The Judaean ministry of Jesus
It is in John’s gospel alone that any information is given about the early Judaean ministry, a fact which raises some problems but which need not lead to historical skepticism regarding this period. It may, in fact, be stated that the accounts in the other gospels would be unintelligible apart from John’s account of the initial introduction of the disciples to Jesus. This followed immediately upon the impact of the preaching of John the Baptist upon them (John 1:19ff.). They may not have understood the full importance of the pronouncement about the Lamb of God, if they had any insight at all, which is certainly questionable. They were drawn as by a magnet to the Person about whom the words were spoken.
It is significant that John does not record a mass following, but rather the response of individuals. Discipleship was at this stage loose and needed confirmation by a further specific call later on, as the synoptic gospels record. There is no doubt about the deep impression made by Jesus. He was acclaimed as Messiah by His first two followers. He was acknowledged as Son of God and King of Israel by Nathanael. He was winning men by means utterly different from those suggested by Satan at the time of the Temptation.
During this period of personal contact with future apostles Jesus made a visit to Galilee, and while there He was involved in a wedding at Cana, which is noted by the evangelist as being the place of the first of Jesus’ signs (John 2:1-11). The purpose of the signs was to reveal the glory of Christ, and it is not without meaning that the first sample should be in a purely domestic setting. It throws light upon the humanity of Jesus.
Two other incidents in Jerusalem preceded the opening of the public ministry in Galilee. The first was a public act, the second a private conversation. The cleansing of the Temple by the expulsion of money changers (John 2:13ff.) was a daring commencement to public work, and for this reason many prefer to regard this incident as misplaced by John, esp. in view of the similar incident recorded by the synoptics at the end of the ministry. A double cleansing cannot be dismissed as impossible, although many regard it as improbable. Some consider it to be symbolic of the purifying purpose of Jesus in the citadel of contemporary Judaism. John clearly regarded the historical details as important, for he mentions the Passover feast. The incident itself reveals the great authority which the presence of Jesus must have conveyed. It also illuminates one aspect of the mission of Jesus for He alludes to His coming Resurrection (as John 2:18ff. shows).
The conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) is of a different order, although akin insofar as Nicodemus was himself associated with official Judaism. His quest was typical of those who were dissatisfied with their religion, and yet who were mystified by the spiritual emphasis of Jesus. The dialogue which John relates is important as showing the place of regeneration in the thought of Jesus and the inability of Nicodemus to grasp its true meaning. This was to be symbolic of the reaction of men generally to the spiritual message of Jesus.
John’s account brings out clearly the connection between the work of Jesus and John the Baptist. Both practiced baptism in the Jordan. This similarity caused difficulties among John’s disciples (John 3:25), who were unable to grasp the preparatory character of John’s work, and necessitated a repetition of John’s denial that he was the Messiah. He was only a witness, and his testimony agreed with the self-testimony of Jesus Himself.
When Jesus left Judaea for Galilee to commence His ministry there, He passed through Samaria, and His experiences, recorded only by John, are a significant introduction to the synoptic account of the ministry (John 4:1-45). Samaria had little in common with Jerusalem except for possessing its own central worship and maintaining some kind of Messianic hope. The Jews and Samaritans had no personal dealings with each other, as John makes clear. All the more remarkable, therefore, was the Lord’s interview with a Samaritan woman. It proves beyond doubt that He had no intention of being restricted by narrow Jewish nationalism. It shows furthermore that His approach to women differed from that of His Jewish contemporaries. His conversation with this woman revealed His extraordinary insight into human nature, and it has since become a pattern for personal evangelism.
The most striking feature about the whole incident is the self-revelation of Jesus. He acknowledged Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:26), in spite of the fact that He later showed a consistent refusal to permit His disciples to make this known. It appears that He took a different line with the Samaritans because their Messianic hope differed from that of the Jews. It was not so closely tied to nationalistic aspirations and was therefore less open to serious misapprehensions. Moreover, the sequel to the conversation shows the spiritual character of the Lord’s mission in the manifest joy that He had when people believed on Him. The dialogue itself supports this view, since Jesus soon turns the conversation away from material to spiritual concerns, esp. the spiritual nature of God.
The Galilean ministry
After the events in Samaria Jesus returns to the place where water was turned into wine and performs another miracle there. Although a similar incident is recorded in the synoptic gospels later on in the ministry, it is best to regard the miracle related by John (4:46-53) as distinct, for several differences in detail suggest this. Moreover, John points out specifically that this was the second of Jesus’ signs in Galilee, as if he were attaching some importance to this fact.
The healing of the official’s son at Capernaum serves as a fitting prelude to the whole Galilean ministry, for Jesus had not yet become well-known in Galilee for His miraculous works, and this fact heightens all the more the father’s faith, which is specifically mentioned as a factor in the healing.
It has already been noted that the Galilean ministry may be divided into three periods, and these will be separately described. It should be observed, however, that although the general heading relates to Galilee, there must have been some activity in Jerusalem, if John’s record is to be taken into account. Most of the time, however, Jesus worked and taught in Galilee.
The period up to the choosing of the Twelve
a. The initial call of disciples. The choosing of the Twelve began in the specific calling of four men from their fishing, Peter and Andrew, James and John (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). From John’s account one can see that these men had earlier contact with Jesus, but now they are called to devote themselves more wholeheartedly to His work. In the process of time others were added, but it was not until the number had reached twelve that Jesus appointed them as an officially constituted body of apostles, which did not occur until the end of this period. Connected with the call of the first disciples is the incident of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11), which is intended to emphasize the superior achievement of catching men. The spiritual is more excellent than the material.
It is impossible to be certain about the exact order of events in this period, and it is consequently better to group the main incidents into similar categories. With this in mind, the call of Levi will be mentioned, although not occurring until later on in the period (Matt 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32). Levi, who became known as Matthew, is representative of a class of people greatly despised in the contemporary Jewish world. He was a tax collector, and since taxes were a sore point with the Jews, those who collected them became the targets for social contempt. No information is given about the grounds on which Jesus based His choice of men, but many of them seem to have been unlikely characters. It is one of the most illuminating studies to consider how He molded such men for His purpose.
b. The sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7). Another important aspect of the early ministry of Jesus was His preaching, and it is mainly Matthew who gives samples, particularly in his long discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount. In view of the fact that Luke records much of this discourse material in isolated passages, many scholars dispute whether Matthew’s material was delivered on one occasion. It is possible that Matthew is responsible for the collection of the material into a discourse, but this is by no means certain. He undoubtedly leads his readers to assume that one particular occasion was in mind. Moreover, it is reasonable to maintain that the Lord frequently repeated the same teaching, as was customary among Jewish rabbis, and in this case there is no basis for disputing the unity of the Sermon on the Mount. The content is more important, however, than this historical question. Since a separate section is devoted to a general summary of the teaching of Jesus, it will be necessary only to indicate the special characteristics of this important discourse.
The main emphasis is ethical. Jesus had in mind the establishment of His kingdom and the consequent need of new patterns of behavior. His own teaching is set forth as an advance on the teaching of Moses. A wide variety of themes is covered, mostly of a social character, such as murder, divorce, retaliation, and attitudes toward one’s enemies. There are, however, many sayings which deal with personal religious motives, such as prayer and fasting, self-deception, and varying reactions to the hearing of the Word. The Beatitudes at the beginning of the discourse similarly encourage spiritual and moral values. Matthew records what the hearers thought of the sermon. They were astonished, and this may be regarded as typical during the early ministry. It was the authoritative nature of the teaching which so deeply impressed the hearers.
Of special importance is the power of Jesus over evil spirits, for this is a marked feature of all stages of the ministry. The work of Jesus was set in an atmosphere of spiritual conflict. The examples quoted showing His power over demoniacs are to be regarded as illustrations of spirtual victories.
During this earlier period of the ministry, one miracle is recorded which affected the world of nature, i.e., the stilling of the storm (Matt 8:23-27; cf. Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). It is placed earlier in Matthew than in the other synoptics. The focus of attention is once again not so much on the marvelous power of Jesus as on the lack of faith on the part of the disciples. Nonetheless, the element of marvel is not absent, as the miracle caused the disciples to discuss what kind of man He was that the wind and sea obeyed Him (Matt 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25). Throughout the gospel story there is an element of mystery about the person of Jesus.
d. Popularity and criticism. The evangelists are deeply interested in the impact Jesus made on various types of people. This is most marked in their comments on the early popularity of Jesus. Matthew’s summary in 4:23-25 makes this clear—His fame spread throughout all Syria (cf. Mark 1:28). This enthusiasm over His healing work was undoubtedly superficial. The real meaning of His message, and the self-effacing spiritual character of His mission had not yet dawned upon the multitudes, nor were they capable of comprehending it. By way of contrast with this superficial popularity, the criticism of the Pharisees is brought out in equally clear fashion. Mark, in fact, preserves a sequence of incidents which is designed to show the increasing hostility of the scribes and Pharisees (Mark 2:1-3:6). The culmination of this sequence shows the intensity of the hostility since the Pharisees joined forces with the Herodians, a combination which rarely happened.
At a later stage of the ministry, Jesus makes some pointed criticisms of the Pharisees, mainly on the grounds of their hypocrisy (cf. Matt 23). At this early stage, however, He presents them with a reasoned approach to provide them with the opportunity to respond. The stumbling-stone for them was the unorthodoxy of Jesus. In their eyes He was a lawbreaker in His attitude toward the Sabbath, while His social fellowship with tax collectors and sinners could only invite Pharisaic contempt. No doubt the Pharisees soon reacted to the popular opinion that Jesus taught and acted with authority, in contrast to the scribes (Matt 7:29). They could not fail to see a very dangerous threat to their own grip upon the common people.
e. The choosing of the Twelve. The naming of twelve specially chosen disciples and the description of their first mission is of such importance that all the synoptic gospels mention them. In both Matthew and Mark (Matt 10:1; Mark 3:13-19) the commissioning is linked with authority over unclean spirits. In addition to this, Matthew mentions the power to heal, and Mark the command to preach. Luke separates the story of the choosing of the Twelve from the special purpose of the office of apostle (cf. Luke 6:12-16; 9:1, 2). The men whom Jesus chose were a representative group. They were not all drawn from the poorer classes, for the father of James and John possessed his own boat and employed servants (Mark 1:20). Matthew as a tax-collector would be well-to-do, although hated by his compatriots. Simon may have been an erstwhile revolutionary.
Such importance did Jesus attach to the mission of the Twelve that He gave them specific instructions which served not only for their immediate benefit on their first preaching tour, but also as a pattern for the subsequent missions of the Christian Church. The charge to the Twelve is more fully recorded in Matthew than in the other gospels (Matt 10:5ff.; cf. Luke 9:1-6; and Mark 6:7-13). Special emphasis is placed on material provisions, for Jesus advises that nothing unnecessary should be taken. The disciples are instructed how to proceed if any town or village receives them, and what to do if it does not. The advice is essentially practical. The message they are to proclaim is confined to an announcement of the nearness of the kingdom. They were not to imagine that all would warm to this message, for much hostility and persecution would await them.
The advice is obviously to prepare Jesus’ disciples for future rather than immediate opposition and is well illustrated from the story of the Early Church. To fortify them they are reminded of the certainty of their heavenly Father’s care over them. The most startling prediction given to the Twelve was the certainty that the message of Jesus would result in serious division within households. He who had Himself experienced the hostility of the Pharisees, even during this initial period, was in no doubt concerning the difficulties which would confront His disciples. Victory would not come except through enduring much for Christ’s sake.
Some comment has already been made on the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, but Matthew and Luke include further sayings of Jesus on the subject which deserves notice. It has been seen that Jesus began by preaching what John had preached, but He soon went on to proclaim His unique message. John had already recognized and publicly announced Jesus to be greater than he, but it is not surprising that he became perplexed by later developments. When doubts arose, he sent messengers from his prison, where he had been incarcerated by Herod, to ascertain whether Jesus was prepared to confirm His Messiahship (Matt 11:2ff.). Not only did Jesus send an encouraging word back to John, but also commended him for his greatness in the hearing of the crowds. The difference between John and Jesus is illustrated by Jesus Himself from the children’s games of funerals and weddings. He points out that His own generation was satisfied with neither.
The period up to the withdrawal of Jesus from northern Galilee
a. Sabbath controversies and healings. It is convenient at this point to include the incident recorded only by John, when an impotent man was healed at the pool of Bethesda. It is impossible to identify the feast during which the healing occurred (John 5:1) and equally impossible to know precisely where to place this incident within the synoptic framework. Its main significance is in the fact that the man’s own attitude of faith is not specifically stated, although it is clearly implied by his ready response to the command from Jesus to take up his bed and walk. Since the miracle was performed on the Sabbath, the action again aroused the antagonism of the Jews, although in this case was added the further charge that Jesus made Himself equal with God.
Another Sabbath controversy occurred when the disciples plucked ears of grain from a grainfield on the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5), an action which Pharisaic casuistry regarded as work and was therefore forbidden. This led to a specific claim by Jesus to be “lord of the sabbath” (Matt 12:8), which placed Him in a superior position to the scribes in the interpretation of the Law. Again the plot of the Pharisees to destroy Jesus is mentioned (12:14), after another healing on the Sabbath day.
During the course of his accounts of healing miracles Matthew refers to the fulfillment of prophecy, citing a passage from the Servant songs of Isaiah (Matt 12:15-21). This is an important aspect of his record of Jesus’ ministry, but it is also seen to a lesser extent in all the gospels. Luke records two outstanding miracles which occurred during this period, the healing of the centurion’s servant at Capernaum (Luke 7:1-10) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (7:11-17). The first is remarkable for the faith of a non-Israelite who was prepared to believe the authoritative word of Jesus, and the second for the effect it had upon the crowds, who glorified God (7:16).
An incident which shows the deep human understanding of Jesus is the anointing of His feet by a woman, well-known for her sinful character, in the house of a Pharisee (7:36-50). Luke vividly tells the story of the woman’s devotion and of the Pharisee’s carping criticisms. By means of a parable Jesus shows Simon the Pharisee that the woman, in spite of her known character, had nevertheless out-shone him in devotion. Such an incident is an acted parable of the effect of Jesus on the two representative groups, the religious and the non-religious. Those who should have set an example in devotion dismally failed, while the underprivileged responded.
b. Division and attack. Controversies were never far away in the ministry of Jesus, but one of the most pointed of these followed the exorcism of a devil (Matt 12:22ff.; Mark 3:20ff.; Luke 11:14-23). The Pharisees attributed it to Beelzebub, prince of the devils, but Jesus points out how ludicrous it is to think of Satan casting out Satan. The power to cast out demons is by the Spirit of God. Never more vividly than this did the spiritual character of the conflict come to the fore. The tragedy was that the Pharisees with all their religous scrupulosity were near to committing the unpardonable sin. Some of the scribes and Pharisees then pursued a different line against Jesus—the demand for a sign, which He emphatically rejected. He was so essentially different from the Messianic concept of the Jews that it is not surprising that they required a sign to resolve their perplexity. But they were too blind to take notice of earlier signs, e.g., Jonah and Solomon.
It was necessary now for Jesus to make clear His true relationship to His family, and He shows the development of a relationship which far transcends family ties (Matt 12:46-50).
c. Samples of the teaching of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus remained much the same as in the earlier period. Luke records many sayings parallel to those in the Sermon on the Mount, although in a different context. There is no doubt that Jesus frequently repeated the same sayings, and there is no need therefore to identify Luke’s sermon with Matthew’s. The common people who gladly listened to Jesus needed constant repetition of the teaching. Luke records some material common with Matthew, but his sermon is brief, and even in the common material shows a fair amount of variation in the wording. Acknowledgment of the fact that much of the teaching material was given on a number of occasions supports the contention that in some respects the teaching methods of the rabbis influenced the method of Jesus (cf. B. Gerhardsson’s Memory and Manuscript ). The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching material and method must, nevertheless, be fully acknowledged. He understood better than the rabbis the psychology of teaching.
Luke gives an interesting insight into one aspect of Jesus’ life at this period. Not only was He accompanied by the Twelve, but also by a group of women, some of whom were wealthy enough to supply means of support for the company (Luke 8:1-3).
Several parables of the kingdom were taught by Jesus in the course of His preaching tours. It is Matthew who shows a special interest in these and collects them into a group (Matt 13). Since a discussion of the parabolic teaching of Jesus will be included elsewhere, it will be sufficient to point out the significance of this method of teaching in this particular period of the ministry. Crowds were still flocking to hear Jesus, but the basic receptivity was varied. The parable of the Sower (or more accurately the parable of the Soils) was intended to show Jesus’ recognition of this fact in His own ministry, and also illustrates what the disciples might expect. The choice of the parabolic method was itself intended to show that Jesus had a selective purpose in His teaching. Vivid stories would be most readily stored in the mind, but their significance would become plain only to those with a serious intention to discover their meaning. No doubt the disciples who received an interpretation of both the parable of the Sower and the parable of the Tares were puzzled by the thought that the teaching of Jesus would neither appeal to nor persuade all who heard it. There were many adverse influences to combat it. At the conclusion of the special parable section Matthew includes a saying of Jesus which well illustrates His own approach to His hearers. A scribe “trained for the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt 13:52). Although there is much that is not new in the teaching of Jesus, there is much that is unique and this takes precedence over the old.
d. Unbelief at Nazareth. Another incident in His own town of Nazareth occurred at this time. Although the synagogue congregation was astonished at the wisdom with which He taught, esp. in view of His humble family connections, yet they were offended because of Him and they disbelieved in Him (Matt 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6; cf. Luke 4:16-30). Matthew records that because of this He could not perform many miracles, while Mark mentions that He healed only a “few sick people” (Mark 6:5). Jesus’ own comment on this sad state of affairs was to cite a proverb about a prophet never having honor in His own country. He was clearly not surprised at the limitations imposed on His activity through man’s unbelief.
e. The death of John the Baptist. So far there has been little indication of the attitude of the civil authorities toward Jesus, but all the synoptic gospels mention that Jesus’ fame reached the ears of Herod. It troubled Herod because rumors were spreading that John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, was risen from the dead. It was for this reason that he desired to see Jesus. Both Matthew and Mark relate the circumstances of the beheading (Matt 14:3ff.; Mark 6:17ff.). It happened in response to a malicious request by Herod’s sister-in-law named Herodias, at a drunken festival at which Herodias’ own daughter danced a sensuous dance. Both evangelists refer to Herod’s dismay at the request for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, but he had made his rash promise under oath and would not break the oath for fear of losing face with the courtiers. The whole sordid incident throws into stark relief the ignominious end of the noble forerunner of Jesus.
f. The feeding of the multitude. When the apostles returned from their preaching mission, Jesus invited them to come apart from the crowds for a time. No doubt they had much to report and some solitary place would be more conducive for this than the midst of a bustling multitude. On this occasion solitude eluded Jesus and His disciples, who were seen crossing the sea of Galilee by boat. As a result, a multitude gathered to welcome Jesus when His boat arrived at the shore, and this provided an opportunity for further extensive teaching and for a miraculous feeding of the multitude. This latter event was so remarkable that all four evangelists record it (Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). Two of the evangelists (Matthew and Mark) mention the compassion of Jesus, which must be considered the prime motive for the miracle. Another feature of the incident is the way in which the disciples were challenged to provide food for all to eat, which they were clearly incapable of doing. All the evangelists draw attention to the smallness of the food supply available (five small loaves and two fishes) and all refer to the twelve basketsful which were left over. Mark’s account is the most vivid, for he not only mentions the greenness of the grass, but also the size and arrangement of the companies into which the multitude was divided (Mark 6:39, 40). It is John, however, who brings out the significance of the event. The people who saw the miracle wanted to make Jesus king (John 6:15), but their motives were wholly materialistic and political. So alien was this to the purpose of Jesus that He was obliged to withdraw from the crowds.
A more important aspect of the incident, which John alone reveals, is the discourse of Jesus on the theme of the true bread from heaven (John 6:16ff.). The first part of the discourse prob. was given immediately after the incident of Jesus walking on the water (see next section), in the open air, but the second part clearly was delivered in the synagogue (John 6:59). The dividing line may be the point at which John introduces the murmuring Jews into his narrative (6:41).
The type of discussion which John relates must have been typical of many dialogues. It shows Jesus always taking the initiative in turning attention to spiritual issues. The Jews wanted to satisfy their curiosity as to when Jesus had arrived on the far side of the sea; then they wanted to know what work they must do to accomplish God’s work; and they requested a sign as a basis of belief, citing God’s gift of manna in the wilderness. To each question Jesus gives a spiritual answer: to the first, an exhortation to seek food which endures; to the second, an exhortation to believe in God’s messenger, Jesus; to the third, a reminder that the bread of God is sent from heaven, not by Moses but by God Himself. This bread is then identified with Jesus Himself. This latter theme is developed in the second part of the discourse, which shows the spiritual importance of the work Jesus came to do—to give His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51). Many of the disciples who followed Jesus found this type of teaching so perplexing and unpalatable that they withdrew from the company of Jesus. This prompted Him to challenge the Twelve. He elicited an enthusiastic expression of faith from Peter and made a prediction of Judas’ betrayal (John 6:66-71).
g. The walking on the water. Reference must be made to the incident of Jesus’ walking on the sea of Galilee, which is recorded by all the evangelists except Luke, immediately after the feeding of the multitudes (Matt 14:22ff.; Mark 6:45ff.; John 6:16ff.). Conditions at sea were adverse, but Jesus took command of the situation. The linking of these two miracles is not accidental, for both demonstrate power over the natural creation. In the midst of the storm Jesus brought a message of peace. The attempt of Peter to emulate Jesus by walking on the sea is related only by Matthew. It is wholly in character, as far as Peter was concerned. His impulsive action and inadequate faith are seen against the background of the Lord’s mild rebuke of him. This was part of the training of the man who was to be so greatly used in the early history of the Church.
h. The tradition of the elders. The encounter between Jesus and some Jerusalem scribes and Pharisees (Matt 15:1) shows the sharp dispute which arose between them over matters of tradition. The tradition of the elders was of paramount importance to the Jews. Since it ranked equal or even superior to the written law, it was invested with great authority. Over a long period of time its demands had increased in quantity and burdensomeness, so as to become oppressive for the serious adherents of Judaism. The system was open to abuse, and Matthew later records some severe critcism of it on the part of Jesus. It should be recognized that the intention of these traditions was to safeguard the law for the benefit of the populace. In the present case the Pharisees were bothered about the disciples’ neglect of the ritual handwashing before meals, but Jesus points out their own failure to comply with a far more fundamental demand—the Mosaic commandment to honor parents, which was nullified by Pharisaic casuistry (Matt 15:5). He tells the people in the presence of the Pharisees that defilement is a matter of thought and not of ritual.
The period up to the departure of Jesus for Jerusalem on His last journey
a. In a Gentile district. After this criticism of current traditions, Jesus proceeds to the predominantly Gentile district around Tyre and Sidon, which visit is notable because of His treatment of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who came to Him on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter (Matt 15:21ff.; Mark 7:24ff.). The disciples believed that a non-Jew had no right to make any demands upon Jesus, and the statement of Jesus Himself that He was sent only to “the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24) seemed to support this view. The saying is important for it shows the limits of the main field of His mission and the reason why He did not go further afield. His response to the remarkable faith of this Gentile woman, who was prepared to beg for a dog’s share if she did not qualify among the children, shows that the limits of the mission could be liberally interpreted where the need existed.
Matthew gives in summary form other healings after Jesus’ return from Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:29ff.), and records that the crowd glorified God. Mark tells of Jesus healing a deaf and dumb man, and says that the people were astonished beyond measure (Mark 7:31ff.). His account includes a specific charge to silence for those who had witnessed the miracle, although the charge went unheeded (7:36). The question arises why Jesus issued such a command. Some have seen here evidence of the Messianic secret theory which has already been noted, but there is no need to embrace that theory to find an explanation of the present charge. It was never the intention of Jesus to set Himself up as a wonder-worker, and it was therefore essential that it should be known that He did not accept such a role.
b. The second feeding of a multitude. It is at this point that Matthew and Mark relate the feeding of the four thousand (Matt 15:32ff.; Mark 8:1ff.). There are many similarities with the former incident which have led some scholars to treat them as duplicate accounts of the same event. Yet there are significant differences which were obviously regarded by the evangelists as sufficient to demonstrate that there were two accounts, not one. There was a different number of people and a different supply of available food. There were also a smaller number of baskets of fragments left over.
If it be maintained that the details became enhanced in process of transmission, it would be necessary to regard this account as more primitive than the account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is difficult to see why another thousand people were added and why two less loaves and less fish were introduced, and yet five more baskets of fragments were added. Moreover, both evangelists used a different word for basket in the present account as compared with the former story. Nevertheless, if two such events actually took place, some reason must be found for the inclusion of both of them in Matthew and Mark. They both must have considered the repetition of similar incidents of some importance. Both record the specific reference by Jesus to the two events (Matt 16:9, 10; Mark 8:19, 20). Even with the repetition the disciples had not learned their lesson, while the Pharisees were still seeking a sign from heaven. The two recorded incidents therefore emphasize not only the constantly remarkable power of Jesus, but also the obduracy of the observers who failed to interpret its message. As for the Pharisees’ request for a heavenly sign, it is no wonder that this brought from Jesus a deep sigh (Mark 8:12) and a flat rejection of any other sign than that of Jonah (Matt 16:4). It was no doubt this incident which caused Jesus to warn the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, by which He meant their teaching (Matt 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-21).
c. Caesarea Philippi. One may pass by the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, which is notable mainly because it was performed in two stages (Mark 8:22-26), and come to the highly important discussions at Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13ff.; Mark 8:27ff.; Luke 9:18ff.). Jesus posed the question, “Who do men say that I am?” Four general replies were given: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, but Peter’s own conception went much further. Matthew gives his testimony in its fullest form: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Since it was from this point onward that Jesus began to concentrate on the training of the Twelve, this confession must have possessed special significance for Him. All the synoptists say that Jesus charged His disciples to tell no one about this, which reveals His awareness of the difficulties men would have in recognizing His true character.
No reasons are given why Peter and, presumably, others were led to identify Jesus so confidently with the long awaited Messiah. They had seen many evidences of His power, but many others had done the same and yet had not believed. Jesus Himself reminded Peter that He had not come to this conclusion through any human agency, but by revelation from God the Father.
It is impossible to ascertain what content was conveyed by the title “Son of the living God,” but Peter was clearly recognizing some claims to deity. What such a confession meant to Jesus may be inferred from the blessing that He immediately pronounced on Peter, and from His prediction about him. When Jesus said to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18), it was one of the only two recorded occasions when He used the word “church” (ekklesia; cf. Matt 18:17).
It is impossible to discuss here the problems which have been raised concerning this statement, but the crux of the matter is the interpretation of the word “rock.” Is Peter himself intended, or is it his confession? In favor of the former is the play on Peter’s name, and in favor of the latter is the teaching of other Scriptures which speak of Christ as the Church’s foundation. If the former is correct, it could only draw attention to the important place which Peter would occupy in the coming Church, and one may recall that it was through his preaching that both the first Jews and the first Gentiles became Christians (Acts 2 and 10). Nevertheless, a church which was to withstand the gates of hell, as Jesus predicted, would need a surer foundation than the unstable Peter.
He was further given the promise of the keys of the kingdom, which carried with it the power to bind and loose. This must be understood in conjunction with the similar injunction in Matthew 18:18, which is addressed to all the disciples. It is fitting that when Jesus turned to the training of the Twelve He first concentrated on Peter, for it was this man who immediately afterward tried to rebuke Him for predicting His death.
That Caesarea Philippi marks a turning point in the ministry of Jesus is clear from the fact that He at once began to share with His disciples something of the dread events which He knew lay ahead. It is significant that this first prediction of the Passion was inseparably linked to the Resurrection, as were the subsequent predictions.
It was not easy for the disciples to grasp the need for Jesus to suffer, and it was still harder for them to understand the place of suffering in their own lives. Self-denial is no easy lesson to learn, and it was necessary for Jesus to begin the conditioning process at this stage of the ministry to allow opportunities for much more teaching in the same vein.
d. The Transfiguration. The immediate sequence of events at this period is not in doubt, for all three synoptists agree on the order of events. The Transfiguration of Jesus follows the Caesarea confession, and this is followed by the healing of the epileptic boy, the second prediction of the Passion, and the dispute about greatness (cf. Matt 17:1ff.; Mark 9:2ff.; Luke 9:28ff.). In any account of the life of Jesus the Transfiguration must assume an important place because of its revelation of the glory of Jesus in a unique manner. The fact that even this revelation was seen by only three of the disciples is also significant, for it shows the existence of an inner group within the Twelve. It is not at once apparent why Jesus did not invite others to accompany Him, but the failure of the three to appreciate the meaning of the event is a significant indication of what would prob. have been the reaction of the rest. In any case, Jesus was not to be transfigured before men as a public spectacle. Only enough witnesses were to be present to vouch for the reality of the experience.
The vision itself consisted of three stages. First, Jesus was changed so that not only His face but also His clothes radiated an extraordinary light, and there appeared with Him Moses and Elijah. Second, Peter makes his perfectly understandable, but thoroughly inappropriate, suggestion that some kind of dwelling booths should be constructed for the transfigured Christ and His two heavenly companions. Third, a voice from the cloud urged them to concentrate on hearing Jesus because He is the beloved Son in whom God delights. The reaction of awe on the part of the disciples marks the climax of the occasion, after which Jesus resumes His normal appearance.
In assessing the place of this event in the mission of Jesus various factors must be borne in mind. It showed the true nature of Jesus, and by way of contrast helps mankind to understand more fully the meaning of His humiliation through the incarnation and subsequent Passion. This was no ordinary man. He was truly the Son of the living God, as Peter had just previously confessed. The confession, if but dimly understood when made, assumed a glorious realization for Peter as he gazed at the transfigured Christ. Neither for Peter nor for the other two did that transient glimpse of the glories of Jesus allay the apalling doubts, and, in the case of Peter, prevent the emphatic denials which were to mark their reactions to the Passion of Jesus. Their abiding grasp of the glories of Jesus was not to come this way, but by the hard experiences of His Passion leading to His Resurrection.
Another factor of this event to bear in mind is the part played in it by Moses and Elijah. It is generally supposed that they represent the law and the prophets, to which Jesus is seen to be superior. Luke tells that they talked about the coming decease of Jesus at Jerusalem, and this must have been designed to add supernatural sanction to the prediction of His death which Jesus had made to His disciples just prior to the Transfiguration. It was not intended to be generally understood until after the Resurrection, for Jesus forbids the three disciples to tell any others until then (Matt 17:9).
The sight of Elijah in the vision raised a problem in their minds. They recalled the scribal teaching about Elijah as the forerunner of the Messiah. Perhaps they wondered why they had not seen him before, since it had now dawned upon them that Jesus was the Messiah. This opened the way for Jesus to make clear to them that John the Baptist had fulfilled the role of Elijah.
The second prediction by Jesus of His Passion and Resurrection is a natural sequel to the Transfiguration (Matt 17:22, 23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45). All the synoptic writers mention the disciples’ reactions. Matthew says they were distressed (Matt 17:23), while Mark and Luke mention their lack of understanding and their hesitancy to ask Jesus for an explanation (Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45). He found no support for His coming trials, even from His closest disciples. This was the temper of mind which caused them all finally to forsake Him during His Passion.
There are two more events which throw light on the approach of Jesus during this period. Matthew records the occasion when Peter was asked whether His master had paid the Temple tax, and he answered in the affirmative. The incident led Jesus to point out to him that only subjects of kings, not sons, are obliged to pay taxes (Matt 17:24-27). Even in the matter of the Temple tax Jesus desired that no offense should be given, and He instructed Peter to pay the tax for himself and for Jesus from a shekel to be found in the mouth of a fish.
Many have found difficulties about this story on the grounds of the strange character of the miracle and the fact that it was performed for Jesus’ own needs. Some seek a solution by attributing the story to less reliable tradition and claim it as an example of embellishment of the miraculous which took place in the tradition. The evidence does not require such a theory. The miracle is essentially of supernatural knowledge rather than a suspension of the laws of nature. It is certainly strange and indeed unexpected, but these are not sufficient factors to disprove its authenticity.
f. More sayings of Jesus. Of the sayings of this period the most notable is Jesus’ answer to the disciples when they were disputing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He used a small child as an object lesson and taught by this means that humility is of the greatest importance in His kingdom (Matt 18:1ff.). This is a virtue which the Greeks despised and for which the Jews were certainly not noted. In the process of training the Twelve, Jesus imparted to them a totally new code of values. They needed to learn that greatness lies along the path of service. The incident provided an occasion for Jesus to warn the disciples about causing offense to others and to give some drastic advice for dealing with the source of the offense (Matt 18:6-9; Mark 9:42-48).
Matthew includes a striking parable to illustrate the need for forgiveness (Matt 18:23-35). It concerned two servants of a king. One owed him a very large sum which he was unable to pay. He received full remission of the debt because of the king’s mercy. The same servant was himself a creditor to the other servant who owed him a paltry sum compared with his own debt, but he treated him without mercy. The king’s wrath was turned against the servant whom he had forgiven. From this story Jesus brings out the need for all to exercise forgiveness. It was told in answer to Peter’s query concerning how many times a brother should be forgiven. In the kingdom of heaven there is no limit either to the number of times or to the size of the offense involved. Such forgiveness demands great largeness of heart.
The closing period of the ministry
This is the most difficult period in which to arrange the narrative in any certain sequence either chronologically or geographically. Matthew and Mark are very brief, while Luke collects into a journey narrative a great deal of material which appears to be loosely linked.
Moving toward Jerusalem
a. From Galilee to Bethany. In none of the other gospels is Jesus’ own dramatic awareness of the nearness of the climax brought out as vividly as it is in Luke’s brief comment on the commencement of the final journey (Luke 9:51). The resoluteness with which Jesus faces Jerusalem is specifically marked. The first event on the journey occurred when He was about to pass through a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). The direction of His face roused the opposition of the inhabitants. The desire of James and John to wreak vengeance by means of heavenly fire is remarkable for its naïve incongruity. It was not in their power to do what they suggested, and it was utterly alien to the spirit of Jesus. His path to Jerusalem was not to be strewn with burned villages as emblems of anger, but with many instances of patient forbearance toward those who had little understanding of the burden of His mission. His rebuke of the suggestion could hardly have been otherwise.
Some mission activity must still nonetheless be organized. First, the disciples needed instruction about what type of people were suitable to be followers of Christ, and Luke records Jesus’ dealing with three typical examples (9:57-62). The main characteristics are a willingness to bear hardship and a persistence which would never look back. Even the apostles forsook Him during the Passion and would certainly not have been fit for the kingdom apart from the restoring grace of God. These rigorous demands form the prelude to the sending out of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16). There are strong similarities between the mission charge to the Seventy and the one given to the Twelve. Luke makes clear that the main purpose of the mission of the Seventy was to prepare the way in the places where Jesus was intending to visit. They were to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom (Luke 10:9). They were in fact ambassadors for Jesus Himself (cf. Luke 10:16). In His commission Jesus adds a special denunciation of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in all of which towns the spiritual significance of His mighty works had been utterly lost. No doubt this reflection of His own experience was intended to prepare the disciples for similar negative responses to their ministry.
The mission of the Seventy was presumably of short duration, for Luke tells of their return with joy soon afterward. It was their power over demons which esp. elated them, but Jesus has to warn them to get their priorities right: God’s estimate of them is of greater moment than their authority over demons (Luke 10:17-20). The immaturity and yet the genuineness of these men must have particularly struck Jesus at this time, for He offered a prayer of thanksgiving that revelation comes not through man’s own understanding, but by the sovereign act of God (10:21, 22). As compared with others, the disciples were in a particularly privileged position (10:23, 24).
Unlike the Matthaean parables, the Lukan parables are not generally collected into groups, but they have as their setting some incident which gives them their immediate purpose. The parable of the good Samaritan is an admirable illustration of this (10:25-37). A Jewish lawyer’s dialogue with Jesus concerning eternal life draws out the parable which is intended to show the practical application of what the lawyer already knew theoretically. It was one thing to pronounce love to one’s neighbor as part of the divine requirement for the inheriting of eternal life; it was quite another to recognize that the term “neighbor” was so extensive that it even included Samaritans. In view of the constant animosity which existed between the Jews and Samaritans, the lawyer’s astonishment at Jesus’ interpretation of what being a good neighbor is can well be imagined. Moreover, the parable itself conveys more than an example. It illustrates vividly the basic principle of compassion, which was one of the most characteristic features in the life of Jesus.
By this time Jesus had arrived at Bethany, near Jerusalem (10:38-42). There is no way of knowing whether this was the first time that Jesus had visited the home of Mary and Martha. Luke’s interest in the story is to show the quite different reactions of the two sisters, one revealing her devotion to Jesus by practical domestic chores, the other listening to His teaching. His commendation of the latter emphasizes the aspect of His mission which was uppermost in His mind at the time.
b. Some teaching on prayer. The disciples must often have watched Jesus praying, and on one occasion they asked Him to teach them to pray. He gave them a pattern prayer similar to the one in the Sermon on the Mount, only more brief (11:2-4). To give them further guidance He told a parable about a persistent man who begged food from his friend at midnight and who, because of his persistence, received what he needed (11:5ff.). This story led to Jesus’ comprehensive assurances regarding prayer. The heavenly Father may be relied upon to be infinitely more considerate than human fathers, who with all their limitations would not mock their own children’s earnest requests. Again, Jesus was Himself the finest example of His own teaching, for He lived in constant dependence on His Father.
c. More teaching by parables. In the remaining section of Luke where much of the material is peculiar to him, the sequence appears to be governed by alternating passages dealing with the disciples and the Pharisees. It is evidently Luke’s purpose to illustrate by this means the different approach of Jesus to the two groups. It will be convenient to split Luke’s material at Luke 13:35.
In response to a question about inheritance from one of the crowd surrounding Jesus at the time, He told the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21). The inheritance which he had stored up so laboriously was never enjoyed because of the man’s death. This led Jesus to add a general application of the parable to warn all who have a wrong concept of riches. Following this, Luke includes a collection of sayings reminiscent of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Next he relates the incident in which Pilate killed some Galileans and mixed their blood with sacrifices, and after that the calamity of the people killed by the fall of the tower of Siloam upon them (13:1-5). Such disasters obviously raise problems, but it is significant that Jesus does not give a theological or philosophical discussion of the problems involved. He used the incidents as a challenge to His hearers to repent. This challenge is strengthened by means of a parable about a fig tree which was producing no fruit and for which the vinedresser pleads that it be given one more chance with adequate watering and fertilizing (13:6-9). The parable is not applied by Jesus, but its application is clear enough. A real change of life should be evident by the fruit produced, but without such fruit the tree itself is useless.
d. Encounters with Pharisees. In the next section Pharisees are mainly involved, although not exclusively. It was the ruler of a synagogue who took exception to Jesus’ healing, on the Sabbath day, an infirm woman, whose illness was of long standing (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus’ answer was strongly worded. He condemned the hypocrisy of His opponents, who would not hesitate to care for their domestic animals on the Sabbath. It is with some relish that Luke records that His adversaries were put to shame, while the people generally rejoiced.
While Jesus was again on His way toward Jerusalem, He was accosted by some Pharisees who advised Him to flee from Herod (Luke 13:31ff.). These Pharisees had reckoned without taking into account the fixed purpose of Jesus, which was not to be thwarted by a man like Herod, whom Jesus described as “that fox.” His destiny was, in fact, in the hands of God, not Herod. It is directly subsequent to this that Luke includes the lament over Jerusalem which Matthew gives later (cf. Matt 23:37-39). Jesus reveals both tenderness and rebuke in this lament, as He uses the vivid imagery of a hen gathering her chickens under her wings. Since He said, “How often would I have gathered your children,” it seems to point to more visits to Jerusalem than the synoptists record.
e. Jesus at two Jewish feasts. Luke’s story will be left at this point to consider John’s account of the events which took place at the Feasts of Tabernacles and Dedication, both held at Jerusalem.
John recounts that Jesus was in Galilee just before the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2). His family urged Him to go to the feast for its prestige value, but they did not believe in Him and clearly misunderstood the real nature of His mission. Jesus makes clear that His time has not yet come and any open demonstration to the world would be contrary to God’s timing. Throughout, Jesus was deeply conscious of working according to a divine timetable. Although He specifically avoided any public demonstration, He nevertheless went to the feast privately after His brothers had gone on ahead.
Many were looking for Him at the feast. People were privately expressing diverse opinions about Him. When He finally did show Himself, it was without ostentation, in the role of a teacher. Indeed, His skill in that role caused the Jews to marvel. This led Jesus to make some comments about the theme of authority (7:14ff.). His own authority was from the One who sent Him, in contrast to Moses whose teaching they did not keep. The Jews raised the question of origins and dismissed any possibility of Jesus being the Messiah on the grounds that His parentage and origin were known. Jesus repeated that He came from the One who sent Him.
Teaching of this sort among the people prompted the Pharisees to take action to arrest Jesus. Officers were commissioned to do this (7:32). They overheard Jesus having a discussion with the Jews over His future destiny, which completely baffled His audience (7:33ff.). They thought He might be referring to the dispersion. Still the officers took no action when on the last day of the feast Jesus made a public announcement about the gift of the Spirit which He would give to His disciples (7:37ff.). He took advantage of the water ceremonial performed at the feast to illustrate a spiritual truth.
John records more specific teaching about the Holy Spirit than any of the other evangelists. The statement in the present context is important because it makes clear that the gift of the Spirit depends on and consequently follows the glorifying of Jesus (7:39).
Such teaching as this only further baffled the hearers and caused a dispute as to whether or not Jesus could possibly be the Christ. His Galilean connections caused difficulties (7:41). The same problem was raised again, when the Pharisees discussed the matter at the highest level following the return of their officers without arresting Jesus. They had been deeply impressed by His teaching (7:46). At the council the attitude of Nicodemus is interesting in the light of his earlier interview with Jesus. He issues a mild rebuke to those who wish to condemn Him without a hearing. In this incident the attitude of the Pharisees fully agrees with that recorded in the synoptic gospels.
There followed further discussions with the Jews, mainly about the testimony of Jesus to Himself (8:12ff.). When He claimed to be the Light of the world, the Pharisees asserted that self-testimony of this kind cannot be true. The whole dispute focuses attention on the difficulties which confronted Jesus in expressing concepts which were foreign to the way of thinking of the religious leaders of His day. It was unintelligible to them when Jesus claimed the testimony of the Father in support of Him. To them the Father was known only through the law, not through Jesus. He had to remind them that the nature of His authority would be understood only when the Son of man had been lifted up (8:28).
The conversation next turns to Abraham and the relation of the Pharisees to him (John 8:39ff.). When Jesus spoke of freedom, even the Jews who had believed in Him protested. The promise of freedom implies the absence of it and no son of Abraham could ever conceive of himself as a slave. It is not surprising that the discussion became rather bitter, with the Jews actually maintaining that Jesus was demon-possessed (8:48). This incident shows Jesus confronted with the national pride of the Jewish people in their connection with Abraham, but He points out that racial connections need to be supported by deeds worthy of Abraham. The inconsistency of the position of His accusers led Jesus to the astonishing charge that they were of their father the devil (8:44).
The strength of the conflict in which Jesus was engaged is vividly seen. The accusers still cannot get away from the Abraham theme, for they challenge Jesus to say whether He is greater than Abraham (8:53), and again He appeals to the testimony of the Father. He even maintains that Abraham rejoiced to see His day (8:56), and that He was in existence before Abraham. The immediate reaction of the Jews is not left to imagination. John concisely reports that they took up stones to stone Him, but that Jesus hid Himself from them.
John’s account of the healing by Jesus of a man born blind and the subsequent encounter of the man with the Pharisees is dramatically told (ch. 9). There are several features in this incident which call for special comment. The disciples were bothered about the explanation of man’s calamity, but Jesus does not offer any assistance in answering the theological problem. He is concerned about what will bring most glory to God. Moreover, He makes clear that His proposed action is inextricably bound up with His mission as the Light of the world. The application of the mission is twofold, for not only was the man’s physical sight restored by Jesus, but through this event his spiritual perception was also sharpened.
John traces the growth of the man’s faith as he disputes with the Pharisees. Every conceivable reason was advanced for disbelieving the reality of the miracle, but the man himself asserted his own personal experience, which could not be gainsaid. As a result of his bold testimony, he was cast out of the synagogue.
Knowledge of this having come to Jesus, He sought him out in order to challenge him regarding his faith. The confession which this drew from the man forms the climax of the story. With restored physical sight and awakened spiritual insight, he contrasts strongly with the Pharisees who constantly demonstrated their blindness, although they were not aware of it.
Following this, John records further teaching of Jesus concerning Himself, this time under the imagery of a shepherd (ch. 10). The illustration from the sheepfold would have been familiar to His hearers. The shepherd’s care to protect the sheep, the sharp distinction between the real shepherd and the man hired to do the job who had no interest in the welfare of the sheep, the intimate relationship between the shepherd and each individual sheep, and the picture of the shepherd leading out his flock to pasture would all have been well-known features of the contemporary pastoral scene. But they did not understand the implications of what Jesus was illustrating (10:6). Because of this, Jesus adds some further comments, the most important of which is that the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (10:11, 15). The voluntary character of this act is particularly stressed (10:18).
Another important factor is that Jesus distinguishes between folds and flocks. Not all belong to the same fold, but all belong to the same flock (10:16). This seems to be a pointed reminder that the Jews were not the only group of people with a claim upon the good Shepherd’s care.
Once again the teaching of Jesus evoked the charge of demon possession from some of the Jews, but others were not convinced of this in view of the character of the sayings and the miraculous healing of the blind man.
Similar teaching was given by Jesus at the Feast of Dedication held in winter time. Some of the Jews wanted Jesus to state plainly whether or not He was the Messiah, and Jesus rebukes them for not believing. The reason for their unbelief, He says, was that they did “not belong to the sheep” (10:26). The security of Christ’s sheep is nothing less than the security of the good Shepherd’s hand. On this occasion the opposition to Him was more violent. They took up stones to stone Him. In spite of the ugliness of the situation, Jesus shows Himself in command by attempting to reason with the Jews. His appeal to them was based on Scripture, which, He says, cannot be broken (10:35). Significantly, Jesus urges them to believe His works if they cannot believe His words. Once again they tried without success to arrest Him (10:39).
At this point Jesus goes again to Trans-Jordan (10:40); this will be a convenient place to return to Luke’s travel narrative, which is also much concerned with Jesus’ clash with Pharisees.
f. Jesus dines with Pharisees (Luke 14). It must often have happened that Jesus was offered hospitality in a home, though no doubt infrequently at the home of a Pharisee. One may be grateful to Luke for recording a sequence of events and discussions which occurred during such a meal (14:1ff.). Lawyers and Pharisees were on the watch to see what Jesus would do, since it was the Sabbath. They were anticipating that He might contravene the Jewish law. He knew what was in their minds, for before healing a man with dropsy He addressed His observers with a question about the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath day. No answer was given; which was a silent testimony to their embarrassment.
Luke next records a parable which was esp. designed for the guests of the dinner (Luke 14:7ff.). Jesus had noted their eagerness to choose the chief seats and reminded them that it was humble people who would be exalted. This led to an exhortation urging hospitality for poor and unfortunate people, which reflects the social attitude of Jesus. His deep compassion was in marked contrast to the Pharisaic quibbles over Sabbath procedure, to the detriment of individual welfare.
One of the Pharisees ventured to draw attention to the blessedness of eating bread in the kingdom (14:15ff.), but again Jesus detected a misunderstanding. He told another parable, one about some people who made excuses when invited to a banquet. The excuses appeared legitimate enough, but they showed a discourteous attitude to the hosts. The point of the story is seen in the sequel. The social outcasts were to be invited instead, a fact which adds further emphasis to the social consciousness of Jesus. In this He differed strongly from most of the Pharisees.
g. Address to the multitudes. Jesus was once more followed by great multitudes and turned to address them on the subject of the cost of discipleship (14:25-35). This in itself was not a new theme, for it had been mentioned before, just after the confession at Caesarea Philippi (cf. 9:23). Here, however, it is elaborated. Discipleship involves some testing of priorities. Jesus speaks of the need for hating one’s own family connections, but the idea of hating in this context must be regarded as relative. It is a question of wholehearted committal to the cause of Christ. Jesus illustrates His meaning by saying that no one puts in a foundation without estimating the cost of the whole house, or goes to war against a wellorganized and powerful enemy without weighing the possibilities of carrying the campaign through to success. That is simple human prudence.
The same principle of forethought should apply to Christian discipleship. It demands wholehearted renunciation, and those not willing for so great a cost would be well-advised to make no start. Disciples who begin and then lose their effectiveness are like salt which has lost its taste and hence becomes good for nothing. In this simile Jesus was using a Jewish proverb.
h. Further parables for the Pharisees. Pharisaism had no message for sinners and little sympathy for those who were concerned about them. In their eyes sinners and tax collectors were outcasts of society. No wonder, therefore, that they regarded with contempt anyone who actually sat down to a meal with them. It was common knowledge that Jesus shared their hospitality, and when the Pharisees and scribes saw that Jesus had so large a following among these outcasts, they murmured against Him in His hearing.
This brought from Jesus a sequence of three parables to illustrate God’s attitude toward those who were being officially treated as lost, for whom Pharisaism held out no hope (ch. 15). These parables are essentially parables of restoration. A shepherd restores his lost sheep to the fold, a woman restores a lost coin to her treasure store, and a father restores a wayward son to the family circle. In all of the parables the element of joy is emphasized; in the first two, there is joy in heaven over restored sinners; in the third, joy is an expression of the father’s feelings when his son returns.
The application of the parables to the Pharisees is clear enough. They did not even desire the restoration of sinners, let alone show any inclination to rejoice over the possibility. There is no doubt that their murmuring, which formed the setting for the parables, finds a distinctive echo in the attitude of the elder brother in the third parable, who objected to the rejoicing over a brother who had lived so utterly irresponsibly. This elder brother was a typical Pharisee, more concerned about his own loyal achievements than about the miserable state of his brother, and more anxious to condemn than to forgive.
The vividness of the parables in their portrayal of human sentiments throws further light on the human insight and sympathy of Jesus. He was ever more concerned with the uplift of human lives than with those who considered themselves to be too superior to stir a finger to help the needy.
i. Teaching for the disciples. The next brief section (16:1-13) is addressed to the disciples (understood in the widest sense of a group of generally interested people), and takes the form of a parable with comments upon it. It was a story about an unjust steward who had wasted his master’s possessions and had been informed that as a consequence he would lose his job. He makes provision for the emergency by giving considerable discounts to those who owed money to his master, with a view to winning their friendship which would stand him in good stead for the future. The action itself appears dishonest, but the master recognized the man’s prudence. Presumably the steward, until actually dismissed, had powers to remit portions of debts, and the master did not condemn him on this account. The parable, therefore, illustrates prudence for selfish ends, without regard for moral principles.
Jesus recommends the disciples to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon. Does this mean that Jesus is condoning an unprincipled approach? It may at first sight appear so, but it must be kept in mind that the details of the parable should not be pressed. The major purpose is to urge greater wisdom on the part of disciples than was evident among unprincipled men. On purely materialistic principles, unrighteous mammon is man’s only means of security.
Jesus proceeded to contrast with this unrighteous mammon true riches. Faithfulness in using the one is the test for the using of the other. Unrighteous mammon is therefore to be regarded as no more than a means to an end. No one can serve both mammon and God. This section of the teaching of Jesus illuminates His own attitude toward materialistic things. He did not ignore their usefulness, but demanded their subservience to God.
j. Another clash with the Pharisees. The preceding parable fell on some Pharisaic ears and caused scoffing at Jesus’ attitude to money (16:14ff.). Jesus not only insisted that God’s judgments are based on knowledge of the heart, and not on outward appearances, but also He told a parable to show how unreliable a guide material wealth can be (16:19ff.). A contrast is made between a poor man, who was afflicted with disease, and a rich man, at whose gate the poor man had sat and begged. The rich man went to Hades, and the poor man to Abraham’s bosom, with a fixed chasm between them. There follows a conversation between the rich man in Hades and Abraham, with whom he pleads in vain for some relief. Abraham says that even if it were possible for Lazarus to return to earth to warn the rich man’s relatives, he would not be believed any more than Moses, whose teaching they already possessed but did not heed.
The Pharisees, with their love of money, would see the point of the challenge. The rich man’s plight was not because he was rich, but because of his failure to use his riches to alleviate the needs of others, while indulging in luxuries for himself.
k. The apostles receive teaching about service. Jesus now appeals to common procedure in the employment of servants (17:5-11). If a servant’s job is to do both agricultural and domestic work, he would not expect to be thanked if his master called him in from the field and asked him to serve him at table. He would only be performing his duty. In the same way, no one can ever say that he has done more than his duty to God, for even after doing all that is commanded of him, he has done only what is his duty. If this teaching was overheard by the Pharisees, they must have been astonished at such a statement. The idea of reward loomed large in their system and they believed that merit could be stored up in heaven. Jesus’ teaching was diametrically opposed to theirs.
1. The healing of the lepers. Luke again draws attention to the fact that Jesus was approaching Jerusalem and then introduces an event which happened in the vicinity of Samaria (17:11ff.). Ten lepers, begging for mercy, met Jesus who commanded them to show themselves to the priests; and as they went they were healed. They must have acted in faith that healing would be given. This was not the main feature of the incident, for when they discovered that they were healed, only one returned to give thanks to Jesus, and he was a Samaritan. Jesus particularly points out the fact that only a “stranger” returns (17:18). The whole incident shows not only the compassion of Jesus but the universal scope of His mission. The story is prob. intended to illustrate the ingratitude which was characteristic of the Jewish nation in response to the merciful acts of God.
m. Sayings about the kingdom and about the future. A question put by the Pharisees about the kingdom drew from Jesus a statement that the kingdom was in their midst or was within them (17:20ff.). This would directly counteract any materialistic concept of the kingdom as it was currently held among the Jews (see the chapter on “The Teaching of Jesus”).
Luke then records some teaching of Jesus addressed to the disciples (17:22ff.) on the subject of the days of the Son of man. There would be false claims that these days were near, and of these they must beware. To give them indication of the timing of those days would be as impossible as tracking lightning across the sky. Before they can come, however, the Son of man must first be rejected. The consciousness of the nearness of that event must have been strong in the mind of Jesus. There are, moreover, certain OT events from the times of Noah and Lot which serve as a pattern of the times preceding the coming of the Messiah. In both cases the masses of people were totally unprepared for the divine judgment which came to them. In view of this, Jesus warns about the sharp division among men which the coming of the Son of man will create.
n. Two parables about prayer. Luke includes two parables presumably addressed to the disciples, which possess certain features in common, and which deal with different aspects of prayer (18:1-18). The first, the parable of the unjust judge, commends constancy in prayer, and the second, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, commends humility. The first provides an example of unrighteousness, the second of self-righteousness. In the first parable the judge is portrayed in the worst possible light, as a man who had no thought of God and no respect for man. The impression is at once created that justice is impossible from such a man, and this impression is deepened by the description of the plaintiff as a poor widow who had no one to protect her against an adversary. The judge gave in, not because he cared for justice, but because of the continual requests of the widow and to have refused would have caused him more embarrassment than to yield. The focus of the parable is on the power of constant petition, not on the character of the judge.
When Jesus applies the parable He argues from the lesser to the greater. What a rascally unrighteous man will do is nothing compared with what may be expected from a righteous God. Jesus leads up to an exhortation to His hearers that such constancy of faith, as was exemplified by the persistent widow, might be found when He returns.
The other parable presents in strong contrast the attitude of a self-righteous Pharisee and the attitude of a man whom the Pharisees despised—a tax-collector. Both are represented as praying in the Temple, but the Pharisee is more conscious of himself and of his own superiority over others than he is of God. Consequently, his prayer is regarded as ineffective. The tax collector, overwhelmed with a deep sense of his own need, can do no more than cry to God for mercy. The egotism of the Pharisee may have been heightened to emphasize the contrast between these two men, but there is enough evidence to prove that self-righteousness was an accepted characteristic among the Pharisaic party. No Pharisee would readily have admitted that his achievements were useless in his approach to God, for his whole religious life centered around what he himself could do in the pursuit of piety. How very distasteful such attitudes must have been to Jesus is suggested by His warm commendation of the opposite quality, humility.
At this point Luke returns to material which is shared by the other synoptic gospels, and these two parables may be said to terminate His special travel narrative. Before starting the final journey to Jerusalem, it will be necessary to include the account of the raising of Lazarus at Bethany and to consider the consequences (John 11).
o. The raising of Lazarus. This is unquestionably the most astonishing of all the miracles performed by Jesus. It is the climax of John’s Book of Signs and sets out the humanity as well as the deity of Jesus (11:1ff.). The bare details may be stated in few words. Lazarus dies in Bethany. Jesus is in Trans-Jordan, but although He knows about the illness of Lazarus, He delays His visit to Bethany until it is too late to find him alive. His sisters, Mary and Martha, who have already been introduced earlier through Luke’s account, are convinced that had Jesus arrived soon enough He would have prevented their brother’s death, but they do not show faith enough to believe that He could or would raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was deeply moved at the scene and wept, but He coupled with this human emotion the tremendous power of divine authority as Lazarus is commanded to come out of the grave.
What distinguishes this story from a narrative of sheer wonder-working power are the deep personal reactions which are faithfully reported. There are: the fear of the disciples to go to Judaea, followed by their rash resolve to die with Jesus; the different reactions of Martha and Mary, the former more outspoken than the latter; the comment of the Jews when they saw Jesus weeping; and the reaction of the Pharisees and the chief priests in renewing their plans to kill Jesus.
When John records this stupendous miracle, he does so with a spiritual objective. It is part of his testimony to lead people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If this incident is true, then Jesus immediately is seen to have unique power. However conceivable it might be to explain away some of the other miracles, it is impossible in this case. It is a foreshadowing of the far greater event of the Resurrection of Christ.
Throughout the incident Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to impart teaching so that the significance of the miracle might be understood. He told the disciples that Lazarus’ illness was for God’s glory (11:4). When He made known to them that Lazarus was dead, He explained that the delay in His coming to Bethany was to assist them to believe (11:5). When Martha discussed the Resurrection with Jesus, He declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life” (11:25), connecting the whole matter of life and death with His person. This led to a definite affirmation of faith on her part, expressed in the same terms as John stated the purpose of his entire gospel (11:27). Just prior to the miracle, Martha was assured that she was about to see the glory of God if she believed.
John pays special attention to the Pharisees’ reaction. They were worried about the probable impact of the signs upon the common people, particularly if it led to any action by the occupying Rom. forces. It was Caiaphas the Sadducee who gave the official opinion of the hierarchy (11:49). John states that he was the high priest during that fateful year, in commenting on Caiaphas’ statement that it was more fitting for one person to die for the nation than that the whole nation should perish. The statement was more prophetic than Caiaphas realized, as John points out. Moreover, its application was also more universal than he realized, for Jesus was to die to gather many people into one family of God.
Because of the decision of the Sanhedrin to seek His death, Jesus withdrew for a time to Ephraim (11:54) and remained there until the approach of the Passover season, at which point the synoptic and Johannine narratives coalesce.
The journey into Jerusalem
Jesus is now in the region of Perea from where He proceeded toward Jerusalem by way of Jericho and Bethany. Various incidents took place and discourses were given before He arrived in Jericho.
a. Conclusion of the ministry in Perea. The Pharisees were still pursuing Jesus, trying to trap Him with difficult questions. This must have happened frequently during this period, but both Matthew (19:1-12) and Mark (10:1-12) record a particular question that Jesus was asked about divorce. The subject had already been touched upon in the Sermon on the Mount. Here it was a question based on the teaching of the law. Jesus shows that Moses allowed divorce only becasue of the hardness of peoples’ hearts, although the creation ordinances presupposed a permanent union between husband and wife. By appealing to the basic principles of the law, Jesus silenced His critics. The whole question of divorce was currently a disputed issue within the Pharisaic party itself. (See the chapter on “The Background to the Life of Jesus.”) One school under Hillel took a much more liberal attitude toward it than the other under Shammai. It is clear that the approach of Jesus is nearer the latter than the former. Some of the disciples objected to the stringency of the teaching of Jesus, but He reminded them that not all could receive such teaching.
Next comes a charming interlude which shows Jesus in another role (Matt 19:13ff.; Mark 10:13ff.; Luke 18:15ff.). Little children were brought to Him for His blessing, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus, in turn, rebuked the disciples, telling them that children were not to be hindered from coming to Him, and He used them as an example of true discipleship. The kingdom of God, He said, must be received as a little child, a principle which would not have been readily appreciated in the 1st cent. world. Humility was not a virtue admired by either Jews or Greeks, the latter, in fact, despising it.
A rich young ruler now comes to Jesus and asks Him about eternal life (Matt 19:16ff.; Mark 10:17ff.; Luke 18:18ff.). The questioner is a pious man, for he claims to have kept the commandments from his youth. There is no necessity to question his sincerity, for Jesus does not challenge him on this account. Jesus recognized that riches were his stumbling block, which led to the suggestion that he should sell his possessions to give to the poor. The young man refused and went away sorrowful.
Since riches could be such an obstacle, Jesus makes some general comments on the danger of riches and goes on to tell a parable which had a bearing on this theme. He acknowledged that wealthy men would find it more difficult than poor men to enter the kingdom, but He made it clear that it was not impossible for them to do so with the help of God. One of the requirements of the kingdom was to put the interests of Christ before everything else, even before one’s closest family connections.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard, which is related only in Matthew (20:1ff.), is intended to illustrate the justice of God. Those who worked for only a small part of the day received the same pay as those who had done a full day’s work. When the latter complained, they were reminded that the terms of their contract had been fulfilled. It was not that they had received less, but that the others had received proportionately more. The parable is not a pattern for industrial relationships, but an illustration of the right of the owner of the vineyard to do what he chooses. So Jesus taught the sovereignty of God.
At this point, as they drew nearer to Jerusalem, Jesus addressed Himself to the Twelve. He reminded them for the third time that He was going up to Jerusalem to be killed, even to be crucified (Matt 20:17ff.; Mark 10:32ff.; Luke 18:31ff.). This brief mention of His death highlights the severe loneliness of Jesus in His mission, for Luke comments that the disciples had no understanding of what He said (Luke 18:34). His mind must have been disturbed by the knowledge that there was rivalry among the disciples over who was to be the greatest in the coming kingdom, and esp. over the request of James and John for preferential treatment. When Jesus challenged the two about their ability to drink His cup, He alone knew the bitter experiences that were involved. The other ten were just as bad, for they could not refrain from anger at the audacity of the two. In spite of what Jesus had already said about humility, they had not learned the lesson that the greatest in the kingdom is he who serves most. Matthew attributes the ambition of James and John to their mother, who makes the request, but Mark shows that the responsibility rested equally upon them (cf. Matt. 20:20; Mark 10:35ff.).
The most significant feature of this incident is the statement of Jesus’ own purpose in terms of service—to give His life a ransom for many (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). During this period His thoughts must often have been on the essential meaning of His mission. Among those whose thoughts were so dominated by ambition to lord it over others, His own principle of sacrificial service stood out in strong contrast.
b. In Jericho. It is not without some point that all the synoptists relate a healing of the blind at this stage in the ministry (Matt 20:29ff.; Mark 10:46ff.; Luke 18:35ff.). The result of this brought not only light to blinded eyes but rejoicing to the multitudes. It was a welcome contrast to the quibbling of the disciples. There are some differences in the narratives which cannot be fully discussed. Matthew refers to two blind men, Mark and Luke to one; while Matthew and Luke differ in their placing of the incident. It seems clear that there were two men healed, of whom Mark and Luke select only one, and it seems equally clear that the incident happened on the outskirts of Jericho, somewhere between the old and the new Jericho.
Luke alone recounts the meeting of Jesus with Zacchaeus in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). This again throws into bold relief the purpose of Jesus—to seek out and to save the lost (19:10). The Savior’s consciousness of His immediate task thus finds opportunity to bring a challenge to a despised class of men, i.e., tax collectors. The social effects of the Gospel are vividly seen in the immediate restitution which Zacchaeus made to those whom he had wronged. Something of the tremendous achievements of the mission of Jesus are therefore visible in token form immediately prior to the final entry into Jerusalem.
A parable recorded in Luke’s gospel is esp. fitting as a prelude to the entry into Jerusalem (19:11ff.). It was told to correct the mistaken impression that the establishing of the kingdom was imminent. A nobleman about to go away to receive a kingdom commits money to his servants with the command that they trade with it. While he is away the citizens reject the nobleman as king, and when he returns he requires each servant to give account of his trading. Responsibility is apportioned according to the results obtained. The parable ends with a statement that the nobleman’s enemies were to be destroyed. It must have been in the mind of Jesus as He approached Jerusalem that its people would reject Him as king, and He knew that this would be a shock to the disciples. The recognition of faithful service during this period of rejection was essential for them to realize at this time, although they did not then fully appreciate its significance. The destruction of the enemies (if Jerusalem was in mind) took place some forty years later under the Rom. siege.
c. Jesus at Bethany. It was six days before the Passover. The mind of Jesus is more than ever on His approaching Passion, and He seeks retreat at Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. While seated at supper, Jesus is anointed by Mary with precious ointment (John 12:1ff.). The act was viewed differently by different people. The attitude of Jesus is strongly contrasted with that of Judas, to whom it was sheer waste. To Jesus it was an act which showed some understanding of His spiritual mission and its involvement. Mary had seized what Jesus knew was to be her last opportunity to show her identification with Him. In Jesus’ mind she had prepared for His burial, and no cost was too great for that. The sense of inevitability of the coming events cannot be erased from the record. Both Matthew and Mark preserve the promise of Jesus that the woman’s act would be remembered wherever the Gospel was preached.
As if to prepare still further for the doom awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem, John mentions that the Jews now proceeded to add the further intention of killing Lazarus to the earlier decision to kill Jesus (John 12:10). Nothing could bring out more vividly the appalling spiritual blindness of the Jewish national leaders.
The ministry in Jerusalem
The preceding events have all prepared for the concluding events in Jerusalem. The hour of the Messiah has come. He had arrived only to be rejected by the leaders of His people. The point of entry is therefore the beginning of the end. But the real significance of it came to the disciples only later when they were more able to see these closing events as a whole.
a. The entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. The fact that all four gospels relate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem shows the importance which must be attached to it (Matt 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; John 12:12ff.). In view of the forebodings which Jesus had from time to time revealed, the manner of His entry is unexpected. From the acclamation of the multitude it would not have appeared evident that Jesus was riding into the city to be crucified within a few days. All the gospels have prepared the reader to consider more fully the attitude of Jesus than the attitude of the multitude. Matthew and John mention the fulfillment of a prophecy as if to account for the strange paradox (Matt 21:5; John 12:15). In this way both draw attention to an important element in the consciousness of Jesus at this time—the testimony of Scripture. The royal nature of the entry is stressed in all the accounts and is clearly meant to provide a backdrop against which the somber events of the Passion might be described. As in the preceding parable (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus had come to take up His kingdom, but not in the manner of earthly kings. The impression of triumph created by the entry is introduced only to be quickly dispelled.
As Jesus drew near, He wept over the city and predicted its doom (19:41).
According to Matthew, the first action of Jesus in Jerusalem was to cleanse the Temple (21:10ff.), but Mark’s more detailed narrative requires the prior cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12ff.). The two events are not unrelated in their significance; both have a symbolic meaning for the Jewish nation.
The fig tree was impressive because of its leaves, which that year appeared earlier than usual for the time of year. It caught the eyes of Jesus who supposed that the first figs, which normally appear before the leaves, should have been on the tree. On finding none, Jesus cursed the tree. According to Mark, it was not until the next day that the disciples noticed that the tree had suddenly withered. They drew the attention of Jesus to this fact, revealing in doing so that to them it was no more than a marvel, although He, no doubt, intended it to be symbolic of Israel. The nation had all the external appearance of flourishing religiously, but had not produced the fruits of righteousness. The destruction of the tree was an illustration of God’s judgment on Israel. Jesus knew, as the disciples did not, that that judgment was not far distant, as far as Jerusalem was concerned.
The drastic action of Jesus in casting out the moneychangers from the Temple is also symbolic. It was the practice for these people to exchange other currencies for the Temple currency, in which money alone the Temple tax could be paid. This enabled the unscrupulous to charge more than was due, and the same applied to the sellers of pigeons. It was no wonder that Jesus’ wrath was kindled against them. His act of righteous indignation was representative of the revulsion of perfect goodness at the sight of all injustice, esp. in the name of, and in the central place of, the worship of God. All the synoptic gospels record the quotation from the Scriptures made by Jesus in justification of His action. What was intended as a house of prayer had become a den of thieves. It was a symbol of what had happened to Israel as a whole. Judgment would come to it as surely as it had come to the Temple. The evangelists report various reactions to what Jesus had done. Children cried out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David”; the multitude was astonished; at the same time the chief priests and scribes intensified their determination to kill Jesus. Such a cross section of reactions was also representative of the nation as a whole.
b. Days of controversy. During the closing days in Jerusalem one of the marked features was the number of conflicts which Jesus had with religious leaders and others. The priests, scribes and elders debated with Him the question of authority, but He countered with a challenge on the problem of the authority of John the Baptist (Matt 21:23ff.; Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1ff.). This led to the relating of the parable about the wicked husbandmen (Matt 21:33ff.; Mark 12:1ff.; Luke 20:9ff.), which again focuses upon divine judgment on those who have wrongly used their office in the vineyard of Israel, particularly in the killing of the heir. Nevertheless, Jesus assures His hearers that the Stone which the builders rejected (i.e., Himself) would become the cornerstone of God’s building.
The next controversy concerned tribute money to Caesar (Matt 22:15ff.; Mark 12:13ff.; Luke 20:20ff.). In this case the Pharisees joined with the Herodians, whom they usually avoided through dislike of their policy, to attempt to ensnare Jesus. By using a simple coin with the image of Caesar on it, He appealed to the testimony of the currency that the Jews were a subservient people, which was intensely unpalatable to the Pharisees, but nevertheless true. All the synoptists note that the opponents marveled at the answer of Jesus. Were they truly challenged to render to God what belonged to Him?
Following this, the Sadducees asked a question about the Resurrection, but they fared no better (Matt 22:23ff.; Mark 12:18ff.; Luke 20:27ff.). Jesus showed that their problem about marriage in heaven displayed a misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the Resurrection. Matthew reports astonishment from the multitude; and Luke commendation from certain scribes. The masterly wisdom of Jesus made the “catch” questions put to Him look foolish, but the various hostile parties came back for more exposure from Him. A Pharisaic lawyer tried out the problem of the greatest commandment (Matt 22:34ff.). This was a stock question which Jesus had earlier illustrated by the parable of the good Samaritan.
Jesus Himself now put a question to the Pharisees about the lineage of the Messiah and the interpretation of Psalm 110:1. He confounded them on a matter of exegesis over which they esp. prided themselves (Matt 22:41ff.). If the Messiah was the Son of David how could David also call Him Lord? Although all the synoptists record the question, it is Matthew alone who comments that no one was able to answer Him. This is not surprising, for the hearers had no concept of the two natures of the Messiah, i.e., human and divine.
All the quibbling of the Jewish religious leaders led Jesus to denounce in strong terms the abuses of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23). He does not condemn their allegiance to the law, but their abuse of their position as teachers. Some have thought that His criticisms of these religious leaders was undeserved. It must be said, however, that although there was undoubtedly much good in Judaism, the burdens imposed on the common people had become intolerable, and much supposed piety was marred by inconsistency and hypocrisy.
The language of denunciation as reported in Matthew 23 is strongly expressed. Jesus first points out the love of ostentation among the Pharisees. Their good deeds are done in public to be seen of men. They love places of honor. They delight in receiving titles of respect from men. This kind of attitude is foreign to that of Jesus, who maintains again that those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. There was need for a reversal of current Pharisaic values. Several times in the course of the denunciation Jesus calls them hypocrites, which is a word having the force of playacting. They were not what they appeared to be. Even their great proselytizing activity did no more than add others who were no better than themselves. Moreover, they are described as blind guides, incapable of discernment. Their petty rules about oaths illustrate the point. They cannot differentiate between important and unimportant matters: they strain out gnats and swallow camels (Matt 23:24).
Other features which came in for heavy criticism from Jesus were their burdensome ritual requirements and their opposition to God’s true messengers. In connection with the first, an example is cited from their interpretation of ritual cleansing. The outside of the cup is to be cleansed at all costs, but the inside is neglected, said Jesus, by which He meant that external adherence to cleansing regulations was useless unless it was accompanied by spiritual renewal. Another illustration which Jesus turned against them was their practice of whitewashing sepulchers so that men might see them and avoid defiling themselves by walking over them. He likened the sepulchers to their hearts, and the whitewashing to their outward show of piety. He further criticized them for outwardly honoring the prophets and yet inwardly being of the same spiritual outlook as their fathers who murdered the prophets. All through the comments of Jesus upon the scribes and Pharisees runs the same theme—they professed one thing and did another.
It is not to be supposed that every Pharisee was guilty of all the abuses that Jesus mentioned, nor may it even be supposed that these abuses were generally typical. Jesus saw the logical results of the tendencies which a legalistic system must produce, and by exposing these results He aimed to warn men against them.
It is fitting that after such denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus should once again lament over Jerusalem. Moreover, an incident which He observed at the Temple treasury served by way of contrast to illustrate His own concept of true piety. It was not the many rich men giving their large sums, but a poor widow giving a humble gift who was commended by Him (Mark 12:41ff.).
There were, however, some sincere inquirers who came to Him, for John records the quest of some Greeks who sought Him (John 12:20ff.), which led Jesus to speak to them about His hour of glorification. Once again attention is drawn to the thoughts uppermost in the mind of Jesus on the eve of His Passion. He thinks of Himself as a grain of wheat which must die to reproduce itself and prays that God’s name may be glorified through Him. To mark the critical character of this occasion, the Father’s voice is heard from heaven, saying that He had glorified it and would glorify it again, but the crowd did not understand. John, indeed, mentions that those who had seen many signs did not believe in Him (John 12:37). At the same time Jesus states that their disbelief is not merely in Him but in the Father.
c. Words about the future. As His own hour draws near, Jesus instructs His disciples about future happenings. All the synoptists record parts of this eschatological teaching (Matt 24; 25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-38). The discourse was occasioned by the disciples’ admiration for the Temple buildings, causing Jesus to predict its destruction. When this raised curiosity among them, Jesus unfolded some of the events which must happen in the future—false Christs, wars among the nations, and natural calamities. Then He predicted persecutions in store for the disciples, desolations in Judea, the rise of false teachers, celestial signs, and the coming of the Son of man. No one could know the date of this coming, but a description of it is included, couched in apocalyptic terms. Of more importance than the details of the coming is the present attitude of the disciples. The exhortation to watch and pray is essentially practical. A definite moral challenge is provided by the thought that life must be lived in the light of that coming. In the teaching of Jesus eschatology is never removed from ethical implications.
More will be said about the future aspects of the kingdom when the teaching of Jesus is separately considered, but it is worth noting here that He did not hesitate to use apocalyptic language to express His meaning. This does not require us to think that He shared much in common with the apocalyptists. Their approach was largely pessimistic. They were visionaries whose hopes were based on insecure foundations. They testify, however, to earnest aspirations which the Christian Gospel was able to fulfill in an infinitely better way than they were able to conceive. The eschatological teaching of Jesus centers upon the coming triumph of the Son of man.
In Matthew’s account of the discourse three parables are included—the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats—all of which also contain practical implications. The wise virgins who took oil in their lamps while they waited for the bridegroom to come are commended for their preparedness, but the sorry outcome for those who did not take oil and who were not ready for the bridegroom is intended as a solemn warning. In the parable of the talents, the men who used their resources to gain other talents for their master are commended for their faithfulness, whether their gains were large or small. It was the man who did nothing, and was therefore unfaithful, who was condemned. In the third parable, it is the need of others which is the focus of attention. The sheep are those who cared for others, the goats those who did not. The former are commended, but the latter are condemned. All three parables bring out the sharp distinctions which arise in connection with the kingdom.