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Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. National Susceptibilities (Romans, Samaritans, Jews).


              2. Narrowness or Fears of Jewish Bodies and Authorities.


              3. Popular Mistaken Notions concerning the Messias.






              1. Prudence of Action:

              Never a collision with Roman power.


                            Action in perfect harmony with the distinction between the authority and the personal life of the Jewish authorities.






              Removal of popular prejudices.


                                          Disclosure of what He is and purposes.




              2. Power of Words (Chief Characteristics of His Public Discourses).


              3. Miracles (Perfect Mastery over all Nature, invoked as a Proof of His Statements).






              Various Theories held successively through Ages: Opinion now Prevalent.




              Data of the Gospels:

              The Synoptists mention only one Pasch—but imply a second one.


                            St. John speaks certainly of three Paschs—probably of a fourth.




              Conclusions certain or simply probable concerning that question.


1. The Difficulties of Our Lord’s Work. The social and religious condition of the Jews in Our Lord’s day—which we have briefly described in the foregoing chapter—naturally created many difficulties against the acceptance of His teachings.

One of these difficulties arose from the national antipathies and susceptibilities of Our Lord’s contemporaries. The Romans despised, it is true, the Jewish nation and thought they could easily quell any revolt against their domination; yet they were naturally jealous of their authority, and would certainly resent Christ’s open assumption of the title of the Messias and His preaching of a new kingdom, for both could easily lead the Jewish multitudes to new uprisings against the hated power of Rome. Again, the Samaritans and the Jews were no less at variance between themselves than the Romans and the Jews; hence, any special favor shown by Jesus to the members of either community would certainly tell against the influence of His words and miracles upon the minds and hearts of the other.

A second and greater difficulty to Our Lord’s work was to be found in the narrowness or the fears of the Jewish leaders. To be welcome as a teacher to the Scribes and the Pharisees of His time, Jesus should have belonged to the learned class of the “Masters in Israel,” and like them He should have pledged Himself to uphold all the “traditions of the elders”; but more particularly, He should have felt bound to comply with the rules of the Scribes and the Pharisees, since “all the Jews” the Sadducees—carried them out faithfully; and the Gospel records prove that to be faithful to His mission, Our Lord had to set all these traditions aside and to unmask fearlessly the pride and hypocrisy of this the most influential of the Jewish sects. The Sadducees were no less opposed to the work of Our Lord than the Pharisees. His doctrine was in direct contradiction in several point to that of the Sadducees, and His public mission appeared to them most objectionable. On the one hand, these cautious politicians saw that the multitudes were more and more won to His cause, and feared lest they would ultimately crown Him King and rebel against Rome; and on the other hand, they were fully persuaded that Jesus had not at His disposal the forces necessary to cope successfully with the Roman legions. These various elements of opposition to Our Lord’s work were all represented in the Sanhedrim, and their ultimate combination against His work and His life led to His trial and to His execution.

It must be said, however, that the greatest difficulty our divine Lord had to contend with in the discharge of His public mission arose from the mistaken notions concerning the Messias, which were so prevalent in the mind of His contemporaries. As we have seen in Chapter II., the Jewish expectations respecting the person and work of the Messias, the nature and conditions of the Messianic kingdom, ran directly counter to what the Redeemer of the world had to be and to establish upon earth.

2. The Means used by Our Lord in His Public Work. One of the most remarkable features of the conduct of Our Lord during His public ministry is His prudence of action. During His entire public work we find no trace of the least collision with the Roman power. He usually moves in Galilee, far from immediate contact with the Roman officials, avoids assuming the Messianic title, never shows the least desire for the royal dignity, and when pressed by His enemies to declare whether it is lawful to pay the tribute to Cæsar or not, He answers in a manner which had to be distorted in order that it might be brought against Him at the time of His passion.

Our Lord did not act with less prudence in His relations with the Jewish authorities. Here, however, the avoidance of a collision was an impossibility. His mission of Saviour of souls required that He should unmask His opponents to the people and contend openly with them, and this He did repeatedly, with a severity proportionate to the ardor of His zeal. But outside these cases He acted towards them with the utmost kindness. Indeed, it may be said that His conduct was ever in perfect harmony with this most wise distinction between the authority and the person of the Jewish leaders: “All whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not.”

It is in the same prudent way that Jesus did not go at once against the mistaken Messianic notions of the people, or even of His chosen disciples. He knew that inveterate prejudices must not be handled roughly, and that a gradual light is not only more welcome, but also more effective. Hence He suggested in various ways, but especially through striking parables, the truths regarding the nature of the kingdom of God, its growth, conditions of entrance, etc., which He could not have disclosed openly without hurting uselessly the most cherished hopes of His contemporaries. And it is only towards the close of His work that He fully disclosed His equality with the Father and His true relations to the Jews and to the world.

A second means which Our Lord employed for the fulfilment of His mission is the wonderful power of His words. His discourses are a spirit, an impulse, a direction, not a series of abstract, dry enactments, so that every one of His hearers could at once feel their importance and their beauty. They are also characterized by great originality, for even when He took up the religious truths of the Old Testament revelation, He divested them of their grosser interpretations and gave them a spiritual meaning hitherto unsuspected. In opposition to the method of the Scribes, the teachers of the time, “He spoke with authority,” never repeating the opinions of interpreters before Him, never sustaining a statement by the authority of some master. Seldom He discussed with His hearers, but when controversy was engaged, either with the Pharisees or the Sadducees, He ever and easily remained victorious. So great, indeed, was the power of His words, that the multitudes, in their eagerness to hear Him, pressed upon Him in great numbers, and followed Him everywhere, forgetful of the very necessaries of life.

The miracles which our divine Lord performed were, however, the very powerful means by which He won the admiration, gratitude, and authority necessary to cope successfully with the opposition of the Jewish leaders. He multiplied these wonders at each step, and they were such as no man had wrought before Him. All the elements of nature, all the diseases of the body, life and death, and even invisible spirits felt the effects of His divine power. A simple touch, a single word was sufficient to exercise this power over the most inveterate diseases, and even His presence was not necessary for the performance of such wonders. The most hidden thoughts of His hearers, as well as the most remote events, were equally known to Him. Not only did He perform miracles Himself, but on different occasions He imparted a similar power to His messengers. It was, therefore, plain to His contemporaries that He was endowed with a perfect mastery over all creatures. The multitudes instinctively felt that the coming Messias could not be expected to perform greater miracles, and were led to consider Him as being Himself the Messias who, as they thought, by His miraculous power was to drive the foreigners from the Holy Land, submit the Gentiles to the Jews, and start a new era of material and religious prosperity. Only blind leaders, who wilfully blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, could ascribe such beneficent works to the agency of the Evil One. Finally, Our Lord Himself repeatedly appeals to His works as clear proofs of His divine mission and superhuman power.

3. Length of Our Lord’s Public Work. The ministry of Our Lord includes, indeed, the period between His baptism and His ascension; but how long this period was, is a question which has ever been debated in the Church.

During the first three centuries the prevalent opinion was that the ministry of Christ lasted not more than a year and a few months, and included only two Paschal celebrations, viz., that which followed soon on His baptism, and that which immediately preceded His crucifixion. Some writers, however, during the third and following centuries, regarded Our Lord’s ministry as including three Paschal festivals. Eusebius, who wrote in the first part of the fourth century, was the first who represented the ministry of Christ as including four Passovers; his opinion did not prevail at once, for during the latter part of the fourth century several Church writers, among whom was St. Augustine still, retained the ancient opinion, viz., that it included two Passovers only. Subsequently, however, and up to the middle of the eighteenth century, the view of Eusebius was received without misgiving, and at the present day it is by far the most prevalent among biblical scholars; it maintains that the public ministry of Our Lord lasted three years and a few months, and that it included four Paschal celebrations.

If we consult the Gospel records we shall find that none of the Evangelists states explicitly either the exact duration of Our Lord’s ministry or the number of Passovers included within the period between His baptism and His ascension. Again, we may notice that the Synoptists mention only one Pasch, namely, the last one He celebrated in Jerusalem before His death, while they incidentally refer to facts which clearly imply another Paschal festival as having occurred during Our Lord’s public ministry. Finally, we find that St. John speaks certainly of three Passovers, and probably of a fourth one in Chapter 5:1. In the last passage just referred to, the fourth Evangelist tells us that “there was a festival of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Now it can be shown with great probability that this “festival of the Jews” was first of all, distinct from either of the Passovers spoken of in Chapter 2:13, and in Chapter 6:4, and next, from either the feast of Pentecost or that of Tabernacles.

We therefore conclude that while it is beyond doubt that Our Lord’s ministry included at least three Paschal celebrations, it is very probable that it included a fourth Passover, and that consequently the entire duration of the public work of Jesus extended to three years and a few months.

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