The connection between the imprisonment of the Baptist and the commencement of the Lord's ministry in Galilee, has been already considered. The same moral causes that determined this connection, make the death of the Baptist important in its influence upon the subsequent character of that ministry. It appears from the notices of the Evangelists that when this event occurred, the popularity of Jesus, if we may use this word, was at its height in Galilee. Great multitudes follow Him wherever He goes, and so throng Him that He has no leisure even to eat. From every part of the land they come to listen to His teachings and to be healed. Nor may we ascribe this concourse merely to curiosity and selfishness. These doubtless ruled in many; but that there was also at this.period a large measure of faith in Him as one sent from God, appears from the fact that " whithersoever He entered, into villages or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought Him that they might touch if it were hut the border of His garment; and as many as touched it were made whole." As His healing power seems now to have been manifested in its greatest activity, so now He performs one of the most stupendous of His miracles, the feeding of the five thousand. At no period of His ministry did He stand in such high reputation with the people at large as a Teacher and Prophet; and to the human eye, His labors seemed about to be crowned with great results.
It was at this stage of His ministry that He hears of the Baptist's death. To His clear-seeing eye the fate of His forerunner was prophetic of His own. As the Jews " had done unto the Baptist whatsoever they listed, as it was written of Him," so He knew that He also " must suffer many things and be set at naught," (Mark ix. 12, 13.) However well disposed toward Him individuals among the people might be, there was no longer hope that the nation, as such, would receive Him. The more clearly He revealed His Messianic character in its higher features, the more all the worldly minded, the unspiritual, turned away from Him. His popularity rested upon no solid or permanent basis, as there was no recognition of His divinity, and He was deemed merely the equal of John or Elijah. From this time, therefore, He begins to act as in view of His approaching death. More and more He withdraws Himself from the crowds that follow Him, and devotes Himself to the instruction of His disci]Dles. It is not now so much His purpose to gather new adherents, as to teach those already believing on Him the great mysteries of His person and work. As yet the knowledge of even the Twelve was very imperfect; and He could not bse personally separated from them till He had taught them of His divine origin, and, as subsequent to this, of His death, resurrection, ascension, and of His coming again in glory.
As the Lord seemed thus to shun public observation, it
was natural that the popular favor which had followed Him should suffer, at least, a temporary diminution; and that this should have been the signal for increased activity on the part of His enemies. As He made no distinct assertion of His Messianic claims before the people at large, and, so far from assuming royal dignity, seemed rather to take the position of a mere Rabbi, the fickle multitude was the more easily affected by the accusations and invectives of His foes. His teachings also seem to have gradually assumed a more mysterious and repellent character. He speaks of Himself as " the bread of life;" of the necessity of " eating His flesh and drinking His blood;" language so incomprehensible and so offensive, that many, even of His disciples, forsook Him. To the scribes and Pharisees He addresses reproaches of unwonted severity. Up to this time He had been engaged in gathering disciples, and for their sake He would not willingly array against Himself those whom all the people had been taught to honor as their ecclesiastical rulers and teachers. Such open hostility on their part, and a corresponding severity of rebuke on His, would have been a stumbling block to the tender conscience, and half enlightened mind. But the time is come that the line of separation must be clearly drawn, and the truth respecting Himself and His enemies be openly spoken; and His disciples learn that to follow Him involves the fierce and persistent enmity of their spiritual rulers and guides—an enmity which should follow them even after His own death.
That which specially characterizes the second part of the Lord's ministry in Galilee, or that from the death of the Baptist onward, we thus find to be, a gradual withdrawal of Himself from the multitude and from public labors; and the devotion of Himself to the instruction of His disciples. When by these instructions He has prepared them to understand His Divine Sonship and what should befall Him at Jerusalem, His Galilean ministry comes to its end.