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Jesus Christ: Judean Ministry



The Forerunner and the Baptism

The Preaching of John

(Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18)

Time passed, and when Jesus was nearing His 30th year, Judea was agitated by the message of a stern preacher of righteousness who had appeared in the wilderness by the Jordan, proclaiming the imminent approach of the kingdom of heaven, summoning to repentance, and baptizing those who confessed their sins. Tiberius had succeeded Augustus on the imperial throne; Judea, with Samaria, was now a Roman province, under the procurator Pontius Pilate; the rest of Palestine was divided between the tetrarchs Herod (Galilee) and Philip (the eastern parts). The Baptist thus appeared at the time when the land had lost the last vestige of self-government, was politically divided, and was in great ecclesiastical confusion. Nurtured in the deserts (Lu 1:80), John’s very appearance was a protest against the luxury and self-seeking of the age. He had been a Nazarite from his birth; he fed on the simplest products of nature--locusts and wild honey; his coarse garb of camel’s hair and leathern girdle was a return to the dress of Elijah (2Ki 1:8), in whose spirit and power he appeared (Lu 1:17) (see John the Baptist).

The Coming Christ

John’s preaching of the kingdom was unlike that of any of the revolutionaries of his age. It was a kingdom which could be entered only through moral preparation. It availed nothing for the Jew simply that he was a son of Abraham. The Messiah was at hand. He (John) was but a voice in the wilderness sent to prepare the way for that Greater than himself. The work of the Christ would be one of judgment and of mercy. He would lay the axe at the root of the tree--would winnow the chaff from the wheat--yet would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:10-12; Lu 3:15-17). Those who professed acceptance of his message, with its condition of repentance, John baptized with water at the Jordan or in its neighborhood (compare Mt 3:6; Joh 1:28; 3:23).

Jesus Is Baptized

(Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21,22)


The Temptation



Temptation Follows Baptism


(Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:13,14; Luke 4:1-13)

On the narrative of the baptism in the first three Gospels there follows at once the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The psychological naturalness of the incident is generally acknowledged. The baptism of Jesus was a crisis in His experience. He had been plenished by the Spirit for His work; the heavens had been opened to Him, and His mind was agitated by new thoughts and emotions; He was conscious of the possession of new powers. There was need for a period of retirement, of still reflection, of coming to a complete understanding with Himself as to the meaning of the task to which He stood committed, the methods He should employ, the attitude He should take up toward popular hopes and expectations. He would wish to be alone. The Spirit of God led Him (Mt 4:1; Mr 1:12; Lu 4:1) whither His own spirit also impelled. It is with a touch of similar motive that Buddhist legend makes Buddha to be tempted by the evil spirit Mara after he has attained enlightenment.





Nature of the Temptation


The scene of the temptation was the wilderness of Judea. Jesus was there 40 days, during which, it is told, He neither ate nor drank (compare the fasts of Moses and Elijah, Ex 24:18; 34:28; De 9:18; 1Ki 19:8). Mark adds, "He was with the wild beasts" (verse 13). The period was probably one of intense self-concentration. During the whole of it He endured temptations of Satan (Mr 1:13); but the special assaults came at the end (Mt 4:2 ff; Lu 4:2 ). We assume here a real tempter and real temptations--the question of diabolic agency being considered after. This, however, does not settle the form of the temptations. The struggle was probably an inward one. It can hardly be supposed that Jesus was literally transported by the devil to a pinnacle of the temple, then to a high mountain, then, presumably, back again to the wilderness. The narrative must have come from Jesus Himself, and embodies an ideal or parabolic element. "The history of the temptation," Lange says, "Jesus afterwards communicated to His disciples in the form of a real narrative, clothed in symbolical language" (Commentary on Matthew, 83, English translation).





Stages of the Temptation


The stages of the temptation were three--each in its own way a trial of the spirit of obedience.

(1) The first temptation was to distrust. Jesus, after His long fast, was hungry. He had become conscious also of supernatural powers. The point on which the temptation laid hold was His sense of hunger--the most over-mastering of appetites. "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." The design was to excite distrustful and rebellious thoughts, and lead Jesus to use the powers entrusted to Him in an unlawful way, for private and selfish ends. The temptation was promptly met by a quotation from Scripture: "Man shall not live by bread alone," etc. (Mt 4:4; Lu 4:4; compare De 8:3). If Jesus was in this position, it was His Father who had brought Him there for purposes of trial. Man has a higher life than can be sustained on bread; a life, found in depending on God’s word, and obeying it at whatever cost.

(2) The second temptation (in Luke the third) was to presumption. Jesus is borne in spirit (compare Eze 40:1,2) to a pinnacle of the temple. From this dizzy elevation He is invited to cast Himself down, relying on the Divine promise: "He shall give His angels charge over thee," etc. (compare Ps 91:11,12). In this way an easy demonstration of His Messiahship would be given to the crowds below. The temptation was to overstep those bounds of humility and dependence which were imposed on Him as Son; to play with signs and wonders in His work as Messiah. But again the tempter is foiled by the word: "Thou shalt not make trial of (try experiments with, propose tests, put to the proof) the Lord thy God" (Mt 4:7; Lu 4:12; compare De 6:16).

(3) The third temptation (Luke’s second) was to worldly sovereignty, gained by some small concession to Satan. From some lofty elevation--no place on a geographical map--the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them are flashed before Christ’s mind, and all are offered to Him on condition of one little act of homage to the tempter. It was the temptation to choose the easier path by some slight pandering to falsehood, and Jesus definitely repelled it by the saying: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Mt 4:10; Lu 4:8). Jesus had chosen His path. The Father’s way of the cross would be adhered to.





Its Typical Character

The stages of the temptation typify the whole round of Satanic assault on man through body, mind, and spirit (Lu 4:13; compare 1Joh 2:16), and the whole round of Messianic temptation. Jesus was constantly being tempted

(a) to spare Himself;

(b) to gratify the Jewish signseekers;

(c) to gain power by sacrifice of the right.

In principle the victory was gained over all at the commencement. His way was henceforth clear.





The Testimonies of the Baptist



The Synoptics and John

While the Synoptics pass immediately from the temptation of Jesus to the ministry in Galilee the imprisonment of the Baptist (Mt 4:12; Mr 1:14,15; Lu 4:14), the Fourth Gospel furnishes the account, full of interest, of the earlier ministry of Jesus in Judea while the Baptist was still at liberty.


Threefold Witness of the Baptist

(John 1:19-37)

The Baptist had announced Christ’s coming; had baptized Him when He appeared; it was now his privilege to testify to Him as having come, and to introduce to Jesus His first disciples.

a) First Testimony--Jesus and Popular Messianic Expectation: (John 1:19-28)

John’s work had assumed proportions which made it impossible for the ecclesiastical authorities any longer to ignore it (compare Lu 3:15). A deputation consisting of priests and Levites was accordingly sent to John, where he was baptizing at Bethany beyond Jordan, to put to him categorical questions about his mission. Who was he? And by what authority did--he baptize? Was he the Christ? or Elijah? or the expected prophet? (compare Joh 6:14; 7:4; Mt 16:14). To these questions John gave distinct and straightforward replies. He was not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet. His answers grow briefer every time, "I am not the Christ"; "I am not"; "No." Who was he then? The answer was emphatic. He was but a "voice" (compare Isa 40:3)--a preparer of the way of the Lord. In their midst already stood One--not necessarily in the crowd at that moment--with whose greatness his was not to be compared (Joh 1:26,27). John utterly effaces himself before Christ.

b) Second Testimony--Christ and the Sin of the World:

(John 1:29-34)

The day after the interview with the Jerusalem deputies, John saw Jesus coming to him--probably fresh from the temptation--and bore a second and wonderful testimony to His Messiahship. Identifying Jesus with the subject of his former testimonies, and stating the ground of his knowledge in the sign God had given him (1:30-34), he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29). The words are rich in suggestion regarding the character of Jesus, and the nature, universality and efficacy of His work (compare 1 Joh 3:5). The "Lamb" may point specifically to the description of the vicariously Suffering Servant of Yahweh in Isa 53:11.

c) Third Testimony--Christ and the Duty of the Disciple:

(John 1:35-37)

The third testimony was borne "again on the morrow," when John was standing with two of his disciples (one Andrew, 1:40, the other doubtless the evangelist himself). Pointing to Jesus, the Baptist repeated his former words, "Behold, the Lamb of God." While the words are the same, the design was different. In the first "behold" the idea is the recognition of Christ; in the second there is a call to duty--a hint to follow Jesus. On this hint the disciples immediately acted (1:37). It is next to be seen how this earliest "following" of Jesus grew.


The First Disciples

Spiritual Accretion

(John 1:37-51)

John’s narrative shows that Jesus gathered His disciples, less by a series of distinct calls, than by a process of spiritual accretion. Men were led to Him, then accepted by Him. This process of selection left Jesus at the close of the second day with five real and true followers. The history confutes the idea that it was first toward the close of His ministry that Jesus became known to His disciples as the Messiah. In all the Gospels it was as the Christ that the Baptist introduced Jesus; it was as the Christ that the first disciples accepted and confessed Him (Joh 1:41,45,49). a) Andrew and John--Discipleship as the Fruit of Spiritual Converse:

(John 1:37-40)

The first of the group were Andrew and John--the unnamed disciple of Joh 1:40. These followed Jesus in consequence of their Master’s testimony. It was, however, the few hours’ converse they had with Jesus in His own abode that actually decided them. To Christ’s question, "What seek ye?" their answer was practically "Thyself." "The mention of the time--the 10th hour, i.e. 10 AM--is one of the small traits that mark John. He is here looking back on the date of his own spiritual birth" (Westcott).

b) Simon Peter--Discipleship a Result of Personal Testimony: (John 1:41,42)

John and Andrew had no sooner found Christ for themselves ("We have found the Messiah," Joh 1:41) than they hastened to tell others of their discovery. Andrew at once sought out Simon, his brother, and brought him to Jesus; so, later, Philip sought Nathanael (Joh 1:45). Christ’s unerring eye read at once the quality of the man whom Andrew introduced to Him. "Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas"--"Rock" or "Stone" (1:42). Mt 16:18, therefore, is not the original bestowal of this name, but the confirmation of it. The name is the equivalent of "Peter" (Petros), and was given to Simon, not with any official connotation, but because of the strength and clearness of his convictions. His general steadfastness is not disproved by His one unhappy failure. (Was it thus the apostle acquired the name "Peter"?)

c) Philip--the Result of Scriptural Evidence:

(John 1:43,14)

The fourth disciple, Philip, was called by Jesus Himself, when about to depart for Galilee (Joh 1:43). Friendship may have had its influence on Philip (like the foregoing, he also was from Bethsaida of Galilee, Joh 1:44), but that which chiefly decided him was the correspondence of what he found in Jesus with the prophetic testimonies (Joh 1:45). d) Nathanael--Discipleship an Effect of Heart-Searching Power:

(John 1:45-51)


"Son of Man" and "Son of God"

The name "Son of Man"--a favorite designation of Jesus for Himself--appears here for the first time in the Gospels. It is disputed whether it was a current Messianic title (see Son of Man), but at least it had this force on the lips of Jesus Himself, denoting Him as the possessor of a true humanity, and as standing in a representative relation to mankind universally. It is probably borrowed from Da 7:13 and appears in the Book of Enoch (see Apocalyptic Literature). The higher title, "Son of God," given to Jesus by Nathanael, could not, of course, as yet carry with it the transcendental associations of John’s Prologue (Joh 1:1,14,18), but it evidently conveyed an idea of superhuman dignity and unique relation to God, such as the better class of minds would seem to have attributed to the Messiah (compare Joh 5:18; 10:33 ff; Mt 26:63).


The First Events

An interval of a few weeks is occupied by a visit of Jesus to Cana of Galilee (Joh 2:1 ) and a brief sojourn in Capernaum (Joh 2:12); after which Jesus returned to Jerusalem to the Passover as the most appropriate place for His public manifestation of Himself as Messiah (Joh 2:13 ). The notes of time in John suggest that the Passover (beginning of April, 27 AD) took place about three months after the baptism by John (compare 1:43; 2:1,12).


The First Miracle

(Joh 2:1-11) Prior to His public manifestation, a more private unfolding of Christ’s glory was granted to the disciples at the marriage feast of Cana of Galilee (compare Joh 2:11). The marriage was doubtless that of some relative of the family, and the presence of Jesus at the feast, with His mother, brethren and disciples (as Joseph no more appears, it may be concluded that he was dead), is significant as showing that His religion is not one of antagonism to natural relations. The marriage festivities lasted seven days, and toward the close the wine provided for the guests gave out. Mary interposed with an indirect suggestion that Jesus might supply the want. Christ’s reply, literally, "Woman, what is that to thee and to me?" (Joh 2:4), is not intended to convey the least tinge of reproof (compare Westcott, in the place cited.), but intimates to Mary that His actions were henceforth to be guided by a rule other than hers (compare Lu 2:51). This, however, as Mary saw (Joh 2:5), did not preclude an answer to her desire. Six waterpots of stone stood near, and Jesus ordered these to be filled with water (the quantity was large; about 50 gallons); then when the water was drawn off it was found changed into a nobler element--a wine purer and better than could have been obtained from any natural vintage. The ruler of the feast, in ignorance of its origin, expressed surprise at its quality (Joh 2:10). The miracle was symbolical--a "sign" (Joh 2:11)--and may be contrasted with the first miracle of Moses--turning the water into blood (Ex 7:20). It points to the contrast between the old dispensation and the new, and to the work of Christ as a transforming, enriching and glorifying of the natural, through Divine grace and power.

After a brief stay at Capernaum (Joh 2:12), Jesus went up to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. There it was His design formally to manifest Himself. Other "signs" He wrought at the feast, leading many to believe on Him--not, however, with a deep or enduring faith (Joh 2:23-25)--but the special act by which He signalized His appearance was His public cleansing of the temple from the irreligious trafficking with which it had come to be associated.


The First Passover, and Cleansing of the Temple


(John 2:13-25)






The Visit of Nicodemus


(John 3:1-12)

As a sequel to these stirring events Jesus had a nocturnal visitor in the person of Nicodemus--a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a "teacher of Israel" (Joh 3:10), apparently no longer young (Joh 3:4). His coming by night argues, besides some fear of man, a constitutional timidity of disposition (compare Joh 19:39); but the interesting thing is that he did come, showing that he had been really impressed by Christ’s words and works. One recognizes in him a man of candor and uprightness of spirit, yet without adequate apprehensions of Christ Himself, and of the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus he was prepared to acknowledge as a Divinely-commissioned teacher--one whose mission was accredited by miracle (Joh 3:2). He was interested in the kingdom, but, as a morally living man, had no doubt of his fitness to enter into it. Jesus had but to teach and he would understand.




(1) The New Birth

Jesus in His reply laid His finger at once on the defective point in His visitor’s relation to Himself and to His kingdom: "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Joh 3:3); "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Joh 3:5). Nicodemus was staggered at this demand for a spiritual new birth. There is reason to believe that proselytes were baptized on being received into the Jewish church, and their baptism was called a "new birth." Nicodemus would therefore be familiar with the expression, but could not see that it had any applicability to him. Jesus teaches him, on the other hand, that he also needs a new birth, and this, not through water only, but through the Spirit. The change was mysterious, yet plainly manifest in its effects (Joh 3:7,8). If Nicodemus did not understand these "earthly things"--the evidence of which lay all around him--how should he understand "heavenly things," the things pertaining to salvation?





(2) "Heavenly Things"

These "heavenly things" Jesus now proceeds to unfold to Nicodemus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent," etc. (Joh 3:14). The "lifting up" is a prophecy of the cross (compare 12:32-34). The brazen serpent is the symbol of sin conquered and destroyed by the death of Christ. What follows in Joh 3:16-21 is probably the evangelist’s expansion of this theme--God’s love the source of salvation (Joh 3:16), God’s purpose not the world’s condemnation, but its salvation (Joh 3:17,18) the self-judgment of sin (Joh 3:19 ).





Jesus and John

(John 3:22-36)

Retiring from Jerusalem, Jesus commenced a ministry in Judea (Joh 3:22). It lasted apparently about 6 months. The earlier Gospels pass over it. This is accounted for by the fact that the ministry in Judea was still preparatory. Jesus had publicly asserted His Messianic authority. A little space is now allowed to test the result. Meanwhile Jesus descends again to the work of prophetic preparation. His ministry at this stage is hardly distinguishable from John’s. He summons to the baptism of repentance. His disciples, not Himself, administer the rite (Joh 3:23; 4:2); hence the sort of rivalry that sprang up between His baptism and that of the forerunner (Joh 3:22-26). John was baptizing at the time at Aenon, on the western side of the Jordan; Jesus somewhere in the neighborhood. Soon the greater teacher began to eclipse the less. "All men came to Him" (3:26). John’s reply showed how pure his mind was from the narrow, grudging spirit which characterized his followers. To him it was no grievance, but the fulfillment of his joy, that men should be flocking to Jesus. He was not the Bridegroom, but the friend of the Bridegroom. They themselves had heard him testify, "I am not the Christ." It lay in the nature of things that Jesus must increase; he must decrease (3:27-30). Explanatory words follow (3:31-36).





Journey to Galilee — the Woman of Samaria



Withdrawal to Galilee

Toward the close of this Judean ministry the Baptist appears to have been cast into prison for his faithfulness in reproving Herod Antipas for taking his brother Philip’s wife (compare Joh 3:24; Mt 14:3-5 parallel). It seems most natural to connect the departure to Galilee in Joh 4:3 with that narrated in Mt 3:13 parallel, though some think the imprisonment of the Baptist did not take place till later. The motive which Joh gives was the hostility of the Pharisees, but it was the imprisonment of the Baptist which led Jesus to commence, at the time He did, an independent ministry. The direct road to Galilee lay through Samaria; hence the memorable encounter with the woman at that place.


The Living Water

Jesus, being wearied, paused to rest Himself at Jacob’s well, near a town called Sychar, now ’Askar. It was about the sixth hour--or 6 o’clock in the evening. The time of year is determined by Joh 4:35 to be "four months" before harvest, i.e. December (there is no reason for not taking this literally). It suits the evening hour that the woman of Samaria came out to draw water. (Some, on a different reckoning, take the hour to be noon.) Jesus opened the conversation by asking from the woman a draught from her pitcher. The proverbial hatred between Jews and Samaritans filled the woman with surprise that Jesus should thus address Himself to her. Still greater was her surprise when, as the conversation proceeded, Jesus announced Himself as the giver of a water of which, if a man drank, he should never thirst again (Joh 4:13,14). Only gradually did His meaning penetrate her mind, "Sir, give me this water," etc. (Joh 4:15). The request of Jesus that she would call her husband led to the discovery that Jesus knew all the secrets of her life. She was before a prophet (Joh 4:19). As in the case iof Nathanael, the heart-searching power of Christ’s word convinced her of His Divine claim.


The True Worship

The conversation next turned upon the right place of worship. The Samaritans had a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim; the Jews, on the other hand, held to the exclusive validity of the temple at Jerusalem. Which was right? Jesus in His reply, while pronouncing for the Jews as the custodians of God’s salvation (Joh 4:22), makes it plain that distinction of places is no longer a matter of any practical importance. A change was imminent which would substitute a universal religion for one of special times and places (Joh 4:20). He enunciates the great principle of the new dispensation that God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Finally, when she spoke of the Messiah, Jesus made Himself definitely known to her as the Christ. To this poor Samaritan woman, with her receptive heart, He unveils Himself more plainly than He had done to priests and rulers (Joh 4:26).


Work at Its Reward

The woman went home and became an evangelist to her people, with notable results (Joh 4:28,39). Jesus abode with them two days and confirmed the impression made by her testimony (Joh 4:40-42). Meanwhile, He impressed on His disciples the need of earnest sowing and reaping in the service of the Kingdom, assuring them of unfailing reward for both sower and reaper (Joh 4:35-38). He Himself was their Great Example (Joh 4:34).