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

§ 1. The Opposition of Our Lord’s Enemies

1. The Opposition can be Accounted for in Various Ways. The active ministry of Jesus in Galilee was practically brought to a close with His discourse in Capharnaum. During two years “He had gone about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the Devil,” and had thereby given to all manifest proofs that “God was with Him.” Yet, far from recognizing the divine character of His mission, the Jewish leaders had constantly opposed Him, and in a short while they will “THROUGH IGNORANCE” put to death the “LORD OF GLORY.”

Of course their opposition and ignorance were criminal, yet they may be accounted for in various ways. From infancy they had been taught to consider the Sabbath as a most sacred day, and in the schools they had learned to set the traditions of the elders on a par with the revealed Law of Moses. These views they had taught and enforced upon others, and all Jews, whatever their political and religious tenets, strictly acted upon them in their daily life. Jesus, on the contrary, had repeatedly dared to violate public statutes on the Sabbath and to take no account of traditions which the whole nation regarded as sacred, and of which the Jewish leaders were the watchful guardians. Again, the Jewish officials were considered by the people at large as models of holy living, because of their strict compliance with the least enactments of the Mosaic law and because of their long prayers, rigorous fasts, and liberal alms; and hence they received from all the highest marks of honor and respect in the market-places or in the synagogues. But far from paying them this tribute which flattered their vanity, Our Lord had solemnly condemned their religious practices as unwelcome to God because tainted with pride and hypocrisy, and quite lately He had called them a generation of vipers and pronounced them guilty of an irremissible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. If only the people had let Jesus alone, and had not crowded in the synagogues to hear Him, and had not followed Him in the streets and in the fields anxious to listen to His exalted teachings and believing in His miraculous power, the leaders of the Jewish nation would not have taken the trouble to pursue Him with their opposition. But every increase of His popularity had been a decrease of their own; indeed, in every conflict the multitude had sided with Him, and in every defeat of His adversaries they had rejoiced; in short, His success was His greatest crime.

And after all, who was He thus to stand in successful opposition to them? In their eyes He was but a Galilean peasant, a poor carpenter of Nazareth, an uneducated rabbi who surrounded Himself with poor fishermen, and won popular favor by welcoming the lowest elements of society, for He was “the friend of sinners and of publicans.” Evidently such a one could not be, was not, the great and holy King they expected as the political restorer of their nation. The pretensions of Jesus were lofty indeed; He claimed an authority superior to that of the elders, and apparently to that of Moses himself. He assumed a power over the Temple of God, made Himself equal to the Almighty, claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and very recently He had assumed the divine power of remitting sins. But twice, at least, He had denied to the lawful judges of His claims, the great sign which the Messias was to give at His coming. The testimony of John the Baptist which He appealed to either did not refer to Him, or John was mistaken, for according to them no prophet could come from Nazareth. In their eyes, therefore, Jesus was but a bold deceiver of the people, whom He strove to withdraw from their lawful teachers and leaders, and to whom He taught a lax morality, inasmuch as by His free intercourse with sinners and publicans He obviously aimed at destroying all moral as well as all social distinctions. He was but a false prophet, such as Moses described long centuries before; for by teaching men not to mind observances which the Jews thought necessary for the faithful discharge of the divine commands, and by arrogating to Himself the divine nature and powers, He manifestly tended to withdraw men from the pure worship of Jehovah, from the primary belief of the Jewish religion, namely, the belief in one only God. His miraculous powers, they concluded, were not credentials of a divine mission, but rather proofs of a league with the Evil One, like that of the magicians of Pharaoh, who performed wonders in their opposition to Moses.

2. Means Used to Undermine Our Lord’s Authority. These are some of the grounds on which Our Lord’s enemies based their opposition, and in such frame of mind they naturally thought it lawful to resort to every means to undermine His authority. They secretly plotted against Him, striving to win over to their views their very political opponents, the Herodians. Then they waited until some imprudence on His part, or the fickleness of the people, should place Him in their power. During the full flush of His popularity they had to be satisfied with recalling His lowly birth at Nazareth, and with pushing His friends to treat Him publicly as one out of His senses. At the same time, they entertained an active correspondence with the Pharisees who were at Jerusalem, and when re-enforced by a deputation from the latter, they ventured to accuse Him of a league with Beelzebub. But in spite of all their efforts, His prudence had been such as not to leave them a single tangible ground for accusation, and His popularity had been steadily increasing, until, after the death of John the Baptist, His favor with the people reached its climax in Galilee, as we saw at the end of the preceding chapter.

3. The Opposition Now Fiercer Against Jesus. But the longer their opposition had been kept down and the greater His influence over the people had become, the more also the diminution of their own power with the multitudes and their wounded pride imperatively required that they should as soon as possible take a signal revenge upon His public and repeated censures of their teachings and practices.

When, therefore, they left Galilee for Jerusalem on the occasion of the third Pasch of Our Lord’s ministry, they naturally reported to the ecclesiastical authorities of Judæa all that had taken place during the last month: how His ever-growing success had long reduced to naught all their efforts, and how His fame had finally reached Herod himself. But they also added how Jesus having refused the royal diadem offered Him by the enthusiastic people, they had finally betrayed Him into a public declaration equivalent in the eyes of all to a denial of the Messianic dignity. Many of His disciples had in consequence forsaken Him, and only a handful of followers still clung to Him. Now, then, was the time to turn against Him all the national expectations of the people. This the Jewish leaders understood, and the Paschal celebration was hardly over when they sent a new deputation of Scribes into Galilee to watch and oppose Him, and probably also to bring about a close alliance with the Herodians against Jesus.

The third year’s ministry of Our Lord opened, therefore, with a fierce opposition on the part of the Jewish leaders, and we must now study how Jesus met their efforts against Him.

§ 2. How Jesus met the Opposition of His Enemies

1. The Open Rupture. Arrived at Capharnaum, the Scribes who had been deputed by the authorities of Judæa, soon noticed that Our Lord’s disciples did not practise the washing of hands after the traditionally prescribed manner before meals; accordingly they remonstrated with Jesus for not training well His disciples. In the eyes of these emissaries this was a grave neglect of one of the most sacred “traditions of the elders,” with which “all the Jews” complied and which had just been re-enacted in the form of an absolutely unchangeable decree. Without stopping to vindicate His disciples, Jesus called the Scribes “hypocrites” whose only concern was about outward demonstrations of piety, without any concern about inward devotion to God. He went farther still, and charged them with setting aside the clearest and most important commandments of God by means of their human traditions. He next endeavored to teach the multitude one of those great truths so much lost sight of at the time: true defilement does not proceed from the outside, but from the evil desires and passions of the heart.

These words of Our Lord, which were a heavy but necessary blow against merely human and misleading traditions, gave so great offence to the Scribes, that the disciples of Jesus were afraid of the possible consequences of their resentment; but the calm and significant words of Jesus quieted these fears of His disciples.

Several features of Our Lord’s reply to the Scribes deserve especial attention. On the one hand, He not only rebuked them for their hypocrisy, as He had repeatedly done in the past, but He pronounced a wholesale condemnation against their traditions, and taught the people a doctrine absolutely opposed to theirs on a point which they considered of the utmost importance. On the other hand, His enemies resented openly His conduct, and, apparently for the first time in Galilee, threatened to use violence against Him and His disciples. In a word, we are in presence of a direct attack on His enemies by Our Lord, and of an open rupture between Him and the Jewish leaders.

2. Travels through the Northern Regions. Our Lord’s time, however, to face His opponents resolutely and to the end, though not far away, had not yet fully come. Accordingly, we shall soon hear Him recommending silence, both to His disciples and to those whom He healed; and as He had already avoided going to Jerusalem for the third Pasch of His ministry, so He now avoids moving through Galilee openly as before.

He therefore turns away from Central Galilee and begins His journeys through the northern regions. He was accompanied by the twelve, whom it was His purpose henceforth to train in a special manner in view of His approaching death. For this purpose also He sought the greater quiet and seclusion of the heathen territory of Tyre. “But He could not be hid,” says St. Mark; and after healing the daughter of the Syrophenician woman in answer to her wonderful faith, He left that region. Passing through the territory of Sidon, Jesus probably proceeded along the Phenician frontier to the Jordan, and journeyed along the eastern bank of that river.

Thus Our Lord reached the heathen territory of the Decapolis—a district taking its name from ten cities and now under the immediate Roman rule—where He healed, among others, a “deaf and dumb man,” enjoining strict silence upon him and upon his friends. But His injunction of silence was not heeded, and the rumor of these wonderful deeds attracted to Him ever-growing multitudes. They continued three days with Him, beholding His miracles and listening to His discourses, and at the end of that time, Jesus, moved with compassion upon the needs of the 4000 men before Him, fed them with seven loaves and a few fishes.

After this second miraculous multiplication of loaves, Our Saviour crossed the Sea of Galilee, and arrived at Magdala. He was soon met by Pharisees and Sadducees, now combined for the first time against Him. They had come to tempt Him and ask Him for a sign from heaven. He reproved their hypocrisy and affirmed that no sign would be given them except the sign of the prophet Jonas. He therefore left them and went across the lake towards Bethsaida, probably situated at the point where the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, warning His disciples during the voyage against the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Outside the city of Bethsaida He restored the sight to a blind man who was offered to Him, and sent him home with the order not to spread the rumor of the miracle.|

From Bethsaida Jesus probably directed His steps northward and reached the region of Cæsarea Philippi, where, on one important occasion, He asked His apostles, “Whom do men say that I am?” In their answer the disciples gave the opinions which were then most current among the Galileans, and which amounted to this: “Men generally look upon Thee as one of the forerunners of the Messias.” But Jesus continued, “Whom do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered in the name of all, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Ecclesiastical writers have ever seen in this confession of Peter a distinct acknowledgment of Our Lord’s Messiahship and divine nature, and have ever considered as a return for it, the promise of Jesus to make him the foundation of His Church, to constitute him the supreme steward of this immortal edifice, with full powers of binding and loosing in His kingdom. At the same time, our divine Saviour commanded His disciples that “they should tell this to no man.”

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