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prepared to admit the comparative merits of the Pharisees At a later period he would have spoken very differently of the elder son, and would by no means have allowed that the respectable and religious Jews had never left the Father's house or disobeyed his commands. But the Pharisees had begun already to be deeply and generally offended by the friend of sinners. We gather this from Jesus himself, who describes, in a kind of parable, the unfavorable reception which both he and his predecessor, utterly unlike each other as they were, had met from the Pharisees, their adherents, and those of the people who blindly followed them:
" To what shall I liken this generation? They are like children who go to play in the market-place, but are too sulky and quarrelsome to be pleased with any thing, and say: We wanted to play at weddings; you ought to have danced. We wanted to play at funerals ; you ought to have lamented.'
“For John came, living like a recluse, fasting without intermission, and practising every possible austerity; and they thought his conduct extravagant, and muttered, “He is mad!' The Son of Man came, living like other human beings, enjoying the good things of earth without misgiving, and they thought him a mere worldling ; A glutton and a sot !’ they cried contemptuously ; ' A friend of publicans and sinners! But whatever the judgment of these Pharisees and their admirers may be, the Wisdom, which sent John and sent me, is justified and maintained in her rights and honors by all her true children.”
Such was the consolation of Jesus when the leaders of Israel received him so unfavorably.
1 See Matthew xxi. 28–31, and chap. xxx. p. 370.
HOW THE PREACHING OF JESUS WAS RECEIVED BY
MATTHEW XI. 1-15, 20-24. I
T was with true perception of the real state of affairs that
self, and of that which John had met. There was the closest connection between the two, and Jesus often recurred to it.2 What is true of the Pharisees is equally true of the masses of the people. They, too, were to Jesus just what they had been to John. Now in considering how far Jesus succeeded in bringing home his teaching and his principles to his hearers, and how far their faith responded to his gospel, we ought, perhaps, to lay chief stress upon the reception he experienced from the masses; for it was to them especially that he consecrated his time, his strength, and his affection, and to reach their hearts was his one great desire. To this subject, then, we will now address ourselves. The direct information we possess is scanty, and not altogether trustworthy; and we are, therefore, doubly pleased to receive from the lips of Jesus himself an account of the impression produced upon the people by bis predecessor.
The occasion which led him to speak upon this subject was very remarkable. John had been sighing for months in his dungeon. What misery this must have been to a man of such burning zeal and boundless energy as his! Must he not even have hoped that the Lord, who had sent him to his people, would now deliver him from prison? Meanwhile he was not wholly cut off from the world outside. Some, perhaps many, of his disciples had free access to him. From them he heard that Jesus of Naz eth, whom he had himself baptized, but to whom he had probably paid no special regard, had been preaching the kingdom of God in Galilee, and had gradually excited much attention. If John was accurately informed, we may well suppose that his perplexity was great. This Jesus had begun to preach after his imprisonment, gave himself out as a prophet, performed healings, preached the near approach 1 Luke vii. 18-30, x. 12-15.
2 Matthew xvii. 12, xxi. 24, 25.
of the kingdom of heaven, and repentance as the necessary condition of entrance into it; and the multitudes streamed to hear him. So far all was well ; but the new teacher's mode of life and speech was so very far from his own that he knew not what to think of him. He determined, therefore, to ascertain om Jesus himself what opinion he was to form, ana what hopes he might entertain concerning him. So he sent two of his disciples to ask the new teacher in his name, you he that was to come, or are we to expect another?”
They set out on their journey, came to Jesus, and gave hiin their captive Master's message. The answer they received was expressed in the concise and pregnant language of the day: “Go back and say to John in my name, • The blind men see, and cripples walk ; lepers are cleansed, and deaf men hear; the dead return to life, and the gospel is preached to the poor!' and . . . blessed are they who are not offended by me!” We recognize at once the metaphorical substitution of bodily for spiritual suffering, which was customary with Jesus. The description of the younger son in the parable,
was dead and is alive again,” has furnished us but now with an instance of the analogous use of death.” Nor must we overlook the direct reference to several passages in the Master's favorite prophet Isaiah, where the redemption from Babylon, the repentance of Israel, and the blessedness of the golden age are painted in the same or similar colors." Jesus meant to say, “Tell John what I am doing, and how I am succeeding. Tell him that the peoples of the land’ and the sinners, who were living without God and his commandments, are now being called in and rescued, and the blessed promises of the Lord are beginning to be fulfilled !” The only dark side to the picture was the offence which these very things gave to the respectable and virtuous classes. “Blessed are they,” said Jesus in conclusion, “who are not offended, as the guides of the people are, by what I do.”
The last words cannot be meant as a warning to John not to be shaken in his own fidelity. Nor must we understand the list of physical afflictions literally, though perhaps Matthew and certainly Luke did so, as appears from the additions they make. Indeed, both the question and the answer seem to have been a good deal tampered with, and their original meaning is not easy to divine. The Evangelists evidently took it that John asked, “ Are you the Messiah?” and resus
1 Isaiah xxix. 18, xxxv. 5, 6, lxi. 1; compare vol. ii. chap. xi., p. 425; xii
answered, “Yes.” But what John expected was the coming of Yahweh himself. He said nothing of a Messiah ; 1 and even if his expectations in this respect had been modified of late, the idea that Jesus, or any one like him, was the Messiah, could not possibly have occurred to him. Lastly, supposing for a moment that Jesus had already determined to take upon himself the task of the Messiah, he had certainly not yet betrayed the intention to any one else, and would never have taken this opportunity of doing so. We should be more disposed to reject the whole scene as unhistorical than to adopt the opinion of the Evangelists concerning it. But the point we have to consider is how far that opinion itself has affected the form in which the question and the answer, especially the former, have come down to us. It is true that the expression “he that was to come” is very vague. It is never applied in the Old Testament to the Messiah, and may be taken equally well to signify Elijah, for instance, or the prophet who was to restore the sacred objects of a former time. In Malachi iii. 1, we should refer it to Yahweh himself, but the rabbis understood it to mean Elijah. Nor is it ever said that the Messiah himself was to give sight to the blind, and so on, though the deliverance from all the spiritual evils thus symbolized was certainly to be a part of the blessedness of the Messianic age. We might therefore suppose, if inclined to draw nice distinctions, that this healing would precede the founding of the kingdom, and prepare the way for it. It seems most probablc, therefore, that when John was violently interrupted in his work, he began to think that Jesus would carry it on and actually perform the function of Elijah. His question was, “Are you the man? Is the kingdom of God really close at hand ?” And Jesus, perhaps unintentionally, said nothing whatever of himself, but dwelt on his work and its results as the positive proof that the glorious future was indeed at hand. Such a preparation was itself a kind of beginning of the kingdom of heaven; but that kingdom must be established by quiet spiritual regeneration, not by any violent revolution. Did John understand all this? Patience was harder for him to exercise than for any one. But his time of trial would soon end.
Meanwhile, Jesus took this opportunity of speaking of his predecessor to the people. The first Evangelist has collected all the sayings of Jesus about John with which he was See pp. 102, 109, 110.
2 Compare p. 111.
acquainted, and has strung them together here. He even includes the citation from Malachi and the declaration that John was the Elijah, which Jesus most certainly did not make until some time afterwards, on a very special occasion. When the messengers were gone, Matthew tells us, Jesus began as follows: 2 " What was it you went out into the wilderness to see?
was it to see how the wind shakes the bulrush? What was it then? a man clothed in delicate apparel? Gorgeous robes are worn in princely palaces and not in the wilderness. But what was it that you went to see? a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. [It is he of whom we read, · Behold, I send my messenger before your face, to prepare the way for you.'] Verily, of all the children of men, no greater one has ever risen than John the Baptist. But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been besieged, and the violent have striven to take it by storm. For all the prophets and the Law uttered their promises until John, but with him begins the fulfilment. [And if you will receive it as a truth, he is that Elijah who was to come.] He that has ears, let him hear!”
In asking what results for our special inquiry these particulars furnish, we need not dwell on the fact that the fame of Jesus had penetrated even to John in his prison, or that his answer to the messengers evinces a joyful consciousness of
We would rather point to the evidence that the multitudes had streamed out into the wilderness to John, and that ever since an impetuous demand for the kingdom of God had been discernible. Not only must this lively interest and passionate longing for salvation stand Jesus in good stead as John's successor, but it foreshadowed the power which he himself might exercise over the people on his own account.
The statements contained in the Gospels as to the unbounded popularity of Jesus give us less real information than we should at first be inclined to suppose; partly because they are so vague, partly because many of them are associated with the literal acceptation of miraculous stories, and, since they rest on such misapprehensions on the part of the Evangelists, deserve but little credit. On the other hand. they are so unanimous, and there are so many left unchal
1 Matthew xvij. 10-13. See chap. xxvi. p. 325. 2 See pp. 98-100, 104, 110-112, 115.
8 Compare Luke vii. 29