The Silent Years
The period between the testaments
has sometimes been characterized as the silent years. It seemed as if the
Almighty had grown weary of admonishing a wayward people. In terms of our motif,
the chase had seemingly slackened. Some no doubt preferred it that way, while
others found it profoundly disturbing. As for the latter, the psalmist observes:
“For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit”
The silent years were
certainly not uneventful. Philip of Macedon was instrumental in forming the
Hellenic League as a rival to Persia. Murdered in 336 B.C., he was succeeded by
his youthful son Alexander. The latter subsequently extended his empire from the
Balkans south to Egypt and east to India. Eleven years after he had invaded Asia
Minor, he lay dead at the age of thirty-three. Hellenism would thrive in the
wake of its militant apostle.
It was making inroads within
the Jewish community. Such influence was not necessarily calculated. “It was
simply that Greek thought was in the air and inevitably made its impact on the
minds of Jewish thinkers as they grappled with the new problems that their age
had raised.”72 Then, too, there were also
economic and social incentives for accommodation.
It, nonetheless, played to
mixed reviews. Some welcomed it as a means for shedding was thought to be
archaic tradition, and finding acceptance with a cosmopolitan community. Other
considered it a dire threat to cherished convictions.
The Seleucid monarch
Antiochus Epiphanies brought matter to a head. In a dramatic encounter outside
Alexandria, a Roman envoy demanded that he cut short his incursion into Egypt.
With his dreams of grandeur shattered and prestige diminished, he bitterly
Along the way, he determined
to take out his frustration on Jerusalem, and thereby secure his southern flank.
“The drunken orgy associated with the worship of Bacchus was made compulsory.
Conversely, Jews were forbidden, under penalty of death, to practice
circumcision, Sabbath observance or the observance of the feasts of the Jewish
year. Copies of the Hebrew Scriptures were ordered destroyed.”73
In response to these
proceedings, the venerable priest Mattathias protested: “And behold, our holy
place, our beauty, and our glory have been laid waste; the Gentiles have
profaned it. To what end then shall we live any longer?” (1 Macc. 2:12-13).
Those entrusted with
enforcing the edict arrived in Modein, in anticipation of coercing its
inhabitants to comply. Singling out Mattathias, the official observed:
You are a leader, honored and great
in the city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do
what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that
are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among
the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and
gold and many gifts.
Whereupon, the priest
Even if all the nations that
live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his
commandments, departing each from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons
and their brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. We will not obey
the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the
had finished speaking, another Jew offered to replace him. Mattathias gave vent
to his righteous indignation by killing the opportunist, along the official in
charge, and tearing down the altar. Then he cried out in a loud voice, “Let
every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with
me!” So it was that he and his followers fled to the hills, from which to carry
on prolonged warfare.
would replace his father as the head of the revolutionary forces. Increasing
numbers of Jews joined the struggle as time wore on. Judas was eventually able
to recover Jerusalem, and erect an altar for the worship of the Lord. Although
the Seleucids lay siege to Jerusalem, they had to retire to deal with
insurrection at home. They subsequently agreed not to interfere with the
internal affairs of Judea, and laws prohibiting the practice of Judaism were
convocation of Jewish leaders declared that Simon “should be their leader and
high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise” (1 Macc. 14:41).
He was the last of Mattathias’ sons and first in a hereditary line of Hasmonean
idealism of the Maccabees was soon in decline. This came to the attention of the
Roman general Pompey, who determined to intervene. Judea was thus made subject
to Rome, thereby setting the stage for the events that would lead up to the
birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
* * *
Drama of Decision
“I will send you the prophet Elijah
before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of
the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their father;
or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6). The choice
of Elijah to typify the coming prophet likely recalls his stalwart effort
to turn his people back to the ways of the Lord.
“The future ministry of the
coming prophet is described in terms of bridging the generation gap. There (in
the home) authority and submission, love and loyalty, obedience and trust could
be learned as nowhere else and, with the word of God as guide in the home,
society could be changed.”74
Otherwise, the prospect proves to be dismal.
There was at the time of
Herod king of Judea a priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth—also
of the lineage of Aaron. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God,
observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6).
They were without children, and well advanced in years.
Once when Zechariah’s
division was on duty, he was chosen to burn incense in the temple of the Lord,
while others remained outside—engaged in worship. Whereupon, an angel of the
Lord confided in him that his wife would give birth to a son, who was to be
named John. “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power
of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the
disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for
Accordingly, one is to anticipate that the day of the Lord will involve an
outpouring of his Spirit. This will manifest itself in unbridled blessing.
Unless, of course, persons fail to take advantage of the opportunity.
Elizabeth came full term, she gave birth to a son. At this, her husband
observed: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you
will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the
knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the
tender mercy of our God.” “Its fundamental metaphor concerns deliverance from
enemies, and it roots this salvic action on God’s part in (his) mercy, manifest
in his past dealings with his people. The purpose of deliverance is also cast in
terms borrowed from the Exodus.”75
subsequently came in the wilderness “preaching a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins” (3:3). This was in accord with the prophecy: “A voice of
one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths
for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The
crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will
see God’s salvation’” (cf. Isa. 40:3-5). Such imagery appears associated with
the arrival of a royal visitor.
is the concrete expression of a moral choice that has been made. It vividly
portrays in time and space the inner decision made by the participant. John has
carefully chosen a rite demanding participation”76In order words, this
amounted to a drama of decision.
“You brood of vipers!” John
greeted those coming to be baptized by him. “Who warned you to flee from the
coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” His attention was
especially focused on the religious elite, who had an invested interest in
maintaining the status quo.
“What shall we do then?” the
John answered, “the man with
two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should
do the same.” This reflects the dual ideal of industry along with generosity,
not one to the exclusion of the other.
Tax collectors also
approached him. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect more than you
are required to,” he instructed them. In this regard, he repudiated a common
Then some soldiers inquired
of him, “And what should we do?”
“Don’t exhort money and don’t
accuse people falsely,” he cautioned, “—be content with your wages.”
Whereas people wondered if
John might be the Messiah, he did not leave the matter in doubt. “I baptize your
with water,” he observed. “But one more powerful than I will come the thongs of
whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
and with fire.” We will pick up on the significance of these words at a
later juncture, when deemed more appropriate.
* * *
Now a virgin named Mary was
engaged to Joseph, of the lineage of David. “Greetings, you are greatly
favored!” an angelic visitor assured her. “The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).
Whereupon, the angel went on to explain: “You will be with child and give birth
to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be
called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his
father David, and he will reign over the house fo Jacob forever; his kingdom
will never end.”
It was a common name. There
were at least five high priests who shared it, and Josephus mentions about
twenty persons—along with ten who were contemporaries. It was derived from God’s
The primary feature of a
dutiful son was obedience, corresponding to the father’s benevolent authority.
It was in this connection that Jesus served to reveal his Father’s ways more
clearly. As traditionally understood, a father is known through his son.
“How can this be since I am a
virgin?” Mary inquired. Her response is not indicative of disbelief but
The angel answered, “The Holy
Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” There is no
implication of sexual activity, but an allusion to God’s superintending power.
As the angel went on to explain, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,”
Mary allowed. “May it be to me as you have said.”
“In those days Caesar
Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman
The business of census-taking grew
out of attempts to regularize the collection of taxes, especially the poll or
head tax in the Roman provinces. In other locales it might also be the precursor
to military conscriptions, but, since the Jewish people were exempt from
military service, this would not have been the case in Palestine.77
Even so, it served to remind the
populace of an unwelcome, alien intrusion into the affairs of the Jewish people.
So Joseph went up from
Nazareth to Bethlehem, because he belonged to the house of David. Mary
accompanied him. While they were there, she gave birth, and laid the child in a
manger (feeding trough)—since there was no accommodation for them in the inn.
This was probably in conjunction with the dwelling of one of the members of his
Meanwhile, there were
shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at
night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone
around them; so that they were terrified. “Do not be afraid,” the angel
encouraged them. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people.
Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the
Lord.” This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manager.”
Worthy of note, awaiting
the Messiah had become a prominent feature in Jewish tradition. At a later
juncture, Maimonides asserted: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of
the Messiah, and even though he should tarry, nevertheless I shall wait for his
coming every day.”78
These glad tidings were thus calculated to assure them that the period of
waiting was over.
It is also significant that
this was revealed to shepherds, who by the nature of their calling were not
religiously meticulous. Notably absent was the religious establishment residing
nearby in Jerusalem.
Suddenly a great company of
the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to
God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” “Luke
may see the reference to peace in contrast to the celebrated ‘peace of Augustus’
(Pax Romana). The peace of the Messiah brings in the reconciling peace
between humankind and God,”79
and is thus contingent on a favorable response to an implied invitation.
Whereupon, the shepherds set
out to verify the event. “When they had seen him, they spread the word
concerning what had been told them about the child, and all who heard it were
amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Whereas, “Mary treasured up all
these things and pondered them in her heart.”
* * *
The Early Years
“On the eighth day, when it was
time to circumcise him, they named him Jesus” (Luke 2:21). “Although it is
common practice today for Jews and non-Jews alike, there is little evidence that
circumcision serves any medical purpose. What makes (it) important is its larger
symbolic resonance, as a brit/covenant, linking of a newly born Jew to a
four-thousand-year-long history.”80In particular, as it
relates to salvation history.
“When the time of their
purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary
took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” This was in keeping with the
injunction, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” (cf. Exod.
13:2). In this connection, they made a modest offering—suggestive of their
Now Simeon was a devout
person, who earnestly was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Moreover, it was
revealed to him that he would not die until he had witnessed the event. Prompted
by the Spirit, he entered the temple precincts. Taking the child into his arms,
he allowed: “Sovereign Lord as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant
in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the
sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to
your people Israel.”
There was also a prophetess
named Anna. She was elderly, and widowed for eighty-four years. She
worshiped in the temple day and night, as evidence of her piety. Coming up at
that moment, she gave thanks to God, “and spoke about the child to all who were
looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
When Joseph and Mary had done
all that was required of them by the Law of the Lord, they returned to
Nazareth. “And there the child grew and became strong; he was filled with
wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” While Luke’s “chief concern is Jesus
as an adult, he relates that the child already possessed the qualities that will
make him extraordinary in later life. Of special interest is Jesus’ wisdom and a
certification of God’s evaluative point of view (concerning) the child.”81
By way of contrast, later
writers were tempted to embellish the account. For instance, Jesus along with
other children were said to have been engaged in making clay figures. Each
insisted that their work was superior to the rest. Whereupon, Jesus caused his
to walk around or fly about. This, in turn, incited the children’s parents to
caution them to avoid Jesus—since he appeared as a sorcerer.82
Every year Jesus’ parents
went up to Jerusalem on the occasion of Passover. When he was twelve years of
age, they went up according to their custom. After the celebration, they were
returned and supposed that Jesus was with relatives or friends. When they could
not find him, they hastily returned to Jerusalem.
After three days, they found
him in the temple courts. He was sitting among the rabbis, atentatively
listening and asking them questions. This portrays Jesus as a precocious lad,
concerned with spiritual matters. In addition, “Everyone who heard him was
amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
His parents were
astonished. “Son,” Mary inquired of him,”why have you treated us like this?
Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” She seems genuinely at
a loss as to how to explain his behavior.
“Why were you searching for
me?” Jesus appears surprised. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s
house?” My Father’s house is thus set over
against your father and I, in keeping with Jewish tradition—which asserts
that while both God and the parents have an invested interest, that of the
Almighty takes precedent.
Then he returned to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them. Luke thus assure us that the preceding incident was
not meant as disrespect. Moreover, it serves as a reminder to the distinctive
role the family played in cultivating a religious devotion.
“But his mother treasured all
these things in her heart.” As such, they served to encourage her in the
difficult days that lay ahead: the controversy engendered by his public
ministry, leading to his crucifixion.
* * *
Prelude to Ministry
“Now Jesus himself was about thirty
years old when he began his ministry” (Luke 3:23). As previously noted, this was
by way of indicating that he had reached the point for public service (cf. Gen.
41:46; Num. 4:3; 2 Sam. 5:4). It was thought that by this time a person would
have hopefully attained sufficient wisdom to make mature decisions, not only on
his own behalf but that of others.
When the people were coming
to John for baptism, Jesus was among them. John tried to dissuade him,
protesting: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matt. 3:13).
This was calculated to discourage the impression that Jesus was inferior.
Jesus replied, “Let it be so
now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John
consented. “The pronoun us refers not to John and Jesus but to Jesus and all the
others who had come for baptism. Jesus identifies himself with his people in a
movement of national repentance. He was not baptized because he need to be
forgiven of sin.”83
As soon as Jesus was
baptized, he came up out of the water. “At that moment heaven was open, and he
saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice
for heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
This constituted the anointing of Jesus for his public ministry. As such, it
would be orchestrated and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The voice also expresses the
Father’s love and approval. This was in anticipation of the rigorous demands
that would be placed on Jesus in the course of his redemptive ministry. In a
more extended sense, it also acted as a commentary on the enigma of suffering.
In this regard, the capacity to enjoy pleasure appears commensurate with that of
“Jesus, full of the Holy
Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where
for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1). He fasted over this
Now the wilderness got
mixed reviews. On the one hand, it was decidedly inhospitable. On the other, God
had demonstrated that he was capable of sustaining life under precarious
situations. Accordingly, the wilderness continued to appeal to those who would
cultivate a relationship with the Almighty.
Jesus was not enticed into
the wilderness, but led by the Spirit of God. This was by way of engaging
the adversary. As alerted elsewhere, “For our struggle is not against flesh and
blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of
this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”
(Eph. 6:12). The idiom implies that the conflict is not only against
oppressive social institutions, but an evil establishment that undergirds them.
“If you are the Son of God,”
the devil impugned, “tell this stone to become bread.” He thus meant to take
advantage of Jesus’ famished condition.
Jesus answered, “It is
written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” “Most likely Jesus was tempted to
use his power as God’s Son for his own ends. (He) clearly rejected such a view
of the of his messianic role since it would indicate a lack of trust on his part
in the provision and care of his Heavenly Father.”84
It was thus incumbent on him to pray for daily provision, while seeking first
the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 11:2-3).
The devil then led him to a
high place, and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
Whereupon, he proposed: “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for
it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you
worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus replied, “It is
written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” He thus did not
question the adversary’s capability, but the propriety of his suggestion. He
could have attained that this world desires, so long as he did not challenge the
status quo. However, this amounted to idolatry.
The devil then led him to
Jerusalem, and had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple. “If you are the Son
of God,” he again impugned, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will
life you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a
Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do
not put the Lord your God to the test.’” In proverbial terms, “A text without
its context serves as a pretext.” Consequently, Jesus put the matter in proper
perspective. Whereupon, the devil took his leave, supposing to renew the
engagement at a more opportune time. Moreover, Jesus’ mission remained on
* * *
Jesus stated what must have seemed
obvious, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). As graphically illustrated, he took
off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured out water into
a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet—drying them with the towel (cf.
John 13:4-5). In this regard, he set an example for his disciples.
Now he “returned to Galilee
in the power of the Sprit, and news about him spread through the whole
countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him” (Luke
4:14-15). The occupants of Galilee were mainly Jewish, although there was a
more cosmopolitan orientation than in Judea. Lower Galilee in particular was a
relatively affluent region, so it was said: “If you want to be rich, go north
(to Galilee); but if pious, then south (to Judea).” The populace also appeared
less sophisticated than their southern counterpart.
Since Jesus ministered in
the power of the Spirt, we would could understand this either in a
subjective and/or objective manner. As for the former, he was invigorated by the
Spirit. As for the latter, his efforts were fruitful. In any case, everyone
praised him. In that he articulated well, conveyed a devout piety, and was
recognized as one of their own.
He returned to Nazareth,
“where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the
synagogue, as was his custom.” “We may note that the synagogue served not only
as a house of prayer but also as a place of assembly, a place of instruction in
the Law, a hostel for strangers, and a place where slaves might be set free. The
synagogues were led not by rabbis or priests but by lay people.”85
Conversely, the home served
as the primary means of religious instruction. It was imparted by influence and
example, before formal instruction. It was intuitively sensed before being
consciously appropriated. Jesus was no exception to the rule.
He stood to read from Holy
Writ, in deference to the sacred text. The synagogue service was marked by two
essential features: the reading of the Word and prayer. These, taken together,
were meant to foster communion.
The Isaiah scroll was handed
to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the
Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He
has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the
blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (cf.
Isa. 61:1-2). Most notable for its absence, “And the day of vengeance of our
God”—since this pertained to the future.
The extended text consists of
Jubilee imagery as applied to the Messianic Age. The term jubilee refers
to the ram’s horn, used to announce the celebration—which occurred every fifty
years. Initially, it was meant to recognize God’s sovereign rule. In this
regard, it provided a compelling rationale for requiring obedience from his
It also allowed for the
freeing of those who had become slaves, and the return of family property. This,
in turn, was meant to curb predatory instincts, and cultivate generosity.
Moreover, it focused on the notion of redemption.
A correlative of redemption
was rest. Consequently, the people were to permit the land to renew
itself. Along with this, they were to take a more leisurely approach to their
duties—along with appreciation of God’s bountiful provision. This was not
intended to discourage gainful endeavor, but to put life into proper
All things considered, this
was meant to elicit hope. In a manner of speaking, one need not fear what
the future holds, so long as he or she has confidence in the one who holds the
future. This hope transcends present circumstance with confidence in God’s
When he had rolled up the
scroll, Jesus handed it back to the attendant, and sat down—as was customary in
anticipation for teaching. He began by saying, “Today this scripture is
fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, the Messianic Age had dawned.
“All spoke well of him and
were amazed at the gracious word that came from his lips.” “Isn’t this Joseph’s
son?” they incredulously inquired. Their favorable impression thus appears
coupled with skepticism.
Accordingly, Jesus observed:
“Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ Do here
in your home-town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” “I tell you the
truth,” he solemnly continued, “no prophet is accepted in his home-town. At
this, he cited the instance of Elijah and the widow in Zarepath, along with that
of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian.
The people listening to him
were furious. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow
of the ill on which the town was built, in order to thrown him down the cliff.
But he walked right through the crowed and went on his way.” “Whether or not
Luke intends this escape to be miraculous is uncertain, for the passion of the
crowd, once outside, may have abated somewhat. But what is certain is that
Jesus’ ministry was far from over.”86
* * *
Jesus appears as rabbi/teacher. For
instance, two of John’s disciples inquired of him: “Rabbi, where are you
staying? (John 1:38). More revealing, Martha informs her sister: “The Teacher is
here, and is asking for you” (11:28). “She speaks of him as ‘The Teacher’ and
the article is probably important. Among his followers Jesus was designated
primarily by his teaching activities.”87
His preparation was largely
limited to the home, coupled with the synagogue, and life as a whole. As
sometimes expressed, “Experience is the best instructor.” Moreover, he made the
best of his opportunities, as evidenced by his interchange with the rabbis in
the temple precinct. Then, too, the term rabbi was not as precise as it
would become with the passing of time.
On one occasion, he went up
on a mountain side and sat down—again in anticipation of teaching. “A major
motive for Matthew to write his Gospel was to present large sections of Jesus’
teaching. These teaching sections appear most obviously in the five major
speeches in Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25.”88The initial and most
extensive of these is alluded to as The Sermon on the Mount, which is
introduced and highlighted by The Beatitudes.
Now Jesus taught his
disciples in the presence of the multitude. They were previously
undifferentiated, but no longer. They were on different paths, one narrow and
the other broad, that would continue to diverge as time progressed. Of course,
the multitude was not monolithic, Some were simply curious, while others were
diligently searching for a more meaningful life.
Jesus began by discoursing on
blessedness. One is truly blessed who enjoys God’s favor, whether in this
life or that to come. As cogently expressed, “God is the critical factor
in life’s equation.”
He then explored the topic in
greater detail. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven” (Matt. 5:3). These are not simply poverty stricken, but those to turn to
the Almighty in their need. The affluent are less inclined to do so. In this
regard, Jesus observed: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eyed of a
needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.” As otherwise expressed, “God comforts the
afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.” The former on condition that they are
disposed to follow his righteous ways.
“Blessed are the meek for
they will inherit the earth.” As for contrast, “A little while, and the wicked
will be no more; thought you look for the, they will not be found. But the meek
will inherit the land and enjoy great peace” (Psa. 37:10-11).
“Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” In this regard, Jesus
assured the Samaritan woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty
again, but whoever drinks the water I have him will never thirst. Indeed, the
water I give him will become in him a spring of waster welling up to eternal
life” (John 3:13-14).
“Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.” While the term mercy has several nuances,
it implies the compassionate willingness to forgive. Consequently, Jesus taught
his disciples to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our
debtors” (Matt. 6:12).
“Blessed are the pure in
heart, for they will see God.” Such are characterized by personal integrity, and
resolute behavior. Then, too, to bask in God’s presence is the greatest joy
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.” “The peace that Jesus enjoins is not a
passive acceptance of whatever comes along, but an active involvement that
confronts the problem and works through to a satisfactory reconciliation. ‘Seek
peace and pursue it’ is the admonition of the psalmist (Psa. 14:14)”89Thus Jesus’ disciples
were to be characterized by their pursuit of peace.
“Blessed are those who are
persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Dear
friends,” Peter enjoins his readers, “do not be surprised at the painful trial
you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But
rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be
overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Having set the course, Jesus
continues to instruct and admonish those listening to his words. It was by word
and example, and not one to the exclusion of the other. In fact, it was the
precise correspondence between the two that readily qualified him for the task
* * *
Jesus by common consent performed
miracles. Nor were miracles indiscriminately attributed to prominent persons, as
some have proposed—John the Baptist being a prime case in point. By way of
illustration, Jesus healed a demoniac. The populace was amazed and inquired:
“Could this be the Son of David?” (Matt. 12:27)—with reference to the Messiah.
Their inquiry falls short of a confident affirmation.
But when the Pharisees heard
this, they observed: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this
fellow drives out demons.” The implication was that Jesus could control demons
since he himself was an agent of the demonic.
Aware of their reasoning,
Jesus observed: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every
city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out
Satan, he is divided against himself.” Accordingly, the proposal would prove
“And if I drive out demons by
Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?” Jesus continues. This turns
out to be the weightier argument, since certain of the Pharisees practiced
exorcism. In this regard, demons are depicted as deceptive spirits, which can on
occasion gain control over individuals. While this can be manifest in a variety
of ways, it is said to characteristically convey an oppressive presence.
“But,” Jesus offers as a
credible alternative, “if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the
kingdom of God has come upon you.” Were this so, then to misrepresent Jesus’
ministry was to impede the work of the Almighty. Consequently, more was at stake
than the opposition may have realized.
“He who is not with me is
against me,” Jesus went on to affirm, “and he who does not gather with me
scatters.” Since neutrality is impossible, a decision was necessary. Moreover,
faith does not constitute a leap in the dark, but a deliberate step toward the
light. In another context, Jesus affirmed: “I am the light of the world. Whoever
follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John
“And so I tell you, every sin
and blasphemy will be forgiven men,” Jesus allowed, “but the blasphemy against
the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son
of Man will be forgiven. But anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not
be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
As for apt commentary: Jesus
is saying to his antagonists that to attribute to Satan that which has been
accomplished by the power and Spirit of God is to demonstrate a moral vision so
distorted that there is no longer hope of recovery. It would be possible to
speak against the Son of Man and be forgiven because at that time in Jesus’
ministry there was a hiddenness about his person. Not so with the mighty works
wrought by the Spirit.90
Jesus’ miracles served three
primary purposes. Initially, they often provided a humanitarian service. In one
instance, it involved a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years (cf.
Matt. 9:20). On another occasion, it gave sight to a man who was blind from
birth (cf. John 9:1).
Then, too, Jesus’ miracles
served as a credential for his ministry. On the one hand, he was not the only
person to have performed miracles—which tend to proliferate at critical
junctures in salvation history. On the other hand, he served as a prime
example—with distinctive implications.
This, in turn, recalls a
recent study concerning the activity of the Holy Spirit in Acts. “In less than
twenty instances, assuming a more generous interpretation of what qualifies as
miracle, were extraordinary events reports. Likewise of interest, all but four
of these were related to the apostles and might best be understood as attesting
to their particular office.”91
Then, finally, Jesus’
miracles may be cited as an earnest of the kingdom. As such, they anticipate the
coming of the kingdom in its fullness. Embraced in this context, they provide a
needed incentive to pursue the way of righteousness.
* * *
Jesus’ messianic identity is subtly
woven into the fabric of his public ministry from its outset. The likely reason
for this is the ambiguity that surrounded the promised deliverer.
On the one hand, it appeared as if
God Himself would intervene; on the other, as if through a chosen agent. On the
one hand, the Messiah appeared as a military figure; on the other, as a heavenly
agent. On the one hand, he was represented as the royal heir to David’s throne;
on the other, as a suffering servant.92
In particular, persons
focused more on the political implications. For instance, “Of the increase of
his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and
righteounsess for that time on and forever” (Isa. 98:7).
Thus “After the people saw
the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the
Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). “Jesus, knowing that they
intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by
himself.” As was in some measure the case throughout his public ministry, lest
his mission be compromised.
On another occasion, Jesus
inquired of his disciples: “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18). He was
well along in his public ministry at the time.
They replied, “Some say John
the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets has
come back to life.” These share in common the anticipation that a prophet in the
mode of Elijah would herald the coming of the Messiah.
“But what about you?” he
pressed them. “Who do you say I am” “The ‘you’ is emphatic. Jesus expected more
insight from the disciples. Having experienced the proceeding miracles, they
should have a better understanding than the crowds.”93Then, too, they were
Peter answered without
equivocation, “The Christ of God.” It is not clear whether he meant to speak
only for himself or on behalf of the other disciples.
Whereupon, Jesus cautioned
them against sharing this realization with others. As for his rationale, “The
Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests
and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to
life.” Such would intervene before he assumed his royal prerogatives.
He then enjoined them: “If
anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses
his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world,
and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” In this regard, one should not allow
short term goals to get in the way of long term benefits.
“If anyone is ashamed of me
and my words,” he continued, “the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he
comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell
you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see
the kingdom of God.”
The appearance of the
kingdom of God has been variously explained. More expressly,
(1) the coming of God’s kingdom in
(2) the coming of God’s kingdom in
the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost;
(3) the spread of the church
throughout the world;
(4) the recognition that God’s
kingdom is already realized;
(5) Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70;
(6) the transfiguration that follows this saying in each Synoptic Gospel; and
(7) the parousia, in error since
the Lord has not returned.94
Given the context, the
transfiguration seems to be the most likely alternative.
With such in mind, “About
eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and
went up into a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:2). As he was praying his countenance
changed and his clothing became luminous. Moreover, Moses and
Elijah—representing the Law and Prophets, appeared in glorious splendor—conversing
with Jesus concerning what would shortly transpire in Jerusalem.
As the two visitors were
about to take their leave, Peter proposes erecting shelters for them along with
Jesus. He perhaps hoped to prolong their stay. In any case, Luke notes that he
was at a loss to know what to make of the situation.
While the apostle was still
speaking, a cloud engulfed them, and a voice from heaven declared: “This is my
Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” This was indicative of the fact that
salvation history had taken a giant step forward. Then, too, it served as a
rebuke of Peter’s insistence that Jesus not pursue his vicarious suffering (cf.
Mark 9:32). When the voice had finished speaking, only Jesus remained with them.
They kept all this to themselves for the time being, in keeping with Jesus’
earlier injunction to keep his messianic identity a secret.
* * *
The prospect of a suffering
servant was deeply ingrained in the Jewish consciousness. It was generally
applied corporately to the chosen people, although the implications might extend
to a given individual. As for confirmation, “The portrait before us is that of
one whose rejection goes beyond even the humiliation and pain which the Servant
people of God have had to suffer in Babylonia. It is the portrait of one who is
wholly abject, who has encountered evil in its ultimate form.”95
This ambiguity is best
understood in terms of corporate personality, where some feature is
representative of the whole. For instance, as when the prophets recall the
exodus as though they were present—which in a corporate sense was true.
In keeping with the suffering
servant motif, Jesus pressed on toward Jerusalem. When he came near the place
where the road drops down from the Mount of Olives, his enthusiastic disciples
began to you fully praise God for all the miracles they had witnessed. “Blessed
is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they exclaimed. “Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). They thus continue to focus on the
political aspirations associated with the coming of the Messiah.
“Teacher,” certain of the Pharisees
protested, “rebuke your disciples!” These were not necessarily representative,
since there were Pharisees who were more amenable to Jesus and his teaching.
“I tell you,” Jesus replied,
“if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” This was likely a proverbial
saying, perhaps derived from the practice of heaping tones as a witness (cf.
Jesus subsequently entered
into the temple precinct, and began driving out those who were using it for
commercial purposes. “It is written,” he observed, “‘My house will be a house of
prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’” It was a largely symbolic
gesture, not calculated to terminate the offensive practice. However, it did
incite the religious establishment to plan Jesus’ demise. “Yet they could not
find a way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.”
Now Judas agreed to betray
him. Perhaps for financial gain, although there is speculation that he meant for
force Jesus’ hand—thus instigating a popular revolt.
Meanwhile, Jesus made his way
to a customary place over against the Mount of Olives. Withdrawing about a
stone’s throw from his disciples, he petitioned: “Father, if you are willing
take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (22:42). And being in
anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his perspiration appeared as if drops of
blood falling to the ground. Some have supposed that this resulted from blood
capillaries rupturing, exuding blood along with water—as evidence of the extreme
stress he was experiencing.
In any case, Jesus was
apprehended, and led off to the residence of the high priest. The council of
elders/Sanhedrin convened at daybreak. “If you are the Christ,” they
impugned, “tell us.” Then, deciding he had incriminated himself, they sent him
off to the Roman magistrate Pilate.
After interrogating the
prisoner, Pilate concluded: “I find no basis for the charge against this man”
(23:4). However, the populace—incited by the religious establishment—insisted
that he be crucified. Pilate reluctantly yielded, out of deference to the
Pax Romana — supposing
that the welfare of the state was of more consequence than that of the
So it was that they crucified
Jesus. It was an excruciating experience, meant to dissuade criminals from their
anti-social behavior. In particular, one died from asphyxiation. In order to
exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension of the muscles
would be eased for a moment. After managing to exhale, (he) would then be able
to relax down and take another breath in. This would go on and on until complete
exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and
“My God, my God,” Jesus cried
out, “why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; cf. Psa. 22:1). Jesus thus
recalls a text commonly employed by those experiencing duress. Not to be
overlooked, the passage concludes with the confident assertion: “I will declare
your name to my brothers, in the congregation I will praise you” (v. 22).
“Father, Jesus again quotes
from the psalmist, “into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46; cf. Psa.
31:5). He had finished the redemptive task assigned to him. “When he had said
this, he breathed his last.”
* * *
Proceed To Section Five