Upon the Lord's Ministry in Galilee to the Death of the Baptist.
Of the general character of the Lord's work in Galilee, as distinguished from His work in Judea, we have already spoken, when considering the divisions of His ministry. It is in the light of this distinction that certain remarkable, and to some perplexing, features of the synoptical Gospels find their explanation. As is patent upon their narratives, they relate nothing that the Lord did prior to John the Baptist's imprisonment. Only from the Evangelist John do we learn that His field of labor, till the Baptist was imprisoned, was Judea. Here His time was spent from the Passover of 780 till the December following, and if He resided in Galilee a few weeks till the feast, (John v. 1,) as He seems to have done, this was in consequence' of the enmity of the Jews, and the time was apparently spent in seclusion. So far as the narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke go, the beginning of His public labors is to be dated from the time when, the Baptist being cast into prison, He went from Judea into Galilee. They all assume that He
was in Judea up to this time, this being the province to which His early labors were confined. The reasons why they pass over in silence this first year of His ministry, and why they bring His work in Galilee into such close connection with the Baptist, we now proceed to consider.
The silence of the Synoptists respecting the Judean work of the Lord, will not appear strange if we recall the purpose and result of that work. As we have seen, John, after the baptism of Jesus, was visited by a deputation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem, to whom he bore formal witness that the Messiah had come, (John i. 19-28.) Perhaps, also, he pointed out Jesus to them in person. It was now a question distinctly before the ecclesiastical rulers, Would they receive Jesus thus pointed out to them as the Christ, or reject Him? As they took no steps to seek Him, thus showing their disregard of the Baptist's testimony, He Himself will bring the matter to an open and speedy test. At the first feast after this testimony, He appears in the temple, and there assumes authority as the Son of God, to purge it. He also works miracles, and many believed in Him as one sent from God. Still the ecclesiastical rulers did not receive Him. He therefore begins to baptize ; but they did not come to His baptism ; and the gathering to Him of the people only augments their hostility, and they seek to cast impediments in His way by sowing dissensions between His disciples and those of John. As they will not come to receive baptism, no further step could be taken in the regular development of His Messianic work. He therefore ceases to baptize, and retires from Judea. Still the time is not yet come for Him to begin His work in Galilee, for the Baptist is at liberty, and through his witness and labors the rulers may yet be brought to repentance, and the nation be saved. He will wait till His forerunner has finished his work in Judea, ere He commences His work in Galilee. But John's ministry comes to a sudden and untimely end, (Mark ix. 13.) He is shut up in prison, and can bear no further witness. Once more the Lord presents Himself in Jerusalem, and works a miracle, but is called a blasphemer, and His life endangered. There is now no place for Him in Judea. All the labors of the Baptist, and His own labors had been unavailing to turn the hearts of those in authority, and ensure His reception as the Messiah. By their own unbelief, those who sat in Moses' seat, the priests and Levites, made it impossible that He could use them in His service, and continuing to reject Him, they themselves must be rejected. The Mosaic institutions must be set aside, and their priesthood cease.
It is here that we find the essential distinction between the Lord's work-in Judea and that in Galilee. The former had reference to the Jewish people in their corporate capacity, a nation in covenant with God; and aimed to produce in them that sense of sin, and that true repentance, which were indispensable to His reception. The latter was based upon the fact that the ecclesiastical rulers of the Jews would not receive Him, and had sought to kill Him, and that therefore, if they persisted in their wickedness, God was about to cast them out of their peculiar relations to Him, and establish a church, of which the elect of all nations should be members, (Matt. viii. 11, 12.) Going into Galilee, the Lord will gather there a body of disciples, who shall bear witness to Him before the nation, but who, if this testimony is unavailing, shall serve as the foundations of the new institutions resting upon the New Covenant. Thus the departure from Judea into Galilee does not imply that the Lord regarded this rejection of Himself by the Jews as final, and that nothing remained but to lay new foundations and choose a new priesthood. He will leave Judea, but after a time He will return. His work in Galilee still has reference to national salvation, through the faith ofthose who should believe on Him there. If, however, the nation will not hear them, then from among them He will select those who shall take the place of the priesthood of the Aaronic line, and be builders and rulers under Him, the Stone which the builders had refused, but now become the Head of the corner.
Thus, it will not appear strange that the Synoptists, writing after all these events had developed themselves, should pass over in silence^ the Lord's Judean work. Regarded in its relations to the Christian Church, its mention was comparatively unimportant; and they could well commence their narratives with that work in Galilee, which, looking forward to the future, was already developing itself so widely and powerfully.1 It was comparatively of little moment that their readers should know, in detail, that the Lord first began His labors in Judea, and that, after a few months, He was compelled to abandon them, through the enmity of the rulers; since all knew that He was finally rejected by them, and suffered death at their hands. But the Galilean work was of the highest moment, as it marked where the dividing line began between the old and the new, between Moses and Christ. And this may also explain their silence in respect to the feasts which the Lord attended while in Galilee. Any transient work at Jerusalem, addressing itself especially to the hierarchy, had no important bearing upon the great result.
1 Some find difficulty in reconciling the Synoptists with John, because the former say that Jesus went to Capernaum to begin His ministry after the imprisonment of the Baptist, while John relates two visits to Capernaum and Galilee before this imprisonment. (John ii. 12; iv. 46.) But these visits they might well pass over in silence, as not at all affecting the general fact that the field of labor during the first part of His ministry was Judea, and not Galilee. The first of these visits to Galilee was before the first Passover, and of short duration; the second was after the work in Judea had been interrupted, and was also brief, and neither of them was marked by public labors. He began to preach in Galilee only when He had ended for the time His work in Judea, and this was after the imprisonment of the Baptist and the attempt of the Jews on His own life. (John v. 18.)
On the other hand, the mention of the Lord's ministry in Judea by John, and his silence respecting much that was done in Galilee, follow from the special purpose of his Gospel, which is to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, (xx. 31;) and, as incidental, how faith on the one side and unbelief on the other were developed among those who, from time to time, were brought into contact with Him. He draws no sharp line of distinction between what Jesus did in Judea and in Galilee, nor makes any particular mention of John's imprisonment. He selects from the many acts of His life such as will best answer his purpose, wherever they took place, and the events seem, for the most part, to be narrated that he may give the discourses that stand in connection with them.1 It is thus incidentally and not formally, that he mentions what was done in Judea, and it is only by a careful comparison of his narrative with those of the Synoptists, that we reach our general result.
It is to be remembered that Galilee had been spoken of several centuries before the Saviour's birth, by the prophet Isaiah, (ix. 1, 2,) as that part of the Holy Land to be especially blessed by His labors. It had been the part least esteemed, not only because in the division of the kingdom it was joined to Israel in opposition to Judah, but as also especially exposed to foreign invasion, and which had in fact been repeatedly conquered. Here was the greatest admixture of foreign elements, the natural result of these conquests, and hence the name, " Galilee of the Gentiles." The prophet mentions the two tribes of ZebuIon and Napthali as peculiarly despised; and within the bounds of the first was Nazareth, and within the "bounds of the second was Capernaum.
1 Compare the visit of Nicodemus, the incident at Jacob's well, the visit to the feast, (v. 1,) the feeding of the five thousand, the visit at the Feast of Dedication t and many others.
How wonderfully this prophecy, so dark in its literal interpretation, was fulfilled, the history of the Lord's ministry shows. His own in Judea and Jerusalem would not walk in His light, and thus it was that, in "Galilee of the Gentiles, the people which sat in darkness saw great light."
To this prediction of Isaiah, the* Evangelist Matthew, according to his custom, calls the attention of his readers, and affirms that in Galilee, thus prophetically marked out, the preaching of the Lord actually began, (iv. 17.) " From that time," that is, from the imprisonment of John, and the departure into Galilee, that immediately followed it, "Jesus began to preach," &c. " His earlier appearance in Judea, though full of striking incidents and proofs of His divine legation, was preliminary to His ministry or preaching, properly so called, which now began." * Luke seems plainly to intimate that the first teaching of the Lord in the synagogues was that which he records at Nazareth. That His enemies at Jerusalem regarded His labors as first taking positive form and character in Galilee, appears from their accusation, (Luke xxiii. 5,) " He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place." (See also the words of Peter, Acts x. 37, " That word which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee.") And as God had ordered that Galilee should be the chief theatre of His teaching, so He providentially overruled the political arrangements of the time, that there He could labor without hindrance, since the tetrarch Herod Antipas did not trouble himself concerning any ecclesiastical movements that did not disturb the public peace. And here, also, the people were less under the influence of the hierarchy, and more open to His words.
1 Alexander in loco; so Greswell, ii. 274; Stier on Luke iv. 18.
Thus the silence of the Synoptists, respecting the work of Jesus in Judea, is satisfactorily explained; and we also see why the imprisonment of the Baptist is made so prominent in their narratives. It marks the time when He left Judea for Galilee, and. is thus a great turning point in His ministry. So long as John was free to prosecute his work of calling the nation to repentance, He could, take no steps looking forward to the establishment of new institutions. He could not begin to preach or teach in Galilee. But John in prison could no more prepare His way, could no more testify of Him to the nation, or administer the baptism of repentance. The voice of the forerunner thus silenced, Jesus, departing to Galilee, can there begin Himself to preach, and to gather disciples, and prepare them for their future work.
As the primary object of the ministry in Galilee was to gather disciples, the Lord directs His teachings and works to that end. Hence His visits to all parts of the land, His use of the synagogues for preaching, His teachings in the streets, in the fields, upon the sea-shore, wherever the people gather to Him. He speaks to all, that whosoever has ears to hear may hear. Hence, also, His readiness to heal all who may come unto Him, that the faith which the word could not draw forth might be drawn forth by the work. Thus by degrees He gathered around Him the most spiritually minded and receptive of the Galileans, and of the adjacent regions. From these He chooses a small body whom He keeps near Himself, and to whom He explains what is obscure in His public discourses, as they are able to hear; and these, after He had instructed them, He sends forth to be witnesses to the people at large.
This work of Jesus in Galilee, gathering and educating His disciples, continued from the Passover of 781 till the Feast of Tabernacles in 782, or a period of about one year and six months. The death of the Baptist, which we place
in the spring of 782, had an important bearing upon His labors, and divides this Galilean ministry into two parts, which are easily distinguishable from each other. The grounds of this distinction will be noted hereafter. Our present period ends with the Baptist's death. The important events that mark its progress will be noticed as we proceed.