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

§ 1. Condition of Mind of Our Lord’s Disciples

1. Their Frame of Mind at the Beginning. Up to the time of their selection by Our Lord, the twelve naturally shared all the prejudices of their contemporaries concerning the person and work of the Messias. At home, and more particularly in the schools where they had studied the traditions and history of their nation, they had learned to derive comfort in the present misfortunes of the Jewish race, from the glorious prospect that a mighty Son of David should soon appear to drive the foreigner from the land of Jehovah and introduce a world-wide empire with Jerusalem for its capital. As all the faithful Jews of the time, they were under the constant influence of the Scribes and the Pharisees, whose Messianic dreams are well known, and who felt in duty bound to keep alive among their fellow countrymen the hope of a worldly restorer of the Jewish theocracy. No wonder, then, that the frame of mind of the disciples constituted from the very beginning the chief obstacle to their proper training by Our Lord.

It does not seem, however, that for a long time after their first call the Messianic misconceptions of the disciples led them to aspire after high positions in a Jewish kingdom soon to be set up. This may be accounted for, to a large extent, by the consideration of their lowly station in life and by the consciousness of their own defective education. But the main reason is probably to be found in Our Lord’s conduct during the first year of His public life. At first His preaching and His baptism seemed to be but a continuation of those of His holy precursor. His miracles soon multiplied and were indeed astonishing, but they apparently pointed Him out simply as a great prophet, who, not unlike Elias of old, had to take to flight in order to escape the fury of His enemies. Moreover, He had never laid any public claim to the Messianic dignity during that same period; nay, more, he had enjoined strict silence upon the evil spirits whom he expelled, as if their repeated assertions that He was the Messias were untrue and misleading. Finally, He had remained a poor rabbi, hardly able to provide for His own sustenance and for that of His disciples. In point of fact, the personal ambition of Our Lord’s disciples was so little developed during long months after their first call, that they did not hesitate to fall back upon their former avocation as fishermen in order to secure their own living, and that it is only long after their second call that we discover in the Gospel narrative traces of their hope of a glorious reward for having followed Jesus.

Of course, the Gospels do not afford a complete picture of the frame of mind of Our Lord’s disciples during their early training. It may be safely stated, however, that had not many things contributed, if not to shake, at least to obscure, their belief in Our Lord’s Messianic dignity, and thereby long prevented them from conceiving feelings of personal ambition, their aspirations after a high rank in the future kingdom of their Master would have revealed themselves earlier in the Gospel narrative.

2. Conclusions now Reached by the Disciples. The second year of Our Lord’s ministry was marked by some important changes in the condition of mind of the twelve. In spite of the relentless opposition of the Jewish leaders, of the obscure teaching in parables resorted to by Jesus, of His twofold refusal to give the expected sign of His Messiahship, of His disregard of tradition held as sacred by the people at large, the disciples gradually came to the conclusion that their Master was indeed the expected Messias. This was henceforth a settled conviction in their minds, and when a general desertion followed on the disappointment caused by Our Lord’s discourse in the synagogue of Capharnaum, St. Peter simply expressed their intimate thoughts during the past months in his ardent reply to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and we have known that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”

That these words of Peter were no mere expressions of a transient enthusiastic belief is proved by his later repetition of them in the district of Cæsarea Philippi. Meantime the Galilean multitudes had in large numbers come to think that Jesus was not the Messias, and under the pressure of the fierce opposition of His enemies, our divine Saviour had withdrawn from Galilee and begun almost as an exile a series of journeys through the northern regions, so that the first enthusiasm of the future prince of the apostles had ample time and opportunities to vanish. And yet, in answer to Our Lord’s question, “Whom do you say that I am?” he repeated with the same earnest conviction, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostles had therefore, by this time, reached a firm belief in the Messiahship of their Master, and although He forbade them to publish that “He was Jesus the Christ,” He took opportunity of this fresh manifestation of their faith in Him gradually to prepare their minds for His coming passion and death, This was all the more necessary because the glorious promise which Jesus had just made to St. Peter, that He would give him all the privileges of the supreme visible head of the Christian Church, was the starting-point in the minds of Our Lord’s disciples for the hope of a great future in return for having left everything to follow Him. This hope they first cherished in secret; but they soon “disputed among themselves which of them should be the greatest” in the future kingdom of their Master, and at length Peter ventured to put to Our Lord this direct question, which expresses so well their common anticipation, “Behold, we have left all things, and have followed Thee: what, therefore, shall we have?”

3. Remaining Misconceptions of the Disciples. Henceforth the chosen twelve will ever look upon Jesus as the expected Messias, and in this respect, their views regarding Our Saviour were very different from those of the multitudes which will soon crowd around Him again. But with their contemporaries, the disciples continued to cherish the patriotic dream that the work of the Messias—consequently of Jesus whom they recognized as such—would consist in the restoration of the Jewish theocracy in an unprecedented political and religious splendor. Jewish history and traditions had taught them to unite inseparably in thought, church and state, the political rule and the religious organization, so that Our Lord’s promise to found His Church implied necessarily, in their eyes, both the renewal of the Jewish religion and the restoration and extension of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of the Messias, the greatest of David’s sons. This was of course a capital mistake, but it had taken such a hold of the mind of the twelve that despite Our Lord’s teachings to the contrary, the disciples of Jesus never doubted, throughout the last year of His public ministry, that He would soon set up an earthly kingdom. Indeed, the inspired narrative of the Acts of the Apostles pictures them on the very day of the Ascension clinging still to this cherished hope with a tenacity which astonishes us at the present day, and which, at that last moment of His visible intercourse with them, led Jesus not to undeceive them.

This, then, was the first remaining misconception of Our Lord’s disciples at the beginning of the last year of His public ministry. They expected a kingdom “of this world,” and as a necessary consequence they continued to cherish the false notions current at the time concerning the conditions required for the establishment and membership of the Messianic kingdom. Like all their contemporaries, they had entirely lost sight of the dark picture drawn by those prophecies of the Old Testament, which foretold so plainly the sufferings and death of the future Redeemer of the world, and they had dwelt with delight on the glorious prospect afforded by those prophecies which described a Deliverer coming with great power and majesty, and forcibly subjecting all His enemies to serve Him as a footstool. Only such a misconception on their part regarding the manner in which the Messianic kingdom should be introduced can fully account (1) for Peter’s audacity in rebuking Our Lord as soon as He openly announced His approaching passion and death; (2) for the obtuseness of mind which the twelve evinced whenever Jesus spoke in the plainest language of these same future events; (3) for the kind of stupor into which they were thrown by the death and burial of our divine Saviour.

Finally, during the remainder of this last year of Our Lord’s public ministry, the apostles shared also the mistaken ideas of their contemporaries with regard to the conditions of membership of the Messianic kingdom. In fact, several things, such as Our Lord’s public statement that He had come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it, and His words in connection with the Syrophenician woman, etc., might easily he construed by the disciples, as implying that the Mosaic Law was certainly to be binding on all the future members of the Christian Church, and that in this same Church the privileged people of God would naturally be superior to the Gentile converts. However this may be, it is plain, especially from the statements found in the inspired Book of the Acts, that in this respect the prejudices of the twelve had persevered in their minds, not only throughout the last year of Our Lord’s public ministry, but also after the descent of the Holy Ghost.

§ 2. The Training of the Twelve by Our Lord

1. The Training before the Transfiguration. Next to the preaching of the kingdom of God to the Jews of His time, the greatest concern of Our Lord during His public life was the training of those whom He intended from the first should be the continuators of His missionary labors, and His effective instruments in gathering both Jews and Gentiles into one and the same fold. But the twelve little suspected these intentions of their Master, and were far from prepared to take in His teachings so contrary to their own Messianic expectations. It was therefore natural that Jesus should disclose to them only gradually the nature of the kingdom He had come to found, and the exact conditions of its membership.

This gradual character of the training of the twelve by our divine Saviour is particularly noticeable during the period which extends from their selection to Our Lord’s Transfiguration. They had been chosen to be in constant attendance upon Jesus; and hence from the first they witnessed His wonderful miracles, such as the healing of the centurion’s servant, the raising of the widow’s son, etc.; they heard His no less wonderful discourses, His conversations and discussions with the Scribes and the Pharisees; they beheld His holy examples of self-denial, of meekness, of humility, of love of prayer, etc.; they noticed also that His favor with the people at large grew steadily and reached such an extent that the multitudes, struck with His unlimited power over nature, diseases, death and the spirit-world, were soon led to consider Him as being very likely the expected Messias. All this was indeed calculated to train the minds and feelings of the disciples for their future ministry, yet all this, or almost all this, was common to them and to many others who, eager to see and listen to Jesus, followed Him from place to place. Gradually, however, to this public was added a private mode of training. This we first notice in connection with Our Lord’s public use of parables, the meaning of which escaped the minds of the disciples, and which was explained to them in private by their Master. Next, it was their privilege to witness miracles withheld from the gaze of the multitudes, and at the same time, their faith in Our Lord was strengthened more and more both by His rebukes of their little faith, and by His direct appeals to their real convictions respecting His Messianic mission.

Long, indeed, Our Lord pursued His fatiguing missionary journeys through Galilee, without apparently entrusting to the twelve a direct share in His labors; but the time came when He judged it advisable that He should send them on a mission like His own, and that they should be furnished with the same miraculous powers as Himself. This was an invaluable training for the disciples, who had thus an opportunity to exercise something of their future ministry under the eyes of their Master. As upon their return they told Jesus “both what they had done and what they had taught,” this must have given Our Lord an opportunity to make them remarks for future use. However this may be, as He saw they greatly needed rest He invited them to retire into a quiet solitude, thus teaching them to withdraw even from ministerial labors when prudence seems to require it.

Finally, in connection with this training of the twelve by Our Lord before His Transfiguration, two things more are worth notice: (1) His care on at least two occasions not to hurt their national prejudices, while however preparing their minds for the admission of the Gentiles in preference to the unbelieving Jews; (2) His long delay to speak to the twelve of His approaching passion and death, seeing that “He began” to announce to them these events so important, yet so contrary to their notions concerning the Messianic kingdom, only after St. Peter’s emphatic confession in the district of Cæsarea Philippi.

2. The Transfiguration. Great, indeed, must have been the gloom of the twelve when, after the glorious promise of Jesus to Peter that He would make him the foundation of His Church, they heard their Master calling this same Peter “Satan, savoring not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.” Greater still must have been their gloom when they heard Jesus saying openly, not only to His disciples, but to the multitude He had called for the purpose: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” They had never dreamed that they should pledge themselves to a suffering and despised Messias, that they should fearlessly acknowledge Him before man, under penalty of forfeiting their share in His glorious kingdom, so that they greatly needed the encouraging words which Our Lord was then pleased to add: “There are some of them that stand here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God coming in power.”

Most ancient interpreters find in the glory of the Transfiguration, which occurred six days afterwards, the fulfilment of this comforting promise of Jesus to His disciples. The period of the day at which this wonderful event took place is not stated in the Gospel narrative, but as Jesus did not come down from the mountain of the Transfiguration till the day following, it is very probable that He ascended in the evening the holy mount with the three disciples, Peter, James and John, spent there the night in prayer as was His wont, was transfigured at the early dawn, and soon after descended.

The sacred writers do not name the mountain upon which Our Lord was transfigured, and for centuries the tradition of both Greeks and Latins has pointed out as this favored spot Mount Thabor, in Lower Galilee, a few miles east of Nazareth. Recently, however, travellers and biblical writers generally reject this tradition, which goes back at least to the beginning of the fifth century, because they think that the testimonies of Polybius, v. 70, 6, and Josephus, Antiq. xiv. 6, 3; Wars i. 8, 7, prove that in Our Lord’s time the summit of Thabor was occupied by a fortified city, and hence was not the secluded spot spoken of in the Gospels. Furthermore, a careful study of the geographical details afforded by the first three Gospels in this connection has convinced them that at the time of His Transfiguration Jesus was out of Galilee and still in the district of Cæsarea Philippi. Thence they have inferred that the high and secluded mount of the Transfiguration is most likely one of the peaks of Mount Hermon, which arises north of Palestine to the height of more than 9000 feet above the level of the Mediterranean.

Three apostles only, Peter, James and John, had been selected by Jesus to witness His Transfiguration, and in descending the mountain they were bidden “tell this vision to no man, till the Son of man be arisen from the dead.” The contemplation of this glorious scene was therefore a great privilege granted to the three apostles, and it was well calculated to strengthen them against the dark approaching hour of their Master’s passion and death. They complied with His injunction of silence till, long years after His Resurrection, their testimony that they had seen His glory on the Holy Mount served to confirm the faith of the early Christians.

3. Training of the Twelve after the Transfiguration. After the great event of the Transfiguration, the training of the twelve assumed a more direct and more constant character. This was required on the one hand, by the nearness of Our Lord’s death and departure from them, and on the other hand, by their slowness to take in His references to His coming sufferings and death, and to understand the spirit which should animate them as ministers in Christ’s kingdom. Accordingly we see Jesus soon renewing with a peculiar distinctness and emphasis the prediction of His death, actually giving up His active work in Galilee to devote Himself more exclusively to the instruction of the twelve and availing Himself of every opportunity to complete their training. Thus after the healing of a demoniac, He taught them the great power of prayer and fasting to cast out evil spirits; after the miraculous paying of a national and theocratic tax for Himself and for Peter—a fact which implied the great prominence of this apostle and gave occasion to the others to discuss “which of them should be the greater in the kingdom of heaven?”—He inculcated on them the necessity of a childlike humility. Among the lessons taught them at this time by their Master we may notice those of opportune toleration; of the necessity of good example| of apostolic severity; of sincere and practically unlimited forgiveness of injuries.*

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