JESUS CHRIST, 4B
B. THE EARLY JUDAEAN MINISTRY
I. The Testimonies of the Baptist.
1. The Synoptics and John:
While the Synoptics pass immediately from the temptation of Jesus to the ministry in Galilee the imprisonment of the Baptist (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14,15; Luke 4:14), the Fourth Gospel furnishes the account, full of interest, of the earlier ministry of Jesus in Judea while the Baptist was still at liberty.
2. Threefold Witness of the Baptist:
The Baptist had announced Christ's coming; had baptized Him when He appeared; it was now his privilege to testify to Him as having come, and to introduce to Jesus His first disciples.
a) First Testimony--Jesus and Popular Messianic Expectation:
John's work had assumed proportions which made it impossible for the ecclesiastical authorities any longer to ignore it (compare Luke 3:15). A deputation consisting of priests and Levites was accordingly sent to John, where he was baptizing at Bethany beyond Jordan, to put to him categorical questions about his mission. Who was he? And by what authority did--he baptize? Was he the Christ? or Elijah? or the expected prophet? (compare John 6:14; 7:4; Matthew 16:14). To these questions John gave distinct and straightforward replies. He was not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet. His answers grow briefer every time, "I am not the Christ"; "I am not"; "No." Who was he then? The answer was emphatic. He was but a "voice" (compare Isaiah 40:3)--a preparer of the way of the Lord. In their midst already stood One--not necessarily in the crowd at that moment--with whose greatness his was not to be compared (John 1:26,27). John utterly effaces himself before Christ.
b) Second Testimony--Christ and the Sin of the World:
The day after the interview with the Jerusalem deputies, John saw Jesus coming to him--probably fresh from the temptation--and bore a second and wonderful testimony to His Messiahship. Identifying Jesus with the subject of his former testimonies, and stating the ground of his knowledge in the sign God had given him (1:30-34), he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29). The words are rich in suggestion regarding the character of Jesus, and the nature, universality and efficacy of His work (compare 1John 3:5). The "Lamb" may point specifically to the description of the vicariously Suffering Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 53:11.
c) Third Testimony--Christ and the Duty of the Disciple:
The third testimony was borne "again on the morrow," when John was standing with two of his disciples (one Andrew, 1:40, the other doubtless the evangelist himself). Pointing to Jesus, the Baptist repeated his former words, "Behold, the Lamb of God." While the words are the same, the design was different. In the first "behold" the idea is the recognition of Christ; in the second there is a call to duty--a hint to follow Jesus. On this hint the disciples immediately acted (1:37). It is next to be seen how this earliest "following" of Jesus grew.
II. The First Disciples.
1. Spiritual Accretion:
John's narrative shows that Jesus gathered His disciples, less by a series of distinct calls, than by a process of spiritual accretion. Men were led to Him, then accepted by Him. This process of selection left Jesus at the close of the second day with five real and true followers. The history confutes the idea that it was first toward the close of His ministry that Jesus became known to His disciples as the Messiah. In all the Gospels it was as the Christ that the Baptist introduced Jesus; it was as the Christ that the first disciples accepted and confessed Him (John 1:41,45,49).
a) Andrew and John--Discipleship as the Fruit of Spiritual Converse:
The first of the group were Andrew and John--the unnamed disciple of John 1:40. These followed Jesus in consequence of their Master's testimony. It was, however, the few hours' converse they had with Jesus in His own abode that actually decided them. To Christ's question, "What seek ye?" their answer was practically "Thyself." "The mention of the time--the 10th hour, i.e. 10 AM--is one of the small traits that mark John. He is here looking back on the date of his own spiritual birth" (Westcott).
b) Simon Peter--Discipleship a Result of Personal Testimony:
John and Andrew had no sooner found Christ for themselves ("We have found the Messiah," John 1:41) than they hastened to tell others of their discovery. Andrew at once sought out Simon, his brother, and brought him to Jesus; so, later, Philip sought Nathanael (John 1:45). Christ's unerring eye read at once the quality of the man whom Andrew introduced to Him. "Thou art Simon the son of John:
thou shalt be called Cephas"--"Rock" or "Stone" (1:42). Matthew 16:18, therefore, is not the original bestowal of this name, but the confirmation of it. The name is the equivalent of "Peter" (Petros), and was given to Simon, not with any official connotation, but because of the strength and clearness of his convictions. His general steadfastness is not disproved by His one unhappy failure. (Was it thus the apostle acquired the name "Peter"?)
c) Philip--the Result of Scriptural Evidence:
The fourth disciple, Philip, was called by Jesus Himself, when about to depart for Galilee (John 1:43). Friendship may have had its influence on Philip (like the foregoing, he also was from Bethsaida of Galilee, John 1:44), but that which chiefly decided him was the correspondence of what he found in Jesus with the prophetic testimonies (John 1:45).
d) Nathanael--Discipleship an Effect of Heart-Searching Power:
Philip sought Nathanael (of Cana of Galilee, John 21:2)--the same probably as Bartholomew the Apostle--and told him he had found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets had written (John 1:45). Nathanael doubted, on the ground that the Messiah was not likely to have His origin in an obscure place like Nazareth (John 1:46; compare John 7:52). Philip's wise answer was, "Come and see"; and when Nathanael came, the Lord met him with a word which speedily rid him of his hesitations. First, Jesus attested His seeker's sincerity ("Behold, an Israelite indeed," etc., John 1:47); then, on Nathanael expressing surprise, revealed to him His knowledge of a recent secret act of meditation or devotion ("when thou wast under the fig tree," etc., John 1:48). The sign was sufficient to convince Nathanael that he was in the presence of a superhuman, nay a Divine, Being, therefore, the Christ--"Son of God .... King of Israel" (John 1:49). Jesus met his faith with further self-disclosure. Nathanael had believed on comparatively slight evidence; he would see greater things:
heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (John 1:51). The allusion is to Jacob's vision (Genesis 28:10-22)--a Scripture which had possibly been theme of Philip's meditation in his privacy. Jesus puts Himself in place of that mystic ladder as the medium of reopened communication between heaven and earth.
2. "Son of Man" and "Son of God":
The name "Son of Man"--a favorite designation of Jesus for Himself--appears here for the first time in the Gospels. It is disputed whether it was a current Messianic title (see SON OF MAN), but at least it had this force on the lips of Jesus Himself, denoting Him as the possessor of a true humanity, and as standing in a representative relation to mankind universally. It is probably borrowed from Daniel 7:13 and appears in the Book of Enoch (see APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE). The higher title, "Son of God," given to Jesus by Nathanael, could not, of course, as yet carry with it the transcendental associations of John's Prologue (John 1:1,14,18), but it evidently conveyed an idea of superhuman dignity and unique relation to God, such as the better class of minds would seem to have attributed to the Messiah (compare John 5:18; 10:33; Matthew 26:63).
III. The First Events.
An interval of a few weeks is occupied by a visit of Jesus to Cana of Galilee (John 2:1) and a brief sojourn in Capernaum (John 2:12); after which Jesus returned to Jerusalem to the Passover as the most appropriate place for His public manifestation of Himself as Messiah (John 2:13). The notes of time in John suggest that the Passover (beginning of April, 27 AD) took place about three months after the baptism by John (compare 1:43; 2:1,12).
1. The First Miracle:
Prior to His public manifestation, a more private unfolding of Christ's glory was granted to the disciples at the marriage feast of Cana of Galilee (compare John 2:11). The marriage was doubtless that of some relative of the family, and the presence of Jesus at the feast, with His mother, brethren and disciples (as Joseph no more appears, it may be concluded that he was dead), is significant as showing that His religion is not one of antagonism to natural relations. The marriage festivities lasted seven days, and toward the close the wine provided for the guests gave out. Mary interposed with an indirect suggestion that Jesus might supply the want. Christ's reply, literally, "Woman, what is that to thee and to me?" (John 2:4), is not intended to convey the least tinge of reproof (compare Westcott, in the place cited.), but intimates to Mary that His actions were henceforth to be guided by a rule other than hers (compare Luke 2:51). This, however, as Mary saw (John 2:5), did not preclude an answer to her desire. Six waterpots of stone stood near, and Jesus ordered these to be filled with water (the quantity was large; about 50 gallons); then when the water was drawn off it was found changed into a nobler element--a wine purer and better than could have been obtained from any natural vintage. The ruler of the feast, in ignorance of its origin, expressed surprise at its quality (John 2:10). The miracle was symbolical--a "sign" (John 2:11)--and may be contrasted with the first miracle of Moses--turning the water into blood (Exodus 7:20). It points to the contrast between the old dispensation and the new, and to the work of Christ as a transforming, enriching and glorifying of the natural, through Divine grace and power.
After a brief stay at Capernaum (John 2:12), Jesus went up to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. There it was His design formally to manifest Himself. Other "signs" He wrought at the feast, leading many to believe on Him--not, however, with a deep or enduring faith (John 2:23-25)--but the special act by which He signalized His appearance was His public cleansing of the temple from the irreligious trafficking with which it had come to be associated.
2. The First Passover, and Cleansing of the Temple:
A like incident is related by the Synoptics at the close of Christ's ministry (Matthew 21:12,13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45,46), and it is a question whether the act was actually repeated, or whether the other evangelists, who do not narrate the events of the early ministry, simply record it out of its chronological order. In any case, the act was a fitting inauguration of the Lord's work. A regular market was held in the outer court of the temple. Here the animals needed for sacrifice could be purchased, foreign money exchanged, and the doves, which were the offerings of the poor, be obtained. It was a busy, tumultuous, noisy and unholy scene, and the "zeal" of Jesus burned within Him--had doubtless often done so before--as He witnessed it. Arming Himself with a scourge of cords, less as a weapon of offense, than as a symbol of authority, He descended with resistless energy upon the wrangling throng, drove out the dealers and the cattle, overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and commanded the doves to be taken away. Let them not profane His Father's house (John 2:14-16). No one seems to have opposed. All felt that a prophet was among them, and could not resist the overpowering authority with which He spake and acted. By and by, when their courage revived, they asked Him for a "sign" in evidence of His right to do such things. Jesus gave them no sign such as they demanded, but uttered an enigmatic word, and left them to reflect on it, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). The authenticity of the saying is sufficiently vouched for by the perverted use made of it at Christ's trial (Matthew 26:61 parallel). It is a word based on the foresight which Christ had that the conflict now commencing was to end in His rejection and death. "The true way to destroy the Temple, in the eyes of Jesus, was to slay the Messiah. .... If it is in the person of the Messiah that the Temple is laid in ruins, it is in His person it shall be raised again" (Godet). The disciples, after the resurrection, saw the meaning of the word (John 2:22).
3. The Visit of Nicodemus:
As a sequel to these stirring events Jesus had a nocturnal visitor in the person of Nicodemus--a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a "teacher of Israel" (John 3:10), apparently no longer young (John 3:4). His coming by night argues, besides some fear of man, a constitutional timidity of disposition (compare John 19:39); but the interesting thing is that he did come, showing that he had been really impressed by Christ's words and works. One recognizes in him a man of candor and uprightness of spirit, yet without adequate apprehensions of Christ Himself, and of the nature of Christ's kingdom. Jesus he was prepared to acknowledge as a Divinely-commissioned teacher--one whose mission was accredited by miracle (John 3:2). He was interested in the kingdom, but, as a morally living man, had no doubt of his fitness to enter into it. Jesus had but to teach and he would understand.
(1) The New Birth.
Jesus in His reply laid His finger at once on the defective point in His visitor's relation to Himself and to His kingdom:
"Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3); "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Nicodemus was staggered at this demand for a spiritual new birth. There is reason to believe that proselytes were baptized on being received into the Jewish church, and their baptism was called a "new birth." Nicodemus would therefore be familiar with the expression, but could not see that it had any applicability to him. Jesus teaches him, on the other hand, that he also needs a new birth, and this, not through water only, but through the Spirit. The change was mysterious, yet plainly manifest in its effects (John 3:7,8). If Nicodemus did not understand these "earthly things"--the evidence of which lay all around him--how should he understand "heavenly things," the things pertaining to salvation?
(2) "Heavenly Things."
These "heavenly things" Jesus now proceeds to unfold to Nicodemus:
"As Moses lifted up the serpent," etc. (John 3:14). The "lifting up" is a prophecy of the cross (compare 12:32-34). The brazen serpent is the symbol of sin conquered and destroyed by the death of Christ. What follows in John 3:16-21 is probably the evangelist's expansion of this theme--God's love the source of salvation (John 3:16), God's purpose not the world's condemnation, but its salvation (John 3:17,18) the self-judgment of sin (John 3:19).
4. Jesus and John:
Retiring from Jerusalem, Jesus commenced a ministry in Judea (John 3:22). It lasted apparently about 6 months. The earlier Gospels pass over it. This is accounted for by the fact that the ministry in Judea was still preparatory. Jesus had publicly asserted His Messianic authority. A little space is now allowed to test the result. Meanwhile Jesus descends again to the work of prophetic preparation. His ministry at this stage is hardly distinguishable from John's. He summons to the baptism of repentance. His disciples, not Himself, administer the rite (John 3:23; 4:2); hence the sort of rivalry that sprang up between His baptism and that of the forerunner (John 3:22-26). John was baptizing at the time at Aenon, on the western side of the Jordan; Jesus somewhere in the neighborhood. Soon the greater teacher began to eclipse the less. "All men came to Him" (3:26). John's reply showed how pure his mind was from the narrow, grudging spirit which characterized his followers. To him it was no grievance, but the fulfillment of his joy, that men should be flocking to Jesus. He was not the Bridegroom, but the friend of the Bridegroom. They themselves had heard him testify, "I am not the Christ." It lay in the nature of things that Jesus must increase; he must decrease (3:27-30). Explanatory words follow (3:31-36).
IV. Journey to Galilee--the Woman of Samaria.
1. Withdrawal to Galilee:
Toward the close of this Judean ministry the Baptist appears to have been cast into prison for his faithfulness in reproving Herod Antipas for taking his brother Philip's wife (compare John 3:24; Matthew 14:3-5 parallel). It seems most natural to connect the departure to Galilee in John 4:3 with that narrated in Matthew 3:13 parallel, though some think the imprisonment of the Baptist did not take place till later. The motive which Joh gives was the hostility of the Pharisees, but it was the imprisonment of the Baptist which led Jesus to commence, at the time He did, an independent ministry. The direct road to Galilee lay through Samaria; hence the memorable encounter with the woman at that place.
2. The Living Water:
Jesus, being wearied, paused to rest Himself at Jacob's well, near a town called Sychar, now 'Askar. It was about the sixth hour--or 6 o'clock in the evening. The time of year is determined by John 4:35 to be "four months" before harvest, i.e. December (there is no reason for not taking this literally). It suits the evening hour that the woman of Samaria came out to draw water. (Some, on a different reckoning, take the hour to be noon.) Jesus opened the conversation by asking from the woman a draught from her pitcher. The proverbial hatred between Jews and Samaritans filled the woman with surprise that Jesus should thus address Himself to her. Still greater was her surprise when, as the conversation proceeded, Jesus announced Himself as the giver of a water of which, if a man drank, he should never thirst again (John 4:13,14). Only gradually did His meaning penetrate her mind, "Sir, give me this water," etc. (John 4:15). The request of Jesus that she would call her husband led to the discovery that Jesus knew all the secrets of her life. She was before a prophet (John 4:19). As in the case iof Nathanael, the heart-searching power of Christ's word convinced her of His Divine claim.
3. The True Worship:
The conversation next turned upon the right place of worship. The Samaritans had a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim; the Jews, on the other hand, held to the exclusive validity of the temple at Jerusalem. Which was right? Jesus in His reply, while pronouncing for the Jews as the custodians of God's salvation (John 4:22), makes it plain that distinction of places is no longer a matter of any practical importance. A change was imminent which would substitute a universal religion for one of special times and places (John 4:20). He enunciates the great principle of the new dispensation that God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Finally, when she spoke of the Messiah, Jesus made Himself definitely known to her as the Christ. To this poor Samaritan woman, with her receptive heart, He unveils Himself more plainly than He had done to priests and rulers (John 4:26).
4. Work at Its Reward:
The woman went home and became an evangelist to her people, with notable results (John 4:28,39). Jesus abode with them two days and confirmed the impression made by her testimony (John 4:40-42). Meanwhile, He impressed on His disciples the need of earnest sowing and reaping in the service of the Kingdom, assuring them of unfailing reward for both sower and reaper (John 4:35-38). He Himself was their Great Example (John 4:34).
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