Meeting the man after in the temple, Jesus bade him "sin no more"--a hint, perhaps, that his previous infirmity was a result of sinful conduct (John 5:14).

b) Son and Father

(John 5:17-29)


c) The Threefold Witness

(John 5:30-47)

These stupendous claims are not made without adequate attestation. Jesus cites a threefold witness:

(1) the witness of the Baptist, whose testimony they had been willing for a time to receive (Joh 5:33,15);

(2) the witness of the Father, who by Christ’s works supported His witness to Himself (Joh 5:36-38);

(3) the witness of the Scriptures, for these, if read with spiritual discernment, would have led to Him (Joh 5:39,45-47). Moses, whom they trusted, would condemn them. Their rejection of Jesus was due, not to want of light, but to the state of the heart: "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in yourselves" (Joh 5:42); "How can ye believe," etc. (Joh 5:44).

Sabbath Controversies

Shortly after His return to Galilee, if the order of events has been rightly apprehended, Jesus became involved in new disputes with the Pharisees about Sabbath-keeping. Possibly we hear in these the echoes of the charges brought against Him at the feast in Judea. Christ’s conduct, and the principles involved in His replies, throw valuable light on the Sabbath institution.

a) Plucking of the Ears of Grain: (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)

The first dispute was occasioned by the action of the disciples in plucking ears of grain and rubbing them in their hands as they passed through the grainfields on a Sabbath (the note of time "second-first," in Lu 6:1 the King James Version, is omitted in the Revised Version (British and American). In any case the ripened grain points to a time shortly after the Passover). The law permitted this liberty (De 23:25), but Pharisaic rigor construed it into an offense to do the act on the Sabbath (for specimens of the minute, trivial and vexatious rules by which the Pharisees converted the Sabbath into a day of wretched constraint, see Farrar’s Life of Christ, Edersheim’s Jesus the Messiah, and similar works). Jesus, in defending His disciples, first quotes Old Testament precedents (David and the showbread, an act done apparently on the Sabbath, 1Sa 21:6; the priests’ service on the Sabbath--"One greater than the temple" was there, Mt 12:6), in illustration of the truth that necessity overrides positive enactment; next, falls back on the broad principle of the design of the Sabbath as made for man--for his highest physical, mental, moral and spiritual well-being: "The sabbath was made for man," etc. (Mr 2:27). The claims of mercy are paramount. The end is not to be sacrificed to the means. The Son of Man, therefore, asserts lordship over the Sabbath (Mr 2:28 parallel).

b) The Man with the Withered Hand:

(Matthew 12:10-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11)

The second collision took place on "another sabbath" (Lu 6:6) in the synagogue. There was present a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees themselves, on this occasion, eager to entrap Jesus, seem to have provoked the conflict by a question, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" (Mt 12:10). Jesus met them by an appeal to their own practice in permitting the rescue of a sheep that had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath day (Mt 12:11,12), then, bidding the man stand forth~, retorted the question on themselves, "Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill?" (Mr 3:4)--an allusion to their murderous intents. On no reply being made, looking on them with holy indignation, Jesus ordered the man to stretch forth his hand, and it was at once perfectly restored. The effect was only to inflame to "madness" (Lu 6:11) the minds of His adversaries, and Pharisees and Herodians (the court-party of Herod) took counsel to destroy Him (Mr 3:6 parallel).

c) Withdrawal to the Sea:

(Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-9)

Jesus, leaving this scene of unprofitable conflict, quietly withdrew with His disciples to the shore, and there continued His work of teaching and healing. People from all the neighboring districts flocked to His ministry. He taught them from a little boat (Mr 3:9), and healed their sick. Mt sees in this a fulfillment of the oracle which is to be found in Isa 42:1-4.

5. The Choosing of the Twelve:

(Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Ac 1:13)

The work of Jesus was growing on His hands, and friends and enemies were rapidly taking sides. The time accordingly had come for selecting and attaching to His person a definite number of followers--not simply disciples--who might be prepared to carry on His work after His departure. This He did in the choice of twelve apostles. The choice was made in early morning, on the Mount of Beatitudes, after a night spent wholly in prayer (Lu 6:12).

a) The Apostolic Function:


b) The Lists:

Four lists of the apostles are given--in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Ac (1:13, omitting Judas). The names are given alike in all, except that "Judas, the son (or brother) of James" (Lu 6:16; Ac 1:13) is called by Mt Lebbaeus, "and by Mr Thaddaeus." The latter names are cognate in meaning and all denote the same person. "Bartholomew’" (son of Tolmai) is probably the Nathanael of Joh 1:47 (compare 21:2). The epithet "Cananaean" (Mt 10:4; Mr 3:18) marks "Simon" as then or previously a member of the party of the Zealots (Lu 6:15). In all the lists Peter, through his gifts of leadership, stands first; Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, stands last. There is a tendency to arrangement in pairs: Peter and Andrew; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; lastly, James, the son of Alpheus, Judas, son or brother of James, Simonthe Zealot and Judas Iscariot. The list contains two pairs of brothers (three, if "brother" be read with Judas), and at least one pair of friends (Philip and Nathanael).

c) The Men:

All the apostles were men from the humbler ranks, yet not illiterate, and mostly comfortably circumstanced. All were Galileans, except the betrayer, whose name "Iscariot" i.e. "man of Kerioth," marks him as a Judean. Of some of the apostles we know a good deal; of others very little; yet we are warranted in speaking of them all, Judas excepted, as men of honest minds, and sincere piety. The band held within it a number of men of strongly contrasted types of character. Allusion need only be made to the impetuous Peter, the contemplative John, the matter-of-fact Philip, the cautious Thomas, the zealous Simon, the conservative Matthew, the administrative Judas. The last-named--Iscariot--is the dark problem of the apostolate. We have express testimony that Jesus knew him from the beginning (Joh 6:64). Yet He chose him. The character of Judas, when Jesus received him, was doubtless undeveloped. He could not himself suspect the dark possibilities that slept in it. His association with the apostles, in itself considered, was for his good. His peculiar gift was, for the time, of service. In choosing him, Jesus must be viewed as acting for, and under the direction of, the Father (Joh 5:19; 17:12). See special articles on the several apostles.

From the Sermon on the Mount through Parables — second circuit

The Sermon on the Mount

The choice of the apostles inaugurates a new period of Christ’s activity. Its first most precious fruit was the delivery to the apostles and the multitudes who thronged Him as He came down from the mountain (Lu 6:17) of that great manifesto of His kingdom popularly known as the Sermon on the Mount. The hill is identified by Stanley (Sinai and Palestine,368) and others with that known as "the Horns of Hattin," where "the level place" at the top, from which Christ would come down from one of the higher horns, exactly suits the conditions of the narrative. The sick being healed, Jesus seated Himself a little higher up, His disciples near Him, and addressed the assembly (compare Mt 7:28,29). The season of the year is shown by the mention of the "lilies" to be the summer.

Its Scope.

His words were weighty. His aim was at the outset to set forth in terms that were unmistakable the principles, aims and dispositions of His kingdom; to expound its laws; to exhibit its righteousness, both positively, and in contrast with Pharisaic formalism and hypocrisy. Only the leading ideas can be indicated here (see Beatitudes; Sermon on the Mount; ETHICS OF JESUS). Matthew, as is his wont, groups material part of which is found in other connections in Luke, but it is well to study the whole in the well-ordered form in which it appears in the First Gospel.

a) The Blessings:

(Matthew 5:1-6; Luke 6:20-26)

In marked contrast with the lawgiving of Sinai, Christ’s first words are those of blessing. Passing at once to the dispositions of the heart, He shows on what inner conditions the blessings of the kingdom depend. His beatitudes (poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst after righteousness, etc.) reverse all the world’s standards of judgment on such matters. In the possession of these graces consists true godliness of character; through them the heirs of the kingdom become the salt of the earth, the light of the world. The obligation rests on them to let their light shine (compare Mr 4:21-23; Lu 8:16; 11:33).

b) True Righteousness--the Old and the New Law:

(Matthew 5:17-48; Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus defines His relation to the old law--not a Destroyer, but a Fulfiller--and proceeds to exhibit the nature of the true righteousness in contrast to Pharisaic literality and formalism. Through adherence to the latter they killed the spirit of the law. With an absolute authority--"But I say unto you"--Jesus leads everything back from the outward letter to the state of the heart. Illustrations are taken from murder, adultery, swearing, retaliation, hatred of enemies, and a spiritual expansion is given to every precept. The sinful thought or desire holds in it the essence of transgression. The world’s standards are again reversed in the demands for nonresistance to injuries, love of enemies and requital of good for evil.

c) Religion and Hypocrisy--True and False Motive:

(Matthew 6:1-18; compare Luke 11:1-8)

Pursuing the contrast between the true righteousness and that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus next draws attention to motive in religion. The Pharisees erred not simply in having regard only to the letter of the Law, but in acting in morals and religion from a false motive. He had furnished the antidote to their literalism; He now assails their ostentation and hypocrisy. Illustrations are taken from almsgiving, prayer and fasting, and in connection with prayer the Lord’s Prayer is given as a model (Luke introduces this in another context, Lu 11:1-4).

d) The True Good and Cure for Care:

(Matthew 6:19-34; compare Luke 11:34-36; 12:22-34)

The true motive in religious acts is to please God; the same motive should guide us in the choice of what is to be our supreme good. Earthly treasure is not to be put above heavenly. The kingdom of God and His righteousness are to be first in our desires. The eye is to be single. The true cure for worldly anxiety is then found in trust of the heavenly Father. His children are more to God than fowls and flowers, for whom His care in Nature is so conspicuously manifest. Seeking first the kingdom they have a pledge--no higher conceivable--that all else they need will be granted along with it (this section on trust, again, Luke places differently, 12:22-34).

e) Relation to the World’s Evil--the Conclusion:

(Matthew 7:1-29; Luke 6:37-49; compare 11:9-13):

Jesus finally proceeds to speak of the relation of the disciple to the evil of the world. That evil has been considered in its hostile attitude to the disciple (Mt 5:38 ); the question is now as to the disciple s free relations toward it. Jesus inculcates the duties of the disciple’s bearing himself wisely toward evil--with charity, with caution, with prayer, in the spirit of ever doing as one would be done by--and of being on his guard against it. The temptation is great to follow the worldly crowd, to be misled by false teachers, to put profession for practice. Against these perils the disciple is energetically warned. True religion will ever be known by its fruits. The discourse closes with the powerful similitude of the wise and foolish builders. Again, as on an earlier occasion, Christ’s auditors were astonished at His teaching, and at the authority with which He spoke (Mt 7:28,29).

A series of remarkable incidents are next to be noticed

a) Healing of the Centurion’s Servant:

(Matthew 8:1,5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

(1) The healing of the centurion’s servant apparently took place on the same day as the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount (Lu 7:1,2). It had been a day of manifold and exhausting labors for Jesus. A walk of perhaps 7 miles brought Him back to Capernaum, the crowds accompanying. Yet no sooner, on His return, does He hear a new appeal for help than His love replies,"I will come and heal him." The suppliant was a Roman centurion--one who had endeared himself to the Jews (Lu 7:5)--and the request was for the healing of a favorite servant, paralyzed and tortured with pain. First, a deputation sought Christ’s good offices, then, when Jesus was on the way, a second message came, awakening even Christ’s astonishment by the magnitude of its faith. The centurion felt he was not worthy that Jesus should come under his roof, but let Jesus speak the word only, and his servant would be healed. "I have not found so great faith," Jesus said, "no, not in Israel." The word was spoken, and, on the return of the messengers, the servant was found healed.

b) The Widow of Nain’s Son Raised:

(Luke 7:11-17)

The exciting events of this day gathered so great a crowd round the house where Jesus was as left Him no leisure even to eat, and His friends, made anxious for His health, sought to restrain Him (Mr 3:20,21). It was probably to escape from this local excitement that Jesus, "soon afterwards," is found at the little town of Nain, a few miles Southeast of Nazareth. A great multitude still followed Him. Here, as He entered the city, occurred the most wonderful of the works He had yet wrought. A young man--the only son of a widowed mother--was being carried out for burial. Jesus, in compassion, stopped the mournful procession, and, in the calm certainty of His word being obeyed, bade the young man arise. On the instant life returned, and Jesus gave the son back to his mother. The amazement of the people was tenfold intensified. They felt that the old days had come back: that God had visited His people.

It was apparently during the journey or circuit which embraced this visit to Nain, and as the result of the fame it brought to Jesus (Lu 7:17,18; note the allusion to the dead being raised in Christ’s reply to John), that the embassy was sent from the Baptist in prison to ask of Jesus whether He was indeed He who should come, or would they look for another.

c) Embassy of John’s Disciples--Christ and His Generation:

(Matthew 11:2-30; Luke 7:18-35)

It was a strange question on the lips of the forerunner, but is probably to be interpreted as the expression of perplexity rather than of actual doubt. There seems no question but that John’s mind had been thrown into serious difficulty by the reports which had reached him of the work of Jesus. Things were not turning out as he expected. It was the peaceful, merciful character of Christ’s work which stumbled John. The gloom of his prison wrought with his disappointment, and led him to send this message for the satisfaction of himself and his disciples.

(1) Christ’s Answer to John.

If doubt there was, Jesus treated it tenderly. He did not answer directly, but bade the two disciples who had been sent go back and tell John the things they had seen and heard--the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the deaf cured, the dead raised, the Gospel preached. Little doubt the Messiah had come when works like these--the very works predicted by the prophets (Isa 35:5,6)--were being done. Blessed were those who did not find occasion of stumbling in Him. Jesus, however, did more. By his embassy John had put himself in a somewhat false position before the multitude. But Jesus would not have His faithful follower misjudged. His was no fickle spirit. Jesus nobly vindicated him as a prophet and more than a prophet; yea, a man than whom a greater had not lived. Yet, even as the new dispensation was higher than the old, one "but little" in the kingdom of heaven--one sharing Christ’s humble, loving, self-denying disposition--was greater even than John (Mt 11:11).

(2) A Perverse People--Christ’s Grace.

The implied contrast between Himself and John led Jesus further to denounce the perverse spirit of His own generation. The Pharisees and lawyers (Lu 7:30) had rejected John; they were as little pleased with Him. Their behavior was like children objecting to one game because it was merry, and to another because it was sad. The flood of outward popularity did not deceive Jesus. The cities in which His greatest works were wrought--Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum--remained impenitent at heart. The heavier would be their judgment; worse even than that on Tyre and Sidon, or on Sodom itself. Over against their unbelief Jesus reasserts His dignity and declares His grace (Mt 11:25-30). All authority was His; He alone knew and could reveal the Father (no claims in John are higher). Let the heavy laden come to Him, and He would give them rest (parts of these passages appear in another connection in Lu 10:12-21).

d) The First Anointing--the Woman Who Was a Sinner:

(Luke 7:36-50)

Yet another beautiful incident connected with this journey is preserved by Lk--the anointing of Jesus in Simon’s house by a woman who was a sinner. In Nain or some other city visited by Him, Jesus was invited to dine with a Pharisee named Simon. His reception was a cold one (Lu 7:44-46). During the meal, a woman of the city, an outcast from respectable society--one, however, as the story implies, whose heart Jesus had reached, and who, filled with sorrow, love, shame, penitence, had turned from her life of sin, entered the chamber. There, bathing Christ’s feet with her tears, wiping them with her tresses, and imprinting on them fervent kisses, she anointed them with a precious ointment she had brought with her. Simon was scandalized. Jesus could not be a right-thinking man, much less a prophet, or He would have rebuked this misbehavior from such a person. Jesus met the thought of Simon’s heart by speaking to him the parable of the Two Debtors (Lu 7:41,42). Of two men who had been freely forgiven, one 500, the other 50 shillings, which would love his creditor most? Simon gave the obvious answer, and the contrast between his own reception of Jesus and the woman’s passionate love was immediately pointed out. Her greater love was due to the greater forgiveness; though, had Simon only seen it, he perhaps needed forgiveness even more than she.

Events at Capernaum

(Luke 8:1-4,19-21; Matthew 12:22-50; Mark 3:22-35 compare Luke 11:14-36)

Her faith saved her and she was dismissed in peace. But again the question arose, "Who is this that even forgiveth sins?" Luke introduces here (Lu 8:1-4) a second Galilean circuit of Jesus, after the return from which a new series of exciting incidents took place at Capernaum.

a) Galilee Revisited:

(Luke 8:1-4)

The circuit was an extensive one--"went about through cities and villages (literally, "according to city and village"), preaching." During this journey Jesus was attended by the Twelve, and by devoted women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna, and others), who ministered to Him of their substance (Lu 8:2,3). At the close of this circuit Jesus returned to Capernaum.

b) Cure of Demoniac--Discourse on Blasphemy:

Jesus, no doubt, wrought numerous miracles on demoniacs (compare Lu 8:1,2; out of Mary Magdalene He is said to have cast 7 demons--perhaps a form of speech to indicate the severity of the possession). The demoniac now brought to Jesus was blind and dumb. Jesus cured him, with the double result that the people were filled with amazement: "Can this be the son of David?" (Mt 12:23), while the Pharisees blasphemed, alleging that Jesus cast out demons by the help of Beelzebub (Greek, Beelzeboul), the prince of the demons (see under the word). A quite similar incident is narrated in Mt 9:32-34; and Lu gives the discourse that follows in a later connection (11:14 ff). The accusation may well have been repeated more than once. Jesus, in reply, points out, first, the absurdity of supposing Satan to be engaged in warring against his own kingdom (Mt 18:25 parallel; here was plainly a stronger than Satan); then utters the momentous word about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. All other blasphemies--even that against the Son of Man (Mt 12:32)--may be forgiven, for they may proceed from ignorance and misconception; but deliberate, perverse rejection of the light, and attributing to Satan what was manifestly of God, was a sin which, when matured--and the Pharisees came perilously near committing it--admitted of no forgiveness, either in this world or the next, for the very capacity for truth in the soul was by such sin destroyed. Mr has the strong phrase, "is guilty of an eternal sin" (3:29). Pertinent words follow as to the root of good and evil in character (Mt 12:33-37).

See Blasphemy.

The Sign of Jonah.

Out of this discourse arose the usual Jewish demand for a "sign" (Mt 12:38; compare Lu 11:29-32), which Jesus met by declaring that no sign would be given but the sign of the prophet Jonah--an allusion to His future resurrection. He reiterates His warning to the people of His generation for their rejection of greater light than had been enjoyed by the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba.

Two incidents, not dissimilar in character, interrupted this discourse--one the cry of a woman in the audience (if the time be the same, Lu 11:27,28), "Blessed is the womb that bare thee," etc., to which Jesus replied, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it"; the other, a message that His mother and brethren (doubtless anxious for His safety) desired to speak with Him.

c) Christ’s Mother and Brethen:

To this, stretching out His hand toward His disciples, Jesus answered, "Behold, my mother and my brethren" (Mr 3:34), etc. Kinship in the spiritual kingdom consists in fidelity to the will of God, not in ties of earthly relationship.

Teaching in Parables

(Matthew 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-15; 13:18-21)


Parables of the Kingdom.

In series the parables at once mirror the origin, mixed character and development of the kingdom in its present imperfect earthly condition, and the perfection which awaits it after the crisis at the end. In the parable of the Sower is represented the origin of the kingdom in the good seed of the word, and the varied soils on which that seed falls; in the Seed Growing Secretly, the law of orderly growth in the kingdom; in the parable of the Tares, the mixed character of the subjects of the kingdom; in those of the Mustard Seed and Leaven, the progress of the kingdom--external growth, internal tramsformative effect; in those of the Treasure and Pearl the finding and worth of the kingdom; in that of the Dragnet the consummation of the kingdom. Jesus compares His disciples, if they understand these things, to householders bringing out of their treasure "things new and old" (Mt 13:52).

From the Crossing to Gadara to the Mission of the Twelve--a Third Circuit

Crossing of the Lake--Stilling of the Storm

(Matthew 8:18-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; compare 9:57-62)

It was on the evening of the day on which He spoke the parables--though the chronology of the incident seems unknown to Lu (8:22)--that Jesus bade His disciples cross over to the other side of the lake. At this juncture He was accosted by an aspirant for discipleship. Matthew gives two cases of aspirants; Luke (but in a different connection, 9:57-62), three. Luke’s connection (departure from Galilee) is perhaps preferable for the second and third; but the three may be considered together.

The three aspirants may be distinguished as,

(a) The forward disciple: he who in an atmosphere of enthusiasm offered himself under impulse, without counting the cost. The zeal of this would-be follower Jesus cheeks with the pathetic words, "The foxes have holes," etc. (Mt 8:20; Lu 9:58).

(b) The procrastinating disciple. The first candidate needed repression; the second needs impulsion.

a) Aspirants for Disciplineship:

He would follow Jesus, but first let him bury his father. There had come a crisis, however, when the Lord’s claim was paramount: "Leave the dead to bury their own dead" (Mt 8:22). There are at times higher claims than mere natural relationships, to which, in themselves, Jesus was the last to be indifferent. (c) The wavering disciple. The third disciple is again one who offers himself, but his heart was too evidently still with the things at home. Jesus, again, lays His finger on the weak spot, "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back," etc. (Lu 9:62). As mentioned, the latter two cases tally better with a final departure from Galilee than with a temporary crossing of the lake.

b) The Storm Calmed:

The inland lake was exposed to violent and sudden tempests. One of these broke on the disciples’ boat as they sailed across. Everyone’s life seemed in jeopardy. Jesus, meanwhile, in calmest repose, was asleep on a cushion in the stern (Mr 4:38). The disciples woke Him almost rudely: "Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus at once arose, and, reproving their want of faith, rebuked wind and waves ("Peace, be still"). Immediately there was a great calm. It was a new revelation to the disciples of the majesty of their Master. "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

The Gadarene (Gerasene) Demoniac

(Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39)

The lake being crossed, Jesus and His disciples came into the country of the Gadarenes (Matthew), or Gerasenes (Mark, Luke)--Gadara being the capital of the district (on the topography, compare Stanley, Sinai and Palestine,380-81). From the lake shore rises a mountain in which are ancient tombs. Here Jesus was met by a demoniac (Matthew mentions two demoniacs: M. Henry’s quaint comment is, "If there were two, there was one." Possibly one was the fiercer of the two, the other figuring only as his companion). The man, as described, was a raving maniac of the worst type (Mr 5:3-5), dwelling in the tombs, wearing no clothes (Lu 8:27), of supernatural strength, wounding himself, shrieking, etc. Really possessed by "an unclean spirit," his consciousness was as if he were indwelt by a "legion" of demons, and from that consciousness he addressed Jesus as the Son of God come for their tormenting. In what follows it is difficult to distinguish what belongs to the broken, incoherent consciousness of the man, and the spirit or spirits who spake through him. In the question, "What is thy name?" (Mr 5:9) Jesus evidently seeks to arouse the victim’s shattered soul to some sense of its own individuality. On Jesus commanding the unclean spirit to leave the man, the request was made that the demons might be permitted to enter a herd of swine feeding near. The reason of Christ’s permission, with its result in the destruction of the herd ("rushed down the steep into the sea") need not be too closely scrutinized. It may have had an aspect of judgment on the (possibly) Jewish holders of the swine; or it may have had reference to the victim of the possession, as enabling him to realize his deliverance. Whatever the difficulties of the narrative, none of the rationalistic explanations afford any sensible relief from them. The object of the miracle may be to exclude rationalistic explanations, by giving a manifest attestation of the reality of the demon influence. When the people of the city came they found the man fully restored--"clothed and in his right mind." Yet, with fatal shortsightedness, they besought Jesus to depart from their borders. The man was sent home to declare to his friends the great things the Lord had done to him.

Jairus’ Daughter Raised--Woman with Issue of Blood

(Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)

Repelled by the Gerasenes, Jesus received a warm welcome on His return to Capernaum on the western shore (Mr 5:21). It was probably at this point that Matthew gave the feast formerly referred to.

It was in connection with this feast, Matthew himself informs us (9:18), that Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, made his appeal for help. His little daughter, about 12 years old (Lu 8:42), was at the point of death; indeed, while Jesus was coming, she died. The ruler’s faith, though real, was not equal to the centurion’s, who believed that Jesus could heal without being present.

a) Jairus’ Appeal and Its Result:

Jesus came, and having expelled the professional mourners, in sacred privacy, only the father and mother, with Peter, James and John being permitted to enter the death-chamber, raised the girl to life. It is the second miracle on record of the raising from the dead.

b) The Afflicted Woman Cured:

On the way to the ruler’s house occurred another wonder--a miracle within a miracle. A poor woman, whose case was a specially distressing one, alike as regards the nature of her malady, the length of its continuance, and the fruitlessness of her application to the physicians, crept up to Jesus, confident that if she could but touch the border of His garment, she would be healed. The woman was ignorant; her faith was blended with superstition; but Jesus, reading the heart, gave her the benefit she desired. It was His will, however, that, for her own good, the woman thus cured should not obtain the blessing by stealth. He therefore brought her to open confession, and cheered her by His commendatory word.

Incidents of Third Circuit

(Matthew 9:27-38; 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6)

At this point begins apparently a new evangelistic tour (Mt 9:35; Mr 6:6), extending methodically to "all the cities and villages." To it belong in the narratives the healing of two blind men (compare the case of Bartimeus, recorded later); the cure of a demoniac who was dumb--a similar case to that in Mt 12:22; and a second rejection at Nazareth (Matthew, Mark). The incident is similar to that in Lu 4:16-30, and shows, if the events are different, that the people’s hearts were unchanged. Of this circuit Matthew gives an affecting summary (9:35-38), emphasizing the Lord’s compassion, and His yearning for more laborers to reap the abundant harvest.

The Twelve Sent Forth--Discourse of Jesus

(Matthew 10; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6; compare Luke 10:2-24; 12:2-12, etc.)

Partly with a view to the needs of the rapidly growing work and the training of the apostles, and partly as a witness to Israel (Mt 10:6,23), Jesus deemed it expedient to send the Twelve on an independent mission. The discourse in Mt attached to this event seems, as frequently, to be a compilation. Parts of it are given by Luke in connection with the mission of the Seventy (Lu 10:1 ; the directions were doubtless similar in both cases); parts on other occasions (Lu 12:2-12; 21:12-17, etc.; compare Mr 13:9-13).

The Twelve were sent out two by two. Their work was to be a copy of the Master’s--to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. To this end they were endowed with authority over unclean spirits, and over all manner of sickness. They were to go forth free from all encumbrances--no money, no scrip, no changes of raiment, no staff (save that in their hand, Mr 6:8), sandals only on their feet, etc.

a) The Commission:

They were to rely for support on those to whom they preached. They were for the present to confine their ministry to Israel. The saying in Mt 10:23, "Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come," apparently has reference to the judgment on the nation, not to the final coming (compare 16:28).

b) Counsels and Warnings:

The mission of the Twelve was the first step of Christianity as an aggressive force in society. Jesus speaks of it, accordingly, in the light of the whole future that was to come out of it. He warns His apostles faithfully of the dangers that awaited them; exhorts them to prudence and circumspection ("wise as serpents," etc.); holds out to them Divine promises for consolation; directs them when persecuted in one place to flee to another; points out to them from His own case that such persecutions were only to be expected. He assures them of a coming day of revelation; bids them at once fear and trust God; impresses on them the duty of courage in confession; inculcates in them supreme love to Himself. That love would be tested in the dearest relations, In itself peace, the gospel would be the innocent occasion of strife, enmity and division among men. Those who receive Christ’s disciples will not fail of their reward.

When Christ had ended His discourse He proceeded with His own evangelistic work, leaving the disciples to inaugurate theirs (Mt 11:1).

Second Period--After the Mission of the Twelve till the Departure from Galilee

From the Death of the Baptist till the Discourse on Bread of Life

The Murder of the Baptist and Herod’s Alarms

(Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9; compare 3:18-20)

Shortly before the events now to be narrated, John the Baptist had been foully murdered in his prison by Herod Antipas at the instigation of Herodias, whose unlawful marriage with Herod John had unsparingly condemned. Josephus gives as the place of the Baptist’s imprisonment the fortress of Macherus, near the Dead Sea (Ant., XVIII, v, 2); or John may have been removed to Galilee. Herod would ere this have killed John, but was restrained by fear of the people (Mt 14:5). The hate of Herodias, however, did not slumber. Her relentless will contrasts with the vacillation of Herod, as Lady Macbeth in Shakspeare contrasts with Macbeth. A birthday feast gave her the opening she sought for. Her daughter Saleme, pleasing Herod by her dancing, obtained from him a promise on oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by Herodias, she boldly demanded John the Baptist’s head. The weak king was shocked, but, for his oath’s sake, granted her what she craved. The story tells how the Baptist’s disciples reverently buried the remains of their master, and went and told Jesus. Herod’s conscience did not let him rest. When rumors reached him of a wonderful teacher and miracle-worker in Galilee, he leaped at once to the conclusion that it was John risen from the dead. Herod cannot have heard much of Jesus before. An evil conscience makes men cowards.

Another Passover drew near (Joh 6:4), but Jesus did not on this occasion go up to the feast.

Returning from their mission, the apostles reported to Jesus what they had said and done (Lu 9:10); Jesus had also heard of the Baptist’s fate, and of Herod’s fears, and now proposed to His disciples a retirement to a desert place across the lake, near Bethsaida (on the topography, compare Stanley, op. cit., 375, 381).

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

(Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14)

As it proved, however, the multitudes had observed their departure, and, running round the shore, were at the place before them (Mr 6:33). The purpose of rest was frustrated, but Jesus did not complain. He pitied the shepherdless state of the people, and went out to teach and heal them. The day wore on, and the disciples suggested that the fasting multitude should disperse, and seek victuals in the nearest towns and villages. This Jesus, who had already proved Philip by asking how the people should be fed (Joh 6:5), would not permit. With the scanty provision at command--5 loaves and 2 fishes--He fed the whole multitude. By His blessing the food was multiplied till all were satisfied, and 12 baskets of fragments, carefully collected, remained over. It was astupendous act of creative power, no rationalizing of which can reduce it to natural dimensions.

Walking on the Sea

(Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21)

The enthusiasm created by this miracle was intense (Joh 6:14). Matthew and Mark relate (Luke here falls for a time out of the Synopsis) that Jesus hurriedly constrained His disciples to enter into their boat and recross the lake--this though a storm was gathering--while He Himself remained in the mountain alone in prayer. John gives the key to this action in the statement that the people were about to take Him by force and make Him a king (6:15). Three hours after midnight found the disciples still in the midst of the lake, "distressed in rowing" (Mr 6:48), deeply anxious because Jesus was not, as on a former occasion, with them. At last, at the darkest hour of their extremity, Jesus was seen approaching in a way unlooked-for--walking on the water. Every new experience of Jesus was a surprise to the disciples. They were at first terrified, thinking they saw a spirit, but straightway the well-known voice was heard, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid." In the rebound of his feelings the impulsive Peter asked Jesus to permit him to come to Him on the water (Matthew). Jesus said "Come," and for the first moment or two Peter did walk on the water; then, as he realized his unwonted situation, his faith failed, and he began to sink. Jesus, with gentle chiding, caught him, and assisted him back into the boat. Once again the sea was calmed, and the disciples watch found themselves safely at land. To their adoring minds the miracle of the loaves was eclipsed by this new marvel (Mr 6:52).

Gennesaret--Discourse on the Bread of Life

(Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-56; John 6:22-71)

On the return to Gennesaret the sick from all quarters were brought to Jesus--the commencement apparently of a new, more general ministry of healing (Mr 6:56). Meanwhile--here we depend on John--the people on the other side of the lake, when they found that Jesus was gone, took boats hastily, and came over to Capernaum. They found Jesus apparently in the synagogue (6:59). In reply to their query, "Rabbi, when camest thou hither?" Jesus first rebuked the motive which led them to follow Him--not because they had seen in His miracles "signs" of higher blessings, but because they had eaten of the loaves and were filled (6:26)--then spoke to them His great discourse on the bread from heaven. "Work," He said, "for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you" (6:27). When asked to authenticate His claims by a sign from heaven like the manna, He replied that the manna also (given not by Moses but by God) was but typical bread, and surprised them by declaring that He Himself was the true bread of life from heaven (6:35,51). The bread was Christ’s flesh, given for the life of the world; His flesh and blood must be eaten and drunk (a spiritual appropriation through faith, 6:63), if men were to have eternal life. Jesus of set purpose had put His doctrine in a strong, testing manner. The time had come when His hearers must make their choice between a spiritual acceptance of Him and a break with Him altogether. What He had said strongly offended them, both on account of the claims implied (6:42), and on account of the doctrine taught, which, they were plainly told, they could not receive because of their carnality of heart (6:43,44,61-64). Many, therefore, went back and walked no more with Him (6:60,61,66); but their defection only evoked from the chosen Twelve a yet more confident confession of their faith. "Would ye also go away?"

Peter’s First Confession.

Peter, as usual, spoke for the rest: "Lord, to whom shall we go? .... We have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God" (Joh 6:69). Here, and not first at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:16), is Peter’s brave confession of his Master’s Messiahship. Twelve thus confessed Him, but even of this select circle Jesus was compelled to say, "One of you (Judas) is a devil" (Joh 6:70,71).

From Disputes with the Pharisees till the Transfiguration

The discourse in Capernaum seems to mark a turning-point in the Lord’s ministry in Galilee. Soon after we find Him ceasing from public teaching, and devoting Himself to the instruction of His apostles (Mt 15:21; Mr 7:24, etc.).

Jesus and Tradition--Outward and Inward Purity

(Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23)

Meanwhile, that Christ’s work in Galilee was attracting the attention of the central authorities, is shown by the fact that scribes and Pharisees came up from Jerusalem to watch Him. They speedily found ground of complaint against Him in His unconventional ways and His total disregard of the traditions of the elders. They specially blamed Him for allowing His disciples to eat bread with "common," i.e. unwashen hands. Here was a point on which the Pharisees laid great stress (Mr 7:3,4). Ceremonial ablutions (washing "diligently," Greek "with the fist"; "baptizings" of person and things) formed a large part of their religion. These washings were part of the "oral tradition" said to have been delivered to Moses, and transmitted by a succession of elders. Jesus set all this ceremonialism aside. It was part of the "hypocrisy" of the Pharisees (Mr 7:6). When questioned regarding it, He drew a sharp distinction between God’s commandment in the Scriptures and man’s tradition, and accused the Pharisees (instancing "Corban" (which see), in support, Mr 7:10-12) of making "void" the former through the latter. This led to the wider question of wherein real defilement consisted. Christ’s rational position here is that it did not consist in anything outward, as in meats, but consisted in what came from within the man: as Jesus explained afterward, in the outcome of his heart or moral life: "Out of the heart of men evil thoughts proceed," etc. (Mr 7:20-23). Christ’s saying was in effect the abrogation of the old ceremonial distinctions, as Mark notes: "making all meats clean" (Mr 7:19). The Pharisees, naturally, were deeply offended at His sayings, but Jesus was unmoved. Every plant not of the Father’s planting must be rooted up (Mr 7:13).

Retirement to Tyre and Sidon--the Syrophoenician Woman

(Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)

From this point Jesus appears, in order to escape notice, to have made journeys privately from place to place. His first retreat was to the borders, or neighborhood, of Tyre and Sidon. From Mr 7:31 it is to be inferred that He entered the heathen territory. He could not, however, be hid (Mr 7:24). It was not long ere, in the house into which He had entered, there reached Him the cry of human distress. A woman came to Him, a Greek (or Gentile, Greek-speaking), but Syrophoenician by race. Her "little daughter" was grievously afflicted with an evil spirit. Flinging herself at His feet, and addressing Him as "Son of David," she besought His mercy for her child. At first Jesus seemed--yet only seemed--to repel her, speaking of Himself as sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, and of the unmeetness of giving the children’s loaf to the dogs (the Greek softens the expression, "the little dogs"). With a beautiful urgency which won for her the boon she sought, the woman seized on the word as an argument in her favor. "Even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs." The child at Jesus’ word was restored.

At Decapolis--New Miracles

(Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-37; 8:1-10)

Christ’s second retreat was to Decapolis--the district of the ten cities--East of the Jordan. Here also He was soon discovered, and followed by the multitude. Sufferers were brought to Him, whom He cured (Mt 15:30). Later, He fed the crowds.

The miracle of the deaf man is attested only by Mk. The patient was doubly afflicted, being deaf, and having an impediment in his speech. The cure presents several peculiarities--its privacy (Mt 15:33); the actions of Jesus in putting his fingers into his ears, etc. (a mode of speech by signs to the deaf man); His "sign," accompanied with prayer, doubtless accasioned by something in the man’s look; the word Ephphatha (Mt 15:34)--"Be opened."

a) The Deaf Man:

(Mark 7:32-37)

The charge to those present not to blazon the deed abroad was disregarded. Jesus desired no cheap popularity.

b) Feeding of Four Thousand:

(Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9)

The next miracle closely resembles the feeding of the Five Thousand at Bethsaida, but the place and numbers are different; 4,000 instead of 5,000; 7 loaves and a few fishes, instead of 5 loaves and 2 fishes; 7 baskets of fragments instead of 12 (Mark’s term denotes a larger basket). There is no reason for doubting the distinction of the incidents (compare Mt 16:9,10; Mr 8:19,20).

Leaven of the Pharisees, etc.--Cure of Blind Man

(Matthew 16:1-12; Mark 8:11-26)

Returning to the plain of Gennesaret (Magdala, Mt 15:39 the King James Version; parts of Dalmanutha, Mr 8:10), Jesus soon found Himself assailed by His old adversaries. Pharisees and Sadducees were now united. They came "trying" Jesus, and asking from Him a "sign from heaven"--some signal Divine manifestation. "Sighing deeply" (Mark) at their caviling spirit, Jesus repeated His word about the sign of Jonah. The times in which they lived were full of signs, if they, so proficient in weather signs, could only see them. To be rid of such questioners, Jesus anew took boat to Bethsaida. On the way He warned His disciples against the leaven of the spirit they had just encountered. The disciples misunderstood, thinking that Jesus referred to their forgetfulness in not taking bread (Mark states in his graphic way that they had only one loaf). The leaven Christ referred to, in fact, represented three spirits:

(1) the Pharisaic leaven--formalism and hypocrisy;

(2) the Sadducean leaven--rationalistic skepticism;

(3) the Herodian leaven (Mr 8:15)--political expediency and temporizing.

Arrived at Bethsaida, a miracle was wrought on a blind man resembling in some of its features the cure of the deaf man at Decapolis. In both cases Jesus took the patients apart; in both physical means were used--the spittle ("spit on his eyes," Mr 8:23); in both there was strict injunction not to noise the cure abroad. Another peculiarity was the gradualness of the cure. It is probable that the man had not been blind from his birth, else he could hardly have recognized men or trees at the first opening. It needed that Jesus should lay His hands on Him before he saw all things clearly.

At Caesarea Philippi--The Great Confession--First Announcement of Passion

(Matthew 16:13-28; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-27)

The next retirement of Jesus with His disciples was to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, near the source of the Jordan. This was the northernmost point of His journeyings. Here, "on the geographical frontier between Judaism and heathenism" (Liddon), our Lord put the momentous question which called forth Peter’s historical confession.

(1) The Voices of the Age and the External Truth.

The question put to the Twelve in this remote region was: "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" "Son of man," as already said, was the familiar name given by Jesus to Himself, to which a Messianic significance might or might not be attached, according to the prepossessions of His hearers. First the changeful voices of the age were recited to Jesus: "Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah," etc. Next, in answer to the further question: "But who say ye that I am ?" there rang out from Peter, in the name of all, the unchanging truth about Jesus: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." In clearness, boldness, decision, Peter’s faith had attained a height not reached before. The confession embodies two truths:

(1) the Divinity,

(2) the Messiahship, of the Son of man.

Jesus did honor to the confession of His apostle. Not flesh and blood, but the Father, had revealed the truth to him. Here at length was "rock" on which He could build a church. Reverting to Peter’s original name, Simon Bar-Jonah, Jesus declared, with a play on the name "Peter" (petros, "rock," "piece of rock") He had before given him (Joh 1:42), that on this "rock" (petra), He would build His church, and the gates of Hades (hostile evil powers) would not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). The papacy has reared an unwarrantable structure of pretensions on this passage in supposing the "rock" to be Peter personally and his successors in the see of Rome (none such existed; Peter was not bishop of Rome). It is not Peter the individual, but Peter the confessing apostle--Peter as representative of all--that Christ names "rock"; that which constituted him a foundation was the truth he had confessed (compare Eph 2:20). This is the first New Testament mention of a "church" (ekklesia). The Christian church, therefore, is founded

(1) on the truth of Christ’s Divine Sonship;

(2) on the truth of His Messiah-ship, or of His being the anointed prophet, priest and king of the new age.

A society of believers confessing these truths is a church; no society which denies these truths deserves the name. To this confessing community Jesus, still addressing Peter as representing the apostolate (compare Mt 18:18),gives authority to bind and loose--to admit and to exclude. Jesus, it is noted, bade His disciples tell no man of these things (Mt 16:20; Mr 8:30; Lu 9:21).

(2) The Cross and the Disciple.


The Transfiguration--the Epileptic Boy

(Matthew 17:1-20; Mark 9:2-29; Luke 9:28-43)

About eight days after the announcement of His passion by Jesus, took place the glorious event of the transfiguration. Jesus had spoken of His future glory, and here was pledge of it. In strange contrast with the scene of glory on the summit of the mountain was the painful sight which met Jesus and His three companions when they descended again to to the plain.

a) The Glory of the Only Begotten:

Tradition connects the scene of the transfiguration with Mount Tabor, but it more probably took place on one of the spurs of Mount Hermon. Jesus had ascended the mountain with Peter, James and John, for prayer. It was while He was praying the wonderful change happened. For once the veiled glory of the only begotten from the Father (Joh 1:14) was permitted to burst forth, suffusing His person and garments, and changing them into a dazzling brightness. His face did shine as the sun; His raiment became white as light ("as snow," the King James Version, Mark). Heavenly visitants, recognized from their converse as Moses and Elijah, appeared with Him and spoke of His decease (Luke). A voice from an enveloping cloud attested: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Little wonder the disciples were afraid, or that Peter in his confusion should stammer out: "It is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, I will make here three tabernacles (booths)." This, however, was not permitted. Earth is not heaven. Glimpses of heavenly glory are given, not to wean from duty on earth, but to prepare for the trials connected therewith.

b) Faith’s Entreaty and Its Answer:


From Private Journey through Galilee till Return from the Feast of Tabernacles

Galilee and Capernaum

Soon after the last-mentioned events Jesus passed privately through Galilee (Mr 9:30), returning later to Capernaum. During the Galilean journey Jesus made to His disciples His 2nd announcement of His approaching sufferings and death, accompanied as before by the assurance of His resurrection. The disciples still could not take in the meaning of His words, though what He said made them "exceeding sorry" (Mt 17:23).

a) Second Announcement of Passion:

(Matthew 17:22,23; Mark 9:30-33; Luke 9:44,45)

The return to Capernaum was marked by an incident which raised the question of Christ’s relation to temple institutions. The collectors of tribute for the temple inquired of Peter: "Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel?" (Greek didrachma, or double drachm, worth about 32 cents or is. 4d.).

b) The Temple Tax:

(Matthew 17:24-27)

The origin of this tax was in the half-shekel of atonement-money of Ex 30:11-16, which, though a special contribution, was made the basis of later assessment (2Ch 24:4-10; in Nehemiah’s time the amount was one-third of a shekel, Ne 10:32), and its object was the upkeep of the temple worship (Schurer). The usual time of payment was March, but Jesus had probably been absent and the inquiry was not made for some months later. Peter, hasty as usual, probably reasoning from Christ’s ordinary respect for temple ordinances, answered at once that He did pay the tax. It had not occurred to him that Jesus might have something to say on it, if formally challenged. Occasion therefore was taken by Jesus gently to reprove Peter. Peter had but recently acknowledged Jesus to be the Son of God. Do kings of the earth take tribute of their own sons? The half-shekel was suitable to the subject-relation, but not to the relation of a son. Nevertheless, lest occasion of stumbling be given, Jesus could well waive this right, as, in His humbled condition, He had waived so many more. Peter was ordered to cast his hook into the sea, and Jesus foretold that the fish he would bring up would have in its mouth the necessary coin (Greek, stater, about 64 cents or 2s. 8d.). The tax was paid, yet in such a way as to show that the payment of it was an act of condescension of the king’s Son.

c) Discourse on Greatness and Forgiveness:

(Matthew 18:1-35; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50)

On the way to Capernaum a dispute had arisen among the disciples as to who should be greatest in the Messianic kingdom about to be set up. The fact of such disputing showed how largely even their minds were yet dominated by worldly, sensuous ideas of the kingdom. Now, in the house (Mr 9:33), Jesus takes occasion to check their spirit of ambitious rivalry, and to inculcate much-needed lessons on greatness and kindred matters.

(1) Greatness in Humility.

First, by the example of a little child, Jesus teaches that humility is the root-disposition of His kingdom. It alone admits to the kingdom, and conducts to honor in it. He is greatest who humbles himself most (Mt 18:4), and is the servant of all (Mr 9:35). He warns against slighting the "little ones," or causing them to stumble, and uses language of terrible severity against those guilty of this sin.

(2) Tolerance.

The mention of receiving little ones in Christ’s name led John to remark that he had seen one casting out demons in Christ’s name, and had forbidden him, because he was not of their company. "Forbid him not," Jesus said, "for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us" (Mr 9:39,40).

(3) The Erring Brother.

The subject of offenses leads to the question of sins committed by one Christian brother against another. Here Christ inculcates kindness and forbearance; only if private representations and the good offices of brethren fail, is the matter to be brought before the church; if the brother repents he is to be unstintedly forgiven ("seventy times seven," Mt 18:22). If the church is compelled to interpose, its decisions are valid (under condition, however, of prayer and Christ’s presence, Mt 18:18-20).

(4) Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

To enforce the lesson of forgiveness Jesus speaks the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-35). Himself forgiven much, this servant refuses to forgive his fellow a much smaller debt. His lord visits him with severest punishment. Only as we forgive others can we look for forgiveness.

The Feast of Tabernacles--Discourses, etc.

(John 7-10:21)

The Gospel of John leaves a blank of many months between chapters 6 and 7, covered only by the statement, "After these things, Jesus walked in Galilee" (7:1). In this year of His ministry Jesus had gone neither to the feast of the Passover nor to Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles was now at hand (October). To this Jesus went up, and Joh preserves for us a full record of His appearance, discourses and doings there.

a) The Private Journey--Divided Opinions:

(John 7:1-10)

The brethren of Jesus, still unpersuaded of His claims (Joh 7:5), had urged Jesus to go up with them to the feast. "Go up," in their sense, included a public manifestation of Himself as the Messiah. Jesus replied that His time for this had not yet come. Afterward He went up quietly, and in the midst of the feast appeared in the temple as a teacher. The comments made about Jesus at the feast before His arrival vividly reflect the divided state of opinion regarding Him. "He is a good man," thought some. "Not so," said others, "but He leadeth the multitude astray." His teaching evoked yet keener division. While some said, "Thou hast a demon" (Joh 7:20), others argued, "When the Christ shall come, will he do more signs?" etc. (Joh 7:31). Some declared, "This is of a truth the prophet," or "This is the Christ"; others objected that the Christ was to come out of Bethlehem, not Galilee (Joh 7:40-42). Yet no one dared to take the step of molesting Him.

b) Christ’s Self-Witness:

(John 7:14-52)


c) The Woman Taken in Adultery:

(John 8)


d) The Cure of the Blind Man:

(John 9)

The Feast of Tabernacles was past, but Jesus was still in Jerusalem. Passing by on a Sabbath (Joh 9:14), He saw a blind man, a beggar (John 9:8), well known to have been blind from his birth. The narrative of the cure and examination of this blind man is adduced by Paley as bearing in its inimitable circumstantiality every mark of personal knowledge on the part of the historian. The man, cured in strange but symbolic fashion by the anointing of his eyes with clay (thereby apparently sealing them more firmly), then washing in the Pool of Siloam, became an object of immediate interest, and every effort was made by the Pharisees to shake his testimony as to the miracle that had been wrought. The man, however, held to his story, and his parents could only corroborate the fact that their son had been born blind, and now saw. The Pharisees themselves were divided, some reasoning that Jesus could not be of God because He had broken the Sabbath--the old charge; others, Nicodemus-like, standing on the fact that a man who was a sinner could not do such signs (Joh 9:15,16). The healed man applied the logic of common-sense: "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (Joh 9:33). The Pharisees, impotent to deny the wonder, could only cast him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him, and brought him to full confession of faith in Himself (Joh 9:35-38).

e) The Good Shepherd:

(John 10:1-21)

Yet another address of Jesus is on record arising out of this incident. In continuation of His reply to the question of the Pharisees in John (9:40), "Are we also blind?" Jesus spoke to them His discourse on the Good Shepherd. Flocks in eastern countries are gathered at night into an enclosure surrounded by a wall or palisade. This is the "fold," which is under the care of a "porter," who opens the closely barred door to the shepherds in the morning. As contrasted with the legitimate shepherds, the false shepherds "enter not by the door," but climb over some other way. The allusion is to priests, scribes, Pharisees and generally to all, in any age, who claim an authority within the church unsanctioned by God (Godet). Jesus now gathers up the truth in its relation to Himself as the Supreme Shepherd. From His fundamental relation to the church, He is not only the Shepherd, but the Door (10:7-14). To those who enter by Him there is given security, liberty, provision (10:9). In his capacity as Shepherd Christ is preeminently all that a faithful shepherd ought to be. The highest proof of His love is that, as the Good Shepherd, He lays down His life for the sheep (10:11,15,17). This laying down of His life is not an accident, but is His free, voluntary act (10:17,18). Again there was division among the Jews because of these remarkable sayings (10:19-21).

Chronological Note.

Though John does not mention the fact, there is little doubt that, after this visit to Jerusalem, Jesus returned to Galilee, and at no long interval from His return, took His final departure southward. The chronology of this closing period in Galilee is somewhat uncertain. Some would place the visit to the Feast of Tabernacles before the withdrawal to Caesarea Philippi, or even earlier (compare Andrews, Life of our Lord, etc.); but the order adopted above appears preferable.