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JESUS BEGINS HIS WORK
Matthew IV 12–25; VIII. 14–16.1
OHN had transferred the scene of his activity to Peræa,
perhaps because he was impeded or threatened in Judæa, perhaps for some other reason. But if, when he left the Roman province and escaped from the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities, he imagined that he would be safe on the territory of Herod Antipas and would be able to work on undisturbed, then he was wofully mistaken. At the command of the prince he was suddenly thrown into chains, and, before his followers knew any thing about it or had time to inake any attempt to rescue him, he was carried off under an armed escort to the fortress of Machærus, east of the Dead Sea, at a distance of about twenty miles from the Jordan.
What was the reason for this deed of violence? Probably Herod was afraid of John's influence on the masses. These gatherings of the people might easily lead to insurrections, and he thought it well to take precautionary measures. Such at least is the reason assigned by Josephus, and there is much to be said for his version of the affair. The Messianic movement, we must remember, bore a political character. Excited by the prospect of the kingdom of God being founded, the multitude might easily conceive the idea of hastening the event by deposing Antipas or expelling the Ro
For the same reason when, some time afterwards, the person and preaching of Jesus had powerfully excited the Messianic expectation in Galilee, Herod attempted to take his life also.2
The Gospels give a different account. John, they say, had rebuked Herod for an evil deed. Herod had been on a visit to his half-brother, who was also called Herod, - not Philip, as Mark says,
- and had fallen in love with his wife Herodias. She was an ambitious woman, and was tortured by the thought that her husband wore no crown; so she and Herod Antipas secretly agreed to release themselves from their present consorts and marry each other. When Antipas returned to his 1 Mark i. 14-39; Luke iv. 14, 15, 31-v. 11.
2 Luke xiii. 31. 8 Matthew xiv. 3, 4 (Mark vi. 17, 18; Luke iïi. 19, 20).
residence at Tiberias, his wife, who had in some way discovered the plot, managed to find an excuse for escaping to her father, the Arabian king Aretas. Soon after this, to the indignation of all right-thinking Israelites, the proposed marriage was contracted. For this offence, according to the Evangelists, John rebuked the prince severely, and was thrown into prison in revenge.
But this is very improbable, for as long as the Baptist was at large it is not likely that he ever came into personal contact with Herod. Perhaps the Gospels confound the cause of his death with that of his imprisonment.
Jesus was probably still in the neighborhood of the Jordan when he received the news that a tyrant's hand had been laid on the herald of God's kingdom, and had interrupted that work which should have ended only with the establishment of the kingdom itself! He could have no hesitation as to his own course now. He had long desired to work directly for the kingdom of God, and this news decided him.
He could not have held back long under any circumstances, but now all hesitation was at an end. He returned at once to Galilee to take up the work of John. For in every respeci that work was far from its completion. Israel was stili unprepared for the coming of the Lord. The call to repentance had not yet found its way to all the sons of Abraham. Above all, the kingdom of God was not yet founded. Should the task remain unfinished for want of some one to take it up, the result of John's preaching would be swallowed up like a stream in the sand, and absolute failure would overtake his more than heroic efforts. In vain would he have resolved to be more than a prophet of better days, more than the messenger of a golden age to come ; in vain would he have striven by his own bold deed of faith to hasten the dawn or that better time!
Jesus could not endure the thought. The moment had now come for him to act. The path was plain.
God sum moned him! He could have no doubt except as to the method he should adopt; and after what he had seen in the last few weeks or months he need not hesitate long even as to this.
He would not begin his work in the wilderness. He himself had no need of rigorous abstinence and mortitication, and attached small value to them for others. His heart drew him to his fellow-men. He would not wait for them
1 See chapter xxii. p. 270).
to come to him, but would seek them out himself. Nor would he fix his abode in Judæa. He had periaps seen a good deal of the dark side of life in Judæa recently. The whole district took its tone from Jerusalem, the headquarters of orthodoxy. There formalism, worship of the letter, varrowness, spiritual pride, — in a word, all the characteristic failings of Judaism, — reached their greatest height. Jesus hai evidently conceived a strong aversion to Judæa, and long afterwards the thonght of going to Jerusalem filled him with such apprehension that he only resolved to take the journey after long hesitation and with the darkest forebodings. Then of course he was naturally attached to the land of his birth, and preferred the district in which he had lived so long to any other.
In Galilee he was at home. It has often been suggested that Jesus returned to Galilee as a matter of prudence, to escape the plots of Herod. But at this time he was quite unknown, and had therefore nothing to fear. It is true that his taking up the work of John might ultimately expose him to the utmost danger, but Galilee was itself in the territory of Antipas, and, indeed, he settler near his capital.
For reasons easily understood, he determined not to begiv his work in so secluded a spot as Nazareth. Not that this place was so completely cut off from the world, or its inhabitants so narrow-minded and uncultivated, as is usually maintained. The populousness of the district makes such a supposition unlikely, and the culture of the Nazarene carpenter's family furnishes an instance to the contrary.' Still the situation of the place was not favorable to the purpose of Jesus. There was too little intercourse with strangers there, too little interchange of thought, for it to offer a suitable basis for his work. For this purpose he chose one of the centres of Galilæan life, — not the luxurious Tiberias, but the thrifty Capernaum. An additional reason for this choice was that he could hardly expect to find much faith in Nazareth, for the people there were too much accustomed to him.
Capernaum was situated on the western coast of the Galilæan Sea, called also the Sea of Gennesareth, or Tiberias. The exact site is uncertain. Nature was no less lovely and fertile here than in the district in which Jesus had spent his early life.
The lake itself, through which the Jordan flows, is about fourteen miles long and six miles broad, and is almost completely shut in by mountains, which rise to a considerable
1 See pp. 88, 91, 92.
beight, especially to the south and east. Its clear waters, transparent to the bottom, are generally calm and smooth, but are sometimes agitated by violent storms.
Fish were exceedingly abundant in it, and it was therefore traversed day by day in every direction by a host of fishing boats that covered its surface. The eastern shore is desolate, but the western shore -- on which Tarichæa, with its forty thousand inhabitants, Hamath or Emmaus, Tiberias, the capital of Herod Antipas, Magdala, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum were situated — is said by travellers to be a perfect paradise, and is declared by Josephus to be by far the most beautiful and fertile spot in Galilee. This is pre-eminently true of the land of Gennesareth,” a plain which stretches upwards from Magdala (about five miles north of Tiberias), where the hills retreat from the lake in the form of a semicircle. This plain, in which some geographers place Capernaum, while others think it was further north,' was said to be so rich and varied in its products that it seemed as though Nature had challenged the cold, the hot, and the temperate climates to bring all their best products there and contend for the supremacy! Throughout ten months of the year ripe grapes and figs were gathered, and though the fruit-trees were so luxuriant, varied, and abundant, they could not carry away the palm from the magnificent wheat crops.
Capernaum itself was situated on the commercial highway that led from Syria to the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt. Moreover, it commanded the carrying trade to and from the opposite shore, which had belonged to Philip till his death, an event which took place about this time, -- and was then alded to Syria. For these reasons an excise office was established there, and a Roman garrison was stationed there, perhaps to protect or support the officers.
What a contrast between the entrancing scenery and the busy surroundings amidst which Jesus established himself and the lonely wilderness which was the scene of John's first preaching! The choice throws a strong light upon the divergent characters of the two men. Yet Jesus came before his hearers with the same message as that of his predecessor, though the promise of the near approach of God's kingdom, and the demand for repentance, came with a very different sound from his lips. And though the short epitome of his preaching given by the Evangelists is the same as that of John, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ! ” 1 See Map V.
2 See pp. 3, 4.
we are not to suppose that Jesus used the same language or expressions as did his predecessor. However much he availed himself, when addressing the people, of what he had heard during his intercourse with John, he always retained his originality. The meaning of the statement in the Gospels doubtless is that Jesus came forward with the same avowed and definite purpose as his predecessor had had, and openly represented his own work as the continuation of John's.
Our knowledge of the course of events, as sketched above, is chiefly due to the first Gospel, which shows us far more distinctly than either Luke or Mark that the news of John's imprisonment was the immediate cause of Jesus taking up the work and beginning to preach at Capernaum. But though we have no hesitation in accepting this account, which is supported by various considerations, we cannot be so sure about some other matters.
Only to mention a single point: the time at which Jesus began his public life cannot be fixed with accuracy, and we must be content with knowing that it was certainly not later than the early spring of A. D. 34. We are absolutely without reliable evidence as to the age which he had' reached. Luke says that he was about thirty years old when he was baptized. But, in the first place, that word “about" leaves a considerable margin undecided; nor can we tell what time elapsed between the baptism and the public appearance of Jesus; and, in the second place, the statement itself was as little based on real knowledge, and deserves as little confidence, as the supposition of John that Jesus was between forty and fifty: 3 Luke simply means to say that Jesus had not long attained to manhood. As for ourselves we can hardly even make a guess. There was no fixed age at which public teachers assumed their oflice among the Jews; and even had there been any rule on the subject, neither Jesus nor any other prophet would have suffered himself to be bound by it. All we can say is that Jesus was certainly not aged; for his impetuous spirit,4 the close connection he retained with his family," and the manner in which the Nazarenes thought of and acted towards him, — speaking of him as one who had but recently left the paternal home, — all argue against such a supposition. On the other hand, his
! See pp. 10, 96.
2 Luke iii. 23.
8 John viji. 57. 4 Compare, for example, Matthew xi. 20 ff., xxi. 12, xxii. 13 fi. 6 Matthew xii. 46.
6 Matthew xiii. 54 ff.