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



              1. The Preaching of St. John:

              Time and place.


                            Nature (essentially a preparation for the coming of the Messias).


                            Influence (extent and reasons).




              2. The Baptism of Our Lord:

              The baptism administered by John (where and why received by Jesus?)


                            How was Jesus manifested to John?


                            Date of the baptism: Jesus “about the age of thirty years.”




              3. The Temptation:

              Where and why undergone by our divine Lord?


                            Duration and nature.






              1. The First Five Disciples:

              Their names, places of birth, and station in life


                            When and how brought to Jesus?


                            First relations with Our Lord.




                            The Titles Given to Jesus:

              The Lamb of God.


                                          The Son of God, the King of Israel.


                                          The Son of Man.




              2. The First Miracle:

              The Occasion: A wedding at Cana of Galilee.




                            The Miracle:

              The request of Mary Its motives.


                                          The answer of Jesus.


                                          The change of water into wine.


§ 1. The Immediate Preparation for Public Ministry

1. The Preaching of St. John. Our Lord was soon to commence His public life, when John, the son of Zachary, was directed by heaven to begin his mission of precursor. St. Luke tells us that this happened “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar.” This “fifteenth year” is most likely to be reckoned from the time when this prince was associated with Augustus in the government of the empire, and consequently, it corresponds to the year 779 U.C. (A.D. 26). That it was a Sabbatical year is regarded as probable by some authors, who explain in this manner how the people could flock to John in great numbers and from all parts of the land.

Long years before this moment “of his manifestation in Israel,” the son of Zachary had lived in the Wilderness, or eastern portion of Judæa proper. In this desolate region, some 9 or 10 miles in width, by about 35 in length, he had taken his abode, most likely in some cave in the depth of a gorge to shelter himself from the glare of an Eastern sun. His food had consisted of locusts which leaped and flew on the bare hills, and of wild honey which the bees deposited in the clefts of the rocks. Thus, far from a corrupt world, in silence and prayer, he had slowly prepared himself for his difficult mission, and he now stood before all, a living example of sincerity and disinterestedness.

The holy precursor began his instructions in the wilderness of Judæa, and then he moved northward, apparently following the course of the Jordan. He announced the near coming of the Messias and of His kingdom, and bade his hearers prepare for this most important event by genuine sorrow for sin and a true change of life. His words went directly against one of the most mischievous errors of his contemporaries, who felt sure of a place in the kingdom of the Messias simply because of their descendance from Abraham and of their scrupulous, though soulless, discharge of outward practices of penance and religion. His language assumed a particularly severe tone when addressed to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, whom he called “offspring of vipers” because of their hypocrisy, which turned religion itself into a vice and hid a deadly malice under the appearance of zeal. As a body, these Jewish leaders rejected His exhortations to repentance and moral reform, and were far from desiring the baptism which John administered to the humble and truly repentant multitudes.

The fame of the new prophet spread rapidly, and as St. Matthew informs us, “Jerusalem and all Judæa and all the country about Jordan went out to him.” Even the most unspiritual elements of society, such as the publicans and the soldiers, felt deeply the influence of his preaching and were willing to follow his counsels.| Very soon the ministry of the precursor caused so general an excitement and so lively an expectation that “all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ.”

When we inquire into the causes of an influence so widespread and so considerable, we find that they were chiefly three: (1) the personal appearance of John, which was in striking contrast with that of the teachers of the time and forcibly reminded the multitudes of the ancient prophet Elias; (2) the character of his preaching, so earnest in its tone, so striking in its images, so disinterested in its motives, so practical in its bearing, so perfectly in harmony with his own life; (3) the expectation of the Messias, which was more than ever prevalent among, and dear to, the multitudes, and which the very preaching of John had rendered more lively and more certain.

2. The Baptism of Our Lord. From the summary accounts which the Gospels give us of the preaching of St. John, we easily gather that the burden of his teachings was the necessity, even for the Jews, to prepare for the Messianic kingdom by a hearty renunciation of sin and a real amendment of life. And it is this necessity which he symbolized by administering to the multitudes a baptism hitherto required only from proselytes to Judaism. He had been sent to baptize with water, and his baptism shared in the preparatory character of his entire mission, inasmuch as it taught the Jews the true frame of mind in which they should receive “the baptism with the Holy Ghost,” which was reserved to Him whom John announced.

St. John had been baptizing for some time when Jesus, leaving Nazareth, “went to the Jordan” to be baptized by the holy precursor. The precise place of Our Lord’s baptism is not indicated in the Gospel narrative, and remains doubtful down to the present day, St. John having baptized the multitudes at different points of the river. The most common opinion, however, is that Jesus was baptized on the lower Jordan, near Jericho, at a place named Bethany.

Ecclesiastical writers have suggested various motives why Jesus submitted to a rite expressive of inward repentance and intended reform. The motive the most probable, because suggested by Our Lord’s words to St. John, is that He wished thereby to comply with a general disposition of divine Providence, that He should not be exempt during His mortal life from the rites enjoined by God upon the Jews of the time.

It has been affirmed that the words of St. John by which he stayed Jesus, saying, “I ought to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?” implied a previous and personal acquaintance of the precursor with Our Lord. But such an acquaintance with the person and character of Jesus is by no means certain. The homes of John and Jesus were far removed, and the sojourn of the precursor in the wilderness extended to the very moment “of his manifestation in Israel.” We must, therefore, consider it much more probable that John had never seen Jesus before, and that he was able to discern His exalted character only through an inward inspiration. Such supernatural discernment of character was sometimes given to the prophets of old, and it should be remembered that this same precursor, when yet in his mother’s womb, had leaped for joy at the salutation of the mother of the Lord. Yet it was not till St. John had seen the appointed sign, the descent of the Holy Ghost, that he could bear official witness to the Messianic dignity of Jesus. There is no reason to suppose that the apparition of the Holy Spirit, in a bodily shape “as a dove,” was seen by the multitude. Jesus saw it,| and John also, whose mission it was to bear witness to others that Jesus “is the Son of God” and apparently no one else.

St. Luke (3:23) informs us that Our Lord at His baptism was “about the age of thirty years,” an expression the natural meaning of which is, that Jesus was some months or parts of a year more or less than thirty. He was not just thirty, nor twenty-nine, nor thirty-one years of age. Whence it follows that Jesus, born in December, 749 U.C., was baptized towards the end of 779, or the beginning of 780 U.C. The probabilities are in favor of 780 (A.D. 27).

Now the first Pasch which followed Our Lord’s baptism fell upon the 11th of April; so that in the interval between this Pasch and His baptism we must place various events—the forty days’ temptation, the return of Jesus to Galilee, where He attended the wedding at Cana, and Our Lord’s few days’ sojourn in Capharnaum immediately before going up to Jerusalem—which occupied upwards of two months. This naturally leads us to look for the traditional month of January as the month in which Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, and the climatic peculiarities of Palestine offer no valid objections to this month.

3. The Temptation. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judæa, to be tempted by the Devil. The wild aspect of this place has already been referred to, and its descriptions by travellers enable us to realize the perfect accuracy of St. Mark’s statement, that in the wilderness the Son of God “WAS WITH BEASTS.” Tradition points to a high mountain a little west of Jericho as the “very high mountain” from which the Tempter showed Our Lord all the kingdoms of the world. This mountain, a limestone peak, exceedingly sharp and abrupt, and overlooking the plain of the Jordan and beyond, has been called the quarantania, in allusion to the fast of forty days.

That the true Son of God should have been tempted by the Evil One will ever remain a most mysterious, though most certain, event in the history of mankind. Nothing, of course, could allure to sin a divine person, and it is difficult to understand how victory over temptation could secure merit for a soul which could not sin. Various reasons, however, have been set forth to explain why our divine Lord was tually tempted. Thus, in the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that in Jesus “we have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities; but one tempted in all things such as we are [yet] without sin.” Again, it has been said that the second Adam suffered this humiliation, that all Adam’s sons might share in His victory; and there is no doubt that Christians under temptation have ever found in the pattern of their tempted Saviour both an instructive example and a great source of power to overcome their ghostly enemy.

If we had only the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark, we would naturally suppose that Our Lord’s temptation consisted simply in the three assaults which St. Matthew records in detail, and consequently that it lasted but a short time. But St. Luke’s narrative is decisive, to the effect that Jesus was actually tempted during all the forty days He remained in the wilderness, and that it was at the end of this long period that He underwent these three great assaults.

It is not necessary to detail and refute here the various theories invented by Protestants and Rationalists, against what ecclesiastical tradition has ever believed to have been the true nature of the Tempter, and of his three final assaults against Our Lord. An impartial study of the Gospel records proves beyond all doubt that the Evangelists intended to describe a real external occurrence, in which a personal Tempter appeared to Jesus in a bodily form, spoke audible words, went visibly from place to place, and finally departed. It is clear, furthermore, that Our Lord, having no inordinate inclination towards any thing, could not be tempted to deviate from His appointed path of duty by the inward solicitations of appetite, of ambition and of worldliness, but only by the outward suggestions of the Evil One. These suggestions appealed to the threefold concupiscence of our fallen nature, and Satan hoped that they would prove the more easily successful against Jesus, because he presented them when Our Lord’s physical frame had been greatly weakened by a rigorous and prolonged fast, and also because in using them he simply proposed to Jesus to act as the worldly Messias whom the Jews expected. But Satan’s hope was doomed to disappointment. For whether approached by the Tempter in the wilderness, or led by him to the top of one of the platforms of the Temple’s enclosure, or to the summit of a high mountain, Jesus never swerved in the least from what He knew to be the divine will in His regard. He met promptly, firmly, all the suggestions of Satan by direct appeals to Holy Writ—which St. Paul in his inspired language will call later “the sword of the Spirit” finally put this enemy to flight.

The direct, and as it were personal, conflict between Jesus and Satan was over till the time of Our Lord’s ignominious passion and death; and heavenly spirits came and ministered to Jesus.

§ 2. The Beginning of Public Ministry

1. The First Five Disciples. The opening events of Our Lord’s public life are recorded only by the beloved disciple, who had been a witness of them all. He pictures to us Jesus attaching to Himself His first five disciples: Andrew, and another left unnamed in the Gospel narrative, but who was no other than John, the modest writer of the Fourth Gospel; Simon and Philip; and finally Nathanael, who is most likely identical with the apostle Bartholomew. They were all Galileans by birth; and Andrew, together with Simon and Philip, and probably John, were of Bethsaida, on the western shore of the lake of Genesareth, while Nathanael was of Cana in Galilee. Tradition represents the latter as of nobler birth than the other four, who were poor fishermen, although the father of St. John seems to have been a fisherman of some means.

The exact time at which these five men became the disciples of Jesus cannot be determined. It was, however, not long after Our Lord’s return from the scene of the Temptation, and when His holy precursor was still baptizing at Bethany, and had just given a public testimony to Christ’s Messianic character.| St. John the Baptist was, in fact, the direct means of bringing Andrew and John to Jesus, by pointing to Him as “the Lamb of God.” Both were soon convinced that they had indeed “found the Messias,”* and they immediately went in quest each of his own brother, to impart to them the good news. Andrew was the first to find Simon, his brother, and he led him to Jesus. The next day occurred the first direct call from Jesus Himself. When about to go forth into Galilee He found Philip, and at once made him His disciple by these simple words: “Follow me.” No sooner had Philip recognized Jesus as the Messias than he sought a friend of his to impart to him the same belief. This friend was Nathanael, who was at first reluctant to admit that anything good could come from Nazareth, but who soon became a fervent disciple of Jesus.†

The Gospel narrative does not describe in detail the first relations of these five disciples with their new Master. It briefly tells us of Jesus inviting Andrew and John to His temporary abode and spending long hours with them, changing the name of Simon into that of Peter, bidding Philip simply to follow Him, and finally manifesting to Nathanael a knowledge more than human. But this narrative, however brief, clearly proves two things: (1) that Our Lord had from the very beginning of His public life a most distinct knowledge of His entire mission; (2) that His first five disciples derived from their first relations with Him a real conviction that he was the long-expected Messias.

This same narrative is also remarkable for the three titles we find therein given to Jesus. The first is that of “the Lamb of God,” applied to Our Lord by St. John the Baptist.| Jesus was thereby pointed out as the “Servant of Jehovah,” spoken of by Isaias (53), who would make atonement for the sins of the people by His vicarious sufferings. The second title was that of “the Son of God, the King of Israel,” addressed to Jesus by Nathanael. In this twofold designation we should not see anything else than an emphatic recognition of Our Lord’s Messianic dignity, which, in the eyes of His new disciple, exalted Him far above all those—whether men or angels—who could be styled “the sons of God,” and made Him “the Great King” of the Jews. The last title was that of “the Son of Man,” which Our Lord applied to Himself in His conversation with Nathanael.* This was another Messianic designation in the phraseology of the time, and it was preferred by Jesus to any other in connection with His Messianic dignity, chiefly because it recalled less sensibly to the minds of His hearers their false notions of material prosperity and glory during the Messianic era.†

2. The First Miracle.‡ The faith of the first five disciples of Christ, however real, needed to be strengthened by the sight of those miracles which the Messias was expected to perform in Israel, and this sight was first granted to them on the occasion of a wedding at Cana of Galilee.

Two towns have been pointed out as the place of Our Lord’s first miracle: (1) Kana el-Jelîl, about 9 miles north of Nazareth; (2) Kefer Kenna, only 4½ miles northeast of Nazareth. Even granting that the modern name Kana el-Jelîl is nearer to the ancient name “Cana of Galilee,” yet it must be maintained that the traditional Kefer Kenna is more probably the place of the wedding, because of its proximity to Nazareth, and because of its situation on the direct road between Nazareth and the lake of Genesareth.

Upon his return from the Jordan, Jesus had not gone directly to Cana, but to Nazareth, where, however, He and His disciples did not find Mary, for “on the third day”—apparently the third day after His departure for Galilee—“there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there.” Thither He directed His steps, either previously invited, or called with His disciples as soon as His coming was known.

Wedding festivities usually continued for a week, and a bridegroom in humble circumstances—such as the one spoken of in the Gospel narrative—could ill afford to make provision for an entertainment of so long duration. It has also been supposed that the unlooked-for arrival of Our Lord’s five disciples contributed to make more apparent, if indeed it did not cause, the insufficiency of the supply of wine. However this may be, Mary, who was the first to notice that the provision of wine was running short, was anxious that no one else should perceive this evidence of poverty, and betaking herself to Jesus, she said, “They have no wine.”

In these simple words of Mary, it is easy to see a modest request, prompted by her thoughtful charity and by her implicit trust in the hitherto hidden power of Our Lord to perform miracles. It was a secret, a brief appeal of His mother to One who had ever been ready to comply with her least desire, and it was made at the time which she thought the most opportune to spare a public disgrace to the family which had invited Him and His disciples. It is true that Mary was asking for a miracle, but in so doing she cannot have been guilty of fault, since she asked, or rather suggested, the very thing which Jesus did.

In answer to the request of His mother, Our Lord said: “Woman, what is to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come.” These words sound harsh to our ears, but on the lips of Our Saviour they had not the same meaning as in our modern languages. First of all, the word “woman” was compatible with the utmost respect, for Jesus will use it later on, when about to die on the cross He will give to Mary one of the most tender proofs of His affection, and passages from the classics might be quoted, where the same word is used without implying the least tinge of disrespect or blame. The title “woman,” here given to Mary, seems simply to indicate that a relation different from that of mother to son is referred to. The next words, “what is to Me and to thee?” have not necessarily a reprehensive sense in Semitic languages. They denote usually, however, some divergence between the thoughts and ways of persons ser brought together. Perhaps Jesus used them here to express the following opposition. His mother seemed to imply that He was ever to be in the same dependence on her maternal wishes and suggestions, whereas, now that He was entering on His public career, Our Lord intended to work independently of them. The last words of Our Saviour to Mary, “My hour is not yet come,” have been understood in various ways, and it may be that the best one—because in greater harmony with other expressions of Jesus—is that the time appointed for Him to work miracles had not yet fully come. But our blessed Lady, fully confident that her divine Son had not completely rejected her request, or rather that He would grant it, said to the waiters, “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.”

The details which follow in the sacred narrative, about the change of the water into wine, bespeak the report of an eye-witness. St. John speaks not only of water-pots used for the frequent ablutions of the Jews—in which consequently no wine could be supposed to remain—but of their number, of their material, and of their approximative size (“they contained two or three measures apiece,” that is, between about eighteen and twenty-seven gallons). He remembers the astonishment of the chief steward of the feast, who, not knowing the miraculous origin of the wine he had just tasted, hastened to address complimentary words to the bridegroom, whom he thought had kept till then his best wine. Finally, he had apparently ascertained the reality of the miracle from the mouth of the waiters who had drawn the water and had carried it to the chief steward, and his faith and that of his fellow disciples was strengthened by this first manifestation of the miraculous power of Jesus.

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