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Teaching of Jesus

TEACHING OF JESUS. No other aspect of the ministry of Jesus is so frequently observed in the gospels as His teaching. Even redemption, preaching, and healing had to be made relevant to the observers, which inevitably involved teaching. In a sense, it can be said that all Jesus said, did, and was comes to a focus in His teaching. Though He was certainly more than a teacher, He was still a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2).

Authority.

Jesus’ hearers were astonished at His teaching because He taught them as one who had authority (Matt 7:28, 29). The source and nature of this authority can be seen in the terms applied to Him as teacher and in the events in which His true nature was revealed.

Rabbi.


Master.


Prophet.

Jesus’ role as proclaimer and interpreter of divine revelation is indicated in the term προφήτης, G4737, “prophet.” Moses foretold that a unique prophet was to come (Deut 18:15). Peter proclaimed in the Temple that Jesus was that prophet (Acts 3:22). Stephen said the same in court (7:37). During His ministry, Jesus was frequently called a prophet. Though Jesus never considered the designation adequate to describe His mission, He admitted the category in a loose sense at least (Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24; John 4:44).

Lord.


Son of God.


Effectiveness.

It is impossible to measure the effectiveness of Jesus’ teaching by a single standard. His human methodology was hopelessly intertwined with His divine revelation. All that He said and did was a part of His mission. Even so, His techniques as the Master Teacher still are the best model for those who would learn to teach.

Acclaim.


Results.

The lasting effect of Jesus’ teaching was temporarily obscured by the events of His passion and redemptive work. Had it not been for the later ministry of the disciples, much of the results would have been lost. On the other hand, had it not been for the effectiveness of His impact upon the people and His success in training the disciples, the tremendous success of the Apostolic Church would have been impossible. Certainly thousands had been permanently impressed and significantly changed by the teaching of Jesus. At any rate, the results of what Jesus did and taught (Acts 1:1, 2) as continued through the Church are staggering. As Horne points out (Jesus—The Master Teacher, pp. 202, 203), His followers today outnumber those of any other teacher, and the nations that profess His name, though following Him afar off, lead the world’s civilization. He taught the highest moral and spiritual truths, but he taught them simply, using effectively the pedagogic arts, so that the common people heard Him gladly.

Skill.

Ultimately, the power of Jesus was more than skill. It was His deity and redemptive grace. Even these must be so presented as to win the attention of the hearers and to motivate them to the proper participation in the benefits offered. The skill of Jesus in communication was matched only by the perfection of the grace that He offered.

Ability.

Horne lists five qualifications for a world-teacher (op. cit., pp. 184, 185). They read as if they had been abstracted from the life of Jesus. They are:

a. A vision that encompasses the world

b. Knowledge of the heart of men

c. Mastery of the subject taught

d. Aptness in teaching

e. A life that embodies the teaching

As Jesus told Nicodemus, He alone could speak as one who came down from heaven (John 3:13). He alone had a perfect understanding of the teaching and equal ability to communicate.

Aim.

Good teaching is not accidental. It springs from aims. The words and acts of Jesus constantly reflect a master strategy designed to accomplish a purpose for which He came into the world. This master purpose found expression in a multitude of lesser, immediate aims. He has been called a “strategist with objectives.”

Vision.

Though Jesus never traveled far from Pal., He always had the world in view. He must bring the “other sheep” into the fold (10:16). He must draw all men to Himself (12:32). He commissioned His followers to go into “all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). They must “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The vision was intensive as well as extensive. The learners were to go beyond theory to practice (Matt 28:20). The whole body of teaching was important—“all that I have commanded you” (ibid.). And the task is to continue until the end of the age (ibid.).

Attention.

Jesus gained the attention of men until they sometimes trod upon each other to see and hear Him (Luke 12:1). Centuries later, few are neutral concerning Him. Still fewer ignore Him. What Jesus is, what He said, how He said it, and what He did make Him the center of attention. People are inevitably involved. Involuntary attention is followed by deep motivations that hold interest and draw people to Him. Jesus deliberately cultivated the art of eliciting and holding attention, as will be seen in the consideration of His methods.

Motivation.

Jesus understood the deep motivations of the human heart. His appeal was wholesome and worthy of His mission. Nonetheless, it was powerful and compelling. Jesus appealed to both self-interest and altruism, to natural or intrinsic motives and to extrinsic motives such as rewards and punishments. He saw life as it ought to be now and in the world to come. He appealed to man to seek the best. He also warned against the tragedy of evil and its consequences. Being fully aware of the grades of motives, He was, nevertheless, frankly practical. He geared His appeal to the individual’s needs and capacity. Yet, for Him, the ultimate of all moral and spiritual values was perfect love to God and man (Mark 12:30, 31).

Participation.

Jesus understood well that more than a lecture is necessary if people are to be changed. Their own interests must be aroused to the point of participation. They must ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7:7, 8). They must take the initiative. This principle underlay His methods. He had a fondness for discussion, questions, projects, examples, the concrete, and assignments.

Imagery.

Jesus avoided abstract forms of expression when possible. He spoke to the minds and hearts of those who lived by seeing, hearing, and doing. He spoke of logs and sawdust to warn against unfair criticism (Matt 7:4, 5). Inconsistency was straining out a gnat with the teeth and then enlarging the mouth to swallow a camel (23:24). Salt, light, seeds, trees, lilies, cities, rivers, and skies flashed with meaning for time and for eternity.

Artistry.

The charm of Jesus’ skill and methodology is in the thorough mastery with which He worked. The pedagogical principles were not disconnected tricks but parts of the artistry of the perfect craftsman who does all things well (Mark 7:37). There was no cheap straining for effect. It was the beauty and attractiveness of One who spoke as no other man spoke (John 7:46).

Methods.

Whereas there is a unique content of Jesus’ teaching and mission and a unique perfection of communication, neither of which can be duplicated, there are also discernible methods that can be studied and used.

Parable.

One of the most striking methods of Jesus was the parable. It may be an extended story or a pithy statement, but it always conveys spiritual truth by a comparison with familiar facts. Horne says there are about twenty-eight short comparisons and perhaps twenty-five different stories in the recorded words of Jesus (op. cit., p. 76). About one-fourth of the spoken words of Jesus recorded by Mark fall in this category. Thus Jesus caught the attention and held the interest of His hearers. He spoke to the heart in words that would repeat themselves in ever enlarging meaning as the hearer would meditate on the catchy anecdote or comparison. It was possible to say things by implication under the cover of a figure that would not be permitted in open discourse (Matt 22:1). Many times instead of telling a story, Jesus used a miracle that He had performed as a basis for teaching. Added to the other advantages of the miracle was the teaching drawn from it (e.g., John 6:11, 27, 35, 63).

Proverb.

Epigrams, proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, and paradoxes compress into the briefest possible compass a germ of truth that is intelligible to the popular mind, easily remembered, and capable of springing up later as the beginning of a chain of thought. Jesus’ teaching, fortunately, abounded in these. Dependent as the earliest believers were on oral tradition, they had little difficulty preserving and using these sayings.

Poetry.

Some of Jesus’ teaching has a rhythmic quality, evident even in Eng. translations (e.g., Luke 6:27). Metzger suggests that Jesus may have cast the gist of His teaching into this rhythmic pattern as a pedagogical device. Like other rabbis of His day, He may have required that the disciples memorize the gist of His teaching (“The Form and Content of the Teaching of Jesus Christ,” p. 7). If so, it was much easier to retain in verse than in prose, not to mention the beauty of expression.

Question.

Another favorite technique of Jesus was the question method. This was a call for direct and active participation in the issue at hand. It could awaken the conscience, turn aside an attack, arouse emotion, captivate interest, or probe the depths of any issue. At times it could even silence those who sought to bring an end to Jesus’ ministry (Matt 22:46).

Discourse.

There were times, however, when truth could be communicated more rapidly and more effectively by orderly discourse or sermon. The supreme example is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). The truth needed to be arranged and preserved in a system to which reference could be made from time to time. Other notable examples are the Olivet (chs. 24-25) and Upper Room (John 14-16) discourses.

Quotation.

The use of OT quotations has a central place in the teaching of Jesus. He had utmost confidence in the documents (Matt 5:18), used them to refute His enemies (22:41-45), explained His own mission on the basis of them (Luke 24:27), and even used them as a springboard for His own advanced teaching (Matt 5:22).

Project.

The sequence of impression - expression, often in a project context, helped to effect a permanent change in Jesus’ hearers. Jesus not only told His disciples how to minister and what they would encounter; He sent them out, gave them experience, and brought them back into a reporting session. They learned by doing, by instruction, and by discussion (Luke 9:1-10).

Symbol.

A concrete symbol becomes an emblem to typify the abstract. The firmness of the symbol tends to prevent the abstract idea from deviating and disintegrating. Jesus emphasized baptism and the Lord’s Supper as cogent methods of teaching the fundamental concepts of His kingdom. Likewise He washed the disciples’ feet to impress them with the need of humility (John 13:4-7) and commanded the disciples to shake off the dust of their feet to stress the unworthiness of those who reject His message or messengers (Mark 6:11).

Example.

Jesus was the supreme example of His own teaching. He lived what He taught. He sanctified Himself that His followers might be sanctified (John 17:19). When He washed the disciples’ feet, He said, “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (13:15). He taught by deed as well as by word. His own life remains the great inspiration to holiness for man.

Content.

The teaching of Jesus would fall flat, whatever His skill, were it not for the content of His teaching. He revealed God (14:8-11). He is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). He came that man might have life and have it more abundantly (10:10).

God.

Jesus nowhere argued the existence of God. He always assumed it. Indeed, He reveals Him. Jesus seemed hurt that Philip could associate with Him for so long a time and yet not be satisfied with the revelation of God in Him. In concrete human terms, Jesus made God known as the nourisher—the Father who cares for mankind. Jesus always called Him Father or God except in OT quotations that refer to Him as Lord.

His own Person.

Though Jesus never gave any systematic teaching concerning Himself, His own self-consciousness was revealed both incidentally and in formal declaration. Among His most specific indications of deity are: “I proceeded and came forth from God” (8:42); “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), and “I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28). Along with the attributes of deity and the unique mission was His constant sense of the common experience of humanity. Time, space, poverty, loneliness, fatigue, and sorrow were as real to Him as were His transcendent qualities and abilities. All these things He not only sensed but expressed to His followers.

Holy Spirit.

The burden of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit was the Spirit’s work in relation to the believer. He emphasized that man enters the kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit (3:5) and finds his fulfillment in the abundant life in the Spirit (7:38, 39). Jesus also traced the power of His own ministry to the same Spirit (Matt 12:27, 28), who would permanently abide with and in the believer (John 14:16, 17).

Scripture.

Though Jesus never made a systematic presentation of the Scriptures, He made some of the strongest statements confirming their reliability. Arguing in defense of His life, Jesus said “and the scripture cannot be broken” (10:35 ASV). Again He declared, “till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Jesus “preached the word” to the multitudes (Mark 2:1, 2). It was always to the Word of God that He appealed, calling back the rulers to what was written. His complaint against the tradition of the fathers was that it sometimes made the Word of God of no effect (7:13). In brief, Jesus taught that the Word of God is truth (John 17:17).

Christian life.

Jesus did not present the Christian life in legalistic terms. It was to be a spiritual vitality produced in a relationship with Him by faith (5:24). As Hallock says (The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Christian Life, pp. 31, 32), “No truth is given stronger emphasis in the teachings of Jesus than the fact that He is the life of men.” He is the bread of life (6:35), the light of life (8:12), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the resurrection and the life (11:25). Christian conduct is the expression of this life in accordance with the divine principles and precepts. Thus, there are two basic commandments that meet in one—love. To love God totally and one’s neighbor as himself is life in ethical focus (Mark 12:30, 31). The other side of love is holiness or sanctity, i.e. Christlikeness. Thus Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth” (John 17:17).

Kingdom of God.

One of the most constantly recurring themes in Jesus’ teaching is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. It is the rule of God, whether simply in the hearts of men or in some kind of establishment. It has its beginning in the lives of believers (Luke 17:21 ASV and KJV), but is a fact capable of enlargement and fulfillment until God enjoys His proper sovereignty over all His creatures in a perfect order (Matt 6:10). Jesus “preached the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23).

Church.

The kingdom takes shape as the Church for the present order—the assembly of those who have joyfully submitted to the rule of God through the redemption that is in Christ. Jesus was aware of this emerging body of believers, called it His Church, and claimed to be the builder of it (16:18).

Eschatology.

To Jesus, eschatology was simply the extension of the moral and spiritual principles to their logical outcome under the rule of God. Taken for granted were moral responsibility, future life, heaven, hell, judgment, rewards, punishments, the ultimate triumph of God and His people, and the everlasting suffering of those who are lost. Those who reject Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have no hope (12:30-32). Those to whom Jesus gives eternal life shall never perish (John 10:28).

Bibliography

R. Montague, “The Dialectic Method of Jesus,” BS, 41 (1884), 549-572; G. Stevens, “The Teaching of Jesus,” II, “The Method of His Teaching,” BW, 5 (1895), 106-113; D. Smith, “Our Lord’s Use of Common Proverbs” Exp., 6th series, 6 (1902), 441-454; D. Burrell, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Scriptures (1904); L. Crane, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Holy Spirit (1905); A. Zenos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning Christian Conduct (1905); G. Hallock, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Christian Life (1906); W. Beecher, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Future Life (1906); W. Hoyt, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning His Own Person (1907); G. Morgan, The Teaching of Christ (1913); A. Robertson, “The Teaching of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel,” BW, 52 (1918), 83-91; H. Horne, Jesus—The Master Teacher (1920); W. Squires, The Pedagogy of Jesus in the Twilight of Today (1927); C. Montefiore, “The Originality of Jesus,” HJ, 28 (1929-1930), 98-111; C. McKoy, The Art of Jesus As a Teacher (1930); H. Branscomb, The Teaching of Jesus (1931); J. Crum, “Jesus As a Poet Teacher,” ET, 46 (1934-1935), 197-200; H. Guy, “The Elements of Abruptness in the Teaching of Jesus,” ET, 52 (1940-1941), 238, 239; R. Carter, The Eternal Teacher (1960); B. Metzger, “The Form and Content of the Teaching of Jesus Christ” (1962), mimeographed by Bethel College and Seminary.