On the other hand, it was necessary that at this stage in the History of the Christ, and immediately after His proclamation, the sufferings and the rejection of the Messiah should be prominently brought forward. It was needful for the Apostles, as the remonstrance of Peter showed; and, with reverence be it added, it was needful for the Lord Himself, as even His words to Peter seem to imply: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me" - as we have said - was not the remonstrance of the disciple in measure a re-enactment of the great initial Temptation by Satan after the forty days' fast in the wilderness? The Chronicle of these days is significantly left blank in the Gospels, but we cannot doubt, that it was filled up with thoughts and teaching concerning that Decease, leading up to the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration.
"And He said to them, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." And after six days, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, leading them alone up into a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured in their presence; And His garments became exceedingly white, like glistening snow, such a white as no bleacher of cloth on earth is able to make. Then appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
"And Peter responded by saying to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Now let us make three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." For he did not know what he should say because they were terrified. Then a cloud came and overshadowed them; and there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him!" And suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with themselves. Now as they were descending from the mountain, He charged them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of man had risen from the dead." (Mark 9:1-9, HBFV)
There are other blanks in the narrative besides that just referred to. We shall try to fill them up, as best we can. Perhaps it was the Sabbath when Peter's great confession was made; and the 'six days' of Matthew and Mark become the 'about eight days' of Luke, when we reckon from that Sabbath to the close of another, and suppose that at even the Savior ascended the Mount of Transfiguration with the three Apostles: Peter, James, and John. There can scarcely be a reasonable doubt that Christ and His disciples had not left the neighborhood of Caesarea, and hence, that 'the mountain' must have been one of the slopes of gigantic, snowy Hermon. In that quiet semi-Gentile retreat of Caesarea Philippi could He best teach them, and they best learn, without interruption or temptation from Pharisees and Scribes, that terrible mystery of His Suffering. And on that gigantic mountain barrier which divided Jewish and Gentile lands, and while surveying, as Moses of old, the land to be occupied in all its extent, amidst the solemn solitude and majestic grandeur of Hermon, did it seem most fitting that, both by anticipatory fact and declamatory word, the Divine attestation should be given to the proclamation that He was the Messiah, and to this also, that, in a world that is in the power of sin and Satan, God's Elect must suffer, in order that, by ransoming, He may conquer it to God. But what a background, here, for the Transfiguration; what surroundings for the Vision, what echoes for the Voice from heaven!
It was evening, and, as we have suggested, the evening after the Sabbath, when the Master and those three of His disciples, who were most closely linked to Him in heart and thought, climbed the path that led up to one of the heights of Hermon. In all the most solemn transactions of earth's history, there has been this selection and separation of the few to witness God's great doings. Alone with his son, as the destined sacrifice, did Abraham climb Moriah; alone did Moses behold, amid the awful loneliness of the wilderness, the burning bush, and alone on Sinai's height did he commune with God; alone was Elijah at Horeb, and with no other companion to view it than Elisha did he ascend into heaven. But Jesus, the Savior of His people, could not be quite alone, save in those innermost transactions of His soul: in the great contest of His first Temptation, and in the solitary communings of His heart with God. These are mysteries which the outspread wings of Angels, as reverently they hide their faces, conceal from earth's, and even heaven's vision. But otherwise, in the most solemn turning-points of this history, Jesus could not be alone, and yet was alone with those three chosen ones, most receptive of Him, and most representative of the Church. It was so in the house of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As Luke alone informs us, it was 'to pray' that Jesus took them apart up into that mountain. 'To pray,' no doubt in connection with 'those sayings;' since their reception required quite as much the direct teaching of the Heavenly Father, as had the previous confession of Peter, of which it was, indeed, the complement, the other aspect, the twin height. And the Transfiguration, with its attendant glorified Ministry and Voice from heaven, was God's answer to that prayer.
What has already been stated, has convinced us that it could not have been to one of the highest peaks of Hermon, as most modern writers suppose, that Jesus led His companions. There are three such peaks: those north and south, of about equal height (9,400 feet above the sea, and nearly 11,000 above the Jordan valley), are only 500 paces distant from each other, while the third, to the west (about 100 feet lower), is separated from the others by a narrow valley. Now, to climb the top of Hermon is, even from the nearest point, an Alpine ascent, trying and fatiguing, which would occupy a whole day (six hours in the ascent and four in the descent), and require provisions of food and water; while, from the keenness of the air, it would be impossible to spend the night on the top. To all this there is no allusion in the text, nor slightest hint of either difficulties or preparations, such as otherwise would have been required. Indeed, a contrary impression is left on the mind.
'Up into an high mountain apart,' 'to pray.' The Sabbath-sun had set, and a delicious cool hung in the summer air, as Jesus an the three commenced their ascent. From all parts of the land, far as Jerusalem or Tyre, the one great object in view must always have been snow-clad Hermon. And now it stood out before them.
And overhead shone out in the blue summer-sky, one by one, the stars in Eastern brilliancy. We know not the exact direction which the climbers took, nor how far their journey went. But there is only one road that leads from Caesarea Philippi to Hermon, and we cannot be mistaken in following it. First, among vine-clad hills stocked with mulberry, apricot and fig-trees; then, through corn-fields where the pear tree supplants the fig; next, through oak coppice, and up rocky ravines to where the soil is dotted with dwarf shrubs. And if we pursue the ascent, it still becomes steeper, till the first ridge of snow is crossed, after which turfy banks, gravelly slopes, and broad snow-patches alternate. The top of Hermon in summer - and it can only be ascended in summer or autumn - is free from snow, but broad patches run down the sides expanding as they descend. To the very summit it is well earthed; to 500 feet below it, studded with countless plants, higher up with dwarf clumps.
As they ascend in the cool of that Sabbath evening, the keen mountain air must have breathed strength into the climbers, and the scent of snow - for which the parched tongue would long in summer's heat - have refreshed them. We know not what part may have been open to them of the glorious panorama from Hermon embracing as it does a great part of Syria from the sea to Damascus, from the Lebanon and the gorge of the Litany to the mountains of Moab; or down the Jordan valley to the Dead Sea; or over Galilee, Samaria, and on to Jerusalem and beyond it. But such darkness as that of a summer's night would creep on. And now the moon shone out in dazzling splendor, cast long shadows over the mountain, and lit up the broad patches of snow, reflecting their brilliancy on the objects around.
On that mountain-top 'He prayed.' Although the text does not expressly state it, we can scarcely doubt, that He prayed with them, and still less, that He prayed for them, as did the Prophet for his servant, when the city was surrounded by Syrian horsemen: that his eyes might be opened to behold heaven's host - the far 'more that are with us than they that are with them.' And, with deep reverence be it said, for Himself also did Jesus pray. For, as the pale moonlight shone on the fields of snow in the deep passes of Hermon, so did the light of the coming night shine on the cold glitter of Death in the near future. He needed prayer, that in it His Soul might lie calm and still - perfect, in the unruffled quiet of His Self-surrender, the absolute rest of His Faith, and the victory of His Sacrificial Obedience. And He needed prayer also, as the introduction to, and preparation for, His Transfiguration. Truly, He stood on Hermon. It was the highest ascent, the widest prospect into the past, present, and future, in His Earthly Life. Yet was it but Hermon at night. And this is the human, or rather the Theanthropic view of this prayer, and of its consequence.
As we understand it, the prayer with them had ceased, or it had merged into silent prayer of each, or Jesus now prayed alone and apart, when what gives this scene such a truly human and truthful aspect ensued. It was but natural for these men of simple habits, at night, and after the long ascent, and in the strong mountain-air, to be heavy with sleep. And we also know it as a psychological fact, that, in quick reaction after the overpowering influence of the strongest emotions, drowsiness would creep over their limbs and senses. ' They were heavy - weighted - with sleep, ' as afterwards at Gethsemane their eyes were weighted. Yet they struggled with it, and it is quite consistent with experience, that they should continue in that state of semi-stupor, during what passed between Moses and Elijah and Christ, and also be 'fully awake,' 'to see His Glory, and the two men who stood with Him.' In any case this descriptive trait, so far from being (as negative critics would have it), a 'later embellishment,' could only have formed part of a primitive account, since it is impossible to conceive any rational motive for its later addition.
What they saw was their Master, while praying, 'transformed.' The word Transfiguration used for this event refers to the supernatural and glorified change in Jesus' appearance witnessed on the mountain. The 'form of God' shone through the 'form of a servant.'
They saw two other men, whom, in their heightened sensitiveness to spiritual phenomena, they could have no difficulty in recognising, by such of their conversation as they heard, as Moses and Elijah. The column was now complete: the base in the Law; the shaft in that Prophetism of which Elijah was the great Representative - in his first Mission, as fulfilling the primary object of the Prophets: to call Israel back to God; and, in his second Mission, this other aspect of the Prophets' work, to prepare the way for the Kingdom of God; and the apex in Christ Himself - a unity completely fitting together in all its parts. And they heard also, that they spake of 'His Exodus - outgoing - which He was about to fulfil at Jerusalem.' Although the term 'Exodus,' 'outgoing,' occurs otherwise for 'death,' we must bear in mind its meaning as contrasted with that in which the same Evangelic writer designates the Birth of Christ, as His 'incoming.' In truth, it implies not only His Decease, but its manner, and even His Resurrection and Ascension. In that sense we can understand the better, as on the lips of Moses and Elijah, this about His fulfilling that Exodus: accomplishing it in all its fulness, and so completing Law and Prophecy, type and prediction.
And still that night of glory had not ended. A strange peculiarity has been noticed about Hermon in 'the extreme rapidity of the formation of cloud on the summit. In a few minutes a thick cap forms over the top of the mountain, and as quickly disperses and entirely disappears.' It almost seems as if this, like the natural position of Hermon itself, was, if not to be connected with, yet, so to speak, to form the background to what was to be enacted. Suddenly a cloud passed over the clear brow of the mountain - not an ordinary, but 'a luminous cloud,' a cloud uplit, filled with light. As it laid itself between Jesus and the two Old Testament Representatives, it parted, and presently enwrapped them. Most significant is it, suggestive of the Presence of God, revealing, yet concealing - a cloud, yet luminous. And this cloud overshadowed the disciples: the shadow of its light fell upon them. A nameless terror seized them. Fain would they have held what seemed for ever to escape their grasp. Such vision had never before been vouchsafed to mortal man as had fallen on their sight; they had already heard Heaven's converse; they had tasted Angels' Food, the Bread of His Presence.
Could the vision not be perpetuated - at least prolonged? In the confusion of their terror they knew not how otherwise to word it, than by an expression of ecstatic longing for the continuance of what they had, of their earnest readiness to do their little best, if they could but secure it - make booths for the heavenly Visitants - and themselves wait in humble service and reverent attention on what their dull heaviness had prevented their enjoying and profiting by, to the full. They knew and felt it: 'Lord' - 'Rabbi' - 'Master' - 'it is good for us to be here' - and they longed to have it; yet how to secure it, their terror could not suggest, save in the language of ignorance and semi-conscious confusion. 'They wist not what they said.' In presence of the luminous cloud that enwrapt those glorified Saints, they spake from out that darkness which compassed them about. And now the light-cloud was spreading; presently its fringe fell upon them. A voice from heaven proclaimed "This is My Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him!"
It could not have been intended to prepare the Jews for the Crucifixion of the Messiah, since it was to be kept a secret till after His Resurrection; and, after the event, it could not have been necessary for the assurance of those who believed in the Resurrection, while to others it would carry no weight. Again, the special traits of this history are inconsistent with the theory of its invention. In a legend, the witnesses of such an event would not have been represented as scarcely awake, and not knowing what they said. Manifestly, the object would have been to convey the opposite impression. Lastly, it cannot be too often repeated, that, in view of the manifold witness of the Evangelists, amply confirmed in all essentials by the Epistles - preached, lived, and bloodsealed by the primitive Church, and handed down as primitive tradition - the most untenable theory seems that which imputes intentional fraud to their narratives, or, to put it otherwise, non-belief on the part of the narrators of what they related.
There was absolutely no Jewish expectancy that could have bodied itself forth in a narrative like that of the Transfiguration. To begin with the accessories, the idea, that the coming of Moses was to be connected with that of the Messiah, rests not only on an exaggeration, but on a dubious and difficult passage in the Jerusalem Targum. It is quite true, that the face of Moses shone when he came down from the Mount; but, if this is to be regarded as the basis of the Transfiguration of Jesus, the presence of Elijah would not be in point. On the other hand - to pass over other inconsistencies - anything more un-Jewish could scarcely be imagined than a Messiah crucified, or that Moses and Elijah should appear to converse with Him on such a Death! If it be suggested, that the purpose was to represent the Law and the Prophets as bearing testimony to the Dying of the Messiah, we fully admit it. Certainly, this is the New Testament and the true idea concerning the Christ; but equally certainly, it was not and is not, that of the Jews concerning the Messiah.
But, for us all, the interest of this history lies not only in the past; it is in the present also, and in the future. To all ages it is like the vision of the bush burning, in which was the Presence of God. And it points us forward to that transformation, of which that of Christ was the pledge, when 'this corruptible shall put on incorruption.' As of old the beacon-fires, lighted from hill to hill, announced to them far away from Jerusalem the advent of solemn feast, so does the glory kindled on the Mount of Transfiguration shine through the darkness of the world, and tell of the Resurrection-Day. On Hermon the Lord and His disciples had reached the highest point in this history.
It would be only natural, that their thoughts should also wander to the companions and fellow-disciples whom, on the previous evening, they had left in the valley beneath. How much they had to tell them, and how glad they would be of the tidings they would hear! That one night had for ever answered so many questions about that most hard of all His sayings: concerning His Rejection and violent Death at Jerusalem; it had shed heavenly light into that terrible gloom! They - at least these three - had formerly simply submitted to the saying of Christ because it was His, without understanding it; but now they had learned to see it in quite another light. How they must have longed to impart it to those whose difficulties were at least as great, perhaps greater, who perhaps had not yet recovered from the rude shock which their Messianic thoughts and hopes had so lately received.
We think here especially of those, whom, so far as individuality of thinking is concerned, we may designate as the representative three, and the counterpart of the three chosen Apostles: Philip, who ever sought firm standing-ground for faith; Thomas, who wanted evidence for believing; and Judas, whose burning Jewish zeal for a Jewish Messiah had already begun to consume his own soul, as the wind had driven back upon himself the flame that had been kindled. Every question of a Philip, every doubt of a Thomas, every despairing wild outburst of a Judas, would be met by what they had now to tell.
But it was not to be so. Evidently, it was not an event to be made generally known, either to the people or even to the great body of the disciples. They could not have understood its real meaning; they would have misunderstood, and in their ignorance misapplied to carnal Jewish purposes, its heavenly lessons. But even the rest of the Apostles must not know of it: that they were not qualified to witness it, proved that they were not prepared to hear of it. We cannot for a moment imagine, that there was favoritism in the selection of certain Apostles to share in what the others might not witness. It was not because these were better loved, but because they were better prepared - more fully receptive, more readily acquiescing, more entirely self-surrendering.
Journey to Jerusalem for Feast of Tabernacles
"After these things, Jesus was sojourning in Galilee, for He did not desire to travel in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was near. For this reason, His brothers said to Him, "Leave this place and go into Judea, so that Your disciples may see the works that You are doing; Because no one does anything in secret, but seeks to be seen in public. If You do these things, reveal Yourself to the world." For neither did His brothers believe in Him. Therefore, Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me because I testify concerning it, that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not going up to this feast now, for My time has not yet been fulfilled."
"And after saying these things to them, He remained in Galilee. But after His brothers had gone up, then Jesus also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. As a result, the Jews were seeking Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?" Now there was much debating about Him among the people. Some said, "He is a good man." But others said, "No, but He is deceiving the people." However, no one spoke publicly about Him for fear of the Jews.
"But then, about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and was teaching. And the Jews were amazed, saying, "How does this man know letters, having never been schooled?" Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His Who sent Me. If anyone desires to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak from My own self. The one who speaks of himself is seeking his own glory; but He Who seeks the glory of Him Who sent Him is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. Did not Moses give you the law, and not one of you is practicing the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?" The people answered and said, "You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?"
"Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you were all amazed. Now then, Moses gave you circumcision - not that it was from Moses, but from the fathers - and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with Me because I made a man entirely whole on the Sabbath? Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment." Then some of those from Jerusalem said, "Is not this the one Whom they seek to kill? But look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. Can it be that the authorities have recognized that this man truly is the Christ? Now this man, we know where He comes from. But the Christ, whenever He may appear, no one knows where He comes from."
"Then Jesus spoke out, teaching in the temple and saying, "You know Me, and you also know where I come from; yet I have not come of Myself; but He Who sent Me is true, Whom you do not know. But I know Him because I am from Him, and He sent Me." Because of this saying, they were looking for a way to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him because His time had not yet come. Then many of the people believed in Him, saying, "When the Christ comes, will He do more miracles than those that this man has done?" The Pharisees heard the crowds debating these things about Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to arrest Him."
"Now in the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and called out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, which those who believed in Him would soon receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:1-32, 37-39, HBFV)
It was Chol ha Moed - as the non-sacred part of the festive week, the half-holy days were called. Jerusalem, the City of Solemnities, the City of Palaces, the City of beauty and glory, wore quite another than its usual aspect; other, even, than when its streets were thronged by festive pilgrims during the Passover-week, or at Pentecost. For this was pre-eminently the Feast for foreign pilgrims, coming from the farthest distance, whose Temple-contributions were then received and counted. Despite the strange costumes of Media, Arabia, Persia, or India, and even further; or the Western speech and bearing of the pilgrims from Italy, Spain, the modern Crimea, and the banks of the Danube, if not from yet more strange and barbarous lands, it would not be difficult to recognize the lineaments of the Jew, nor to perceive that to change one's clime was not to change one's mind. As the Jerusalemite would look with proud self-consciousness, not unmingled with kindly patronage, on the swarthy strangers, yet fellow-countrymen, or the eager-eyed Galilean curiously stare after them, the pilgrims would, in turn, gaze with mingled awe and wonderment on the novel scene. Here was the realization of their fondest dreams ever since childhood, the home and spring of their holiest thoughts and best hopes - that which gave inward victory to the vanquished, and converted persecution into anticipated triumph.
They could come at this season of the year - not during the winter for the Passover, nor yet quite so readily in summer's heat for Pentecost. But now, in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all harvest-operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and the vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, and countrymen from Judea, Perea, and Galilee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem, under the ever-present shadow of that glorious Sanctuary of marble, cedarwood, and gold, up there on high Moriah, symbol of the infinitely more glorious overshadowing Presence of Him, Who was the Holy One in the midst of Israel. Early on the 14th Tishri (corresponding to our September or early October), all the festive pilgrims had arrived. Then it was, indeed, a scene of bustle and activity. Hospitality had to be sought and found; guests to be welcomed and entertained; all things required for the feast to be got ready. Above all, booths must be erected everywhere - in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgment and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere, to remind of the wilderness-journey, and now of the goodly land. Only that fierce castle, Antonia, which frowned above the Temple, was undecked by the festive spring into which the land had burst. To the Jew it must have been a hateful sight, that castle, which guarded and dominated his own City and Temple - hateful sight and sounds, that Roman garrison, with its foreign, heathen, ribald speech and manners. Yet, for all this, Israel could not read on the lowering sky the signs of the times, nor yet knew the day of their merciful visitation. And this, although of all festivals, that of Tabernacles should have most clearly pointed them to the future.
Indeed, the whole symbolism of the Feast, beginning with the completed harvest, for which it was a thanksgiving, pointed to the future. The Rabbis themselves admitted this. The strange number of sacrificial bullocks - seventy in all - they regarded as referring to 'the seventy nations' of heathendom. The ceremony of the outpouring of water, which was considered of such vital importance as to give to the whole festival the name of 'House of Outpouring,' was symbolical of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the brief night of the great Temple-illumination closed, there was solemn testimony made before Jehovah against heathenism. It must have been a stirring scene, when from out of the mass of Levites, with their musical instruments, who crowded the fifteen steps that led from the Court of Israel to that of the Women, stepped two priests with their silver trumpets.
As the first cockcrowing intimated the dawn of morn, they blew a threefold blast; another on the tenth step, and yet another threefold blast as they entered the Court of the Women. And still sounding their trumpets, they marched through the Court of the Women to the Beautiful Gate. Here, turning round and facing westwards to the Holy Place, they repeated: 'Our fathers, who were in this place, they turned their backs on the Sanctuary of Jehovah, and their faces eastward, for they worshipped eastward, the sun; but we, our eyes are towards Jehovah.' 'We are Jehovah's - our eyes are towards Jehovah.' Nay, the whole of this night- and morning-scene was symbolical: the Temple-illumination, of the light which was to shine from out the Temple into the dark night of heathendom; then, at the first dawn of morn the blast of the priests' silver trumpets, of the army of God, as it advanced, with festive trumpet-sound and call, to awaken the sleepers, marching on to quite the utmost bounds of the Sanctuary, to the Beautiful Gate, which opened upon the Court of the Gentiles - and, then again, facing round to utter solemn protest against heathenism, and make solemn confession of Jehovah!
But Jesus did not appear in the Temple during the first two festive days. The pilgrims from all parts of the country - perhaps, they from abroad also - had expected Him there, for everyone would now speak of Him - 'not openly,' in Jerusalem, for they were afraid of their rulers. It was hardly safe to speak of Him without reserve. But they sought Him, and inquired after Him - and they did speak of Him, though there was only a murmuring - a low, confused discussion of the pro and con, in this great controversy among the 'multitudes,' or festive bands from various parts. Some said: He is a good man, while others declared that He only led astray the common, ignorant populace. And now, all at once, in Chol ha Moed, Jesus Himself appeared in the Temple, and taught. We know that, on a later occasion, He walked and taught in 'Solomon's Porch,' and, from the circumstance that the early disciples made this their common meeting-place, we may draw the inference that it was here the people now found Him.
Although neither Josephus nor the Mishnah mention this 'Porch' by name, we have every reason for believing that it was the eastern colonnade, which abutted against the Mount of Olives and faced 'the Beautiful Gate,' that formed the principal entrance into the 'Court of the Women,' and so into the Sanctuary. For, all along the inside of the great wall which formed the Temple-enclosure ran a double colonnade - each column a monolith of white marble, 25 cubits high, covered with cedar-beams. That on the south side (leading from the western entrance to Solomon's Porch), known as the 'Royal Porch,' was a threefold colonnade, consisting of four rows of columns, each 27 cubits high, and surmounted by Corinthian capitals. We infer that the eastern was 'Solomon's Porch,' from the circumstance that it was the only relic left of Solomon's Temple. These colonnades, which, from their ample space, formed alike places for quiet walk and for larger gatherings, had benches in them - and, from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.
We know not what was the subject of Christ's teaching on this occasion. But the effect on the people was one of general astonishment. They knew what common unlettered Galilean tradesmen were - but this, where did it come from?
To the Jews there was only one kind of learning - that of Theology; and only one road to it - the Schools of the Rabbis. Their major was true, but their minor false - and Jesus hastened to correct it. He had, indeed, 'learned,' but in a School quite other than those which alone they recognized. Yet, on their own showing, it claimed the most absolute submission.
Among the Jews a Rabbi's teaching derived authority from the fact of its accordance with tradition - that it accurately represented what had been received from a previous great teacher, and so on upwards to Moses, and to God Himself. On this ground Christ claimed the highest authority. His doctrine was not His own invention - it was the teaching of Him that sent Him. The doctrine was God-received, and Christ was sent direct from God to bring it. He was God's messenger of it to them. Of this twofold claim there was also twofold evidence. Did He assert that what He taught was God-received?
Marking, as we pass, that this inward connection between that teaching and learning and the present occasion, may be the deeper reason why, in the Gospel by John, the one narrative is immediately followed by the other, we pause to say, how real it hath proved in all ages and to all stages of Christian learning - that the heart makes the truly God-taught, and that inward, true aspiration after the Divine prepares the eye to behold the Divine Reality in the Christ. But, if it be so is there not evidence here, that He is the God sent - that He is a real, true Ambassador of God? If Jesus' teaching meets and satisfies our moral nature, if it leads up to God, is He not the Christ?
And this brings us to the second claim which Christ made, that of being sent by God. There is yet another logical link in His reasoning. He had said: 'My doctrine is not Mine, but His Who sent Me. If anyone desires to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak from My own self.' From Myself? Why, there is this other test of it: 'The one who speaks of himself is seeking his own glory' - there can be no doubt or question of this, but do I seek My own glory?
'but He Who seeks the glory of Him Who sent Him is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.'
Thus did Christ appeal and prove it: My doctrine is of God, and I am sent of God!
Sent of God, no unrighteousness in Him! And yet at that very moment there hung over Him the charge of defiance of the Law of Moses, nay, of that of God, in an open breach of the Sabbath-commandment - there, in that very City, the last time He had been in Jerusalem; for which, as well as for His Divine claims, the Jews were even then seeking to kill him. And this forms the transition to what may be called the second part of Christ's address.
If, in the first part, the Jewish form of ratiocination was already apparent, it seems almost impossible for any one acquainted with those forms to understand how it can be overlooked in what follows. It is exactly the mode in which a Jew would argue with Jews, only the substance of the reasoning is to all times and people. Christ is defending Himself against a charge which naturally came up, when He claimed that His Teaching was of God and Himself God's real and faithful Messenger. In His reply the two threads of the former argument are taken up. Doing is the condition of knowledge - and a messenger had been sent from God! Admittedly, Moses was such, and yet every one of them was breaking the Law which he had given them; for, were they not seeking to kill Him without right or justice? This, put in the form of a double question, represents a peculiarly Jewish mode of argumentation, behind which lay the terrible truth, that those, whose hearts were so little longing to do the Will of God, not only must remain ignorant of His Teaching as that of God, but had also rejected that of Moses.
A general disclaimer, a cry ' Thou hast a demon' here broke in upon the Speaker. But He would not be interrupted, and continued: 'One work I did, and all you wonder on account of it ' - referring to His healing on the Sabbath, and their utter inability to understand His conduct. Well, then, Moses was a messenger of God, and I am sent of God. Moses gave the law of circumcision - not, indeed, that it was of his authority, but had long before been God-given - and, to observe this law, no one hesitated to break the Sabbath, since, according to Rabbinic principle, a positive ordinance superseded a negative. And yet, when Christ, as sent from God, made a man whole on the Sabbath they were angry with Him!
If any doubt could obtain, how truly Jesus had gauged the existing state of things, when He contrasted heart-willingness to do the Will of God, as the necessary preparation for the reception of His God-sent Teaching, with their murderous designs, springing from blind literalism and ignorance of the spirit of their Law, the reported remarks of some Jerusalemites in the crowd would suffice to convince us. The fact that He, Whom they sought to kill, was suffered to speak openly, seemed to them incomprehensible. Could it be that the authorities were shaken in their former idea about Him, and now regarded Him as the Messiah? But it could not be. It was a settled popular belief, and, in a sense, not quite unfounded, that the appearance of the Messiah would be sudden and unexpected. He might be there, and not be known; or He might come, and be again hidden for a time. As they put it, when Messiah came, no one would know whence He was; but they all knew 'whence this One' was. And with this rough and ready argument of a coarse realism, they, like so many among us, settled off-hand and once for all the great question. But Jesus could not, even for the sake of His poor weak disciples, let it rest there.
' Therefore' He lifted up His voice, that it reached the dispersing, receding multitude. Yes, they thought they knew both Him and whence He came. It would have been so had He come from Himself. But He had been sent, and He that sent Him 'was real; ' it was a real Mission, and Him, who had thus sent the Christ, they knew not. And so, with a reaffirmation of His twofold claim, His Discourse closed. But they had understood His allusions, and in their anger would fain have laid hands on Him, but His hour had not come. Yet others were deeply stirred to faith. As they parted they spoke of it among themselves, and the sum of it all was: 'The Christ, when He cometh, will He do more miracles (signs) than this One did?'
So ended the first teaching of that day in the Temple. And as the people dispersed, the leaders of the Pharisees - who, no doubt aware of the presence of Christ in the Temple, yet unwilling to be in the number of His hearers, had watched the effect of His Teaching - overheard the low, furtive, half-outspoken remarks ('the murmuring') of the people about Him. Presently they conferred with the heads of the priesthood and the chief Temple-officials. Although there was neither meeting, nor decree of the Sanhedrin about it, nor, indeed, could be, orders were given to the Temple-guard on the first possible occasion to seize Him. Jesus was aware of it, and as, either on this or another day, He was moving in the Temple, watched by the spies of the rulers and followed by a mingled crowd of disciples and enemies, deep sadness in view of the end filled His heart.
The Last Great Day of the Feast
It was the eight day of the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as The Last Great Day and Jesus was once more in the Temple. The celebration of the Feast corresponded to its great meaning. Not only did all the priestly families minister during that week, but it has been calculated that not fewer than 446 Priests, with, of course, a corresponding number of Levites, were required for its sacrificial worship. In general, the services were the same every day, except that the number of bullocks offered decreased daily from thirteen on the first, to seven on the seventh day. Only during the first two, and on the last festive day (as also on the Octave of the Feast), was strict Sabbatic rest enjoined. On the intervening half-holidays (Chol haMoed), although no new labor was to be undertaken, unless in the public service, the ordinary and necessary avocations of the home and of life were carried on, and especially all done that was required for the festive season. But ' the last, the Great Day of the Feast, ' was marked by special observances.
Let us suppose ourselves in the number of worshippers, who on ' the last, the Great Day of the Feast, ' are leaving their 'booths' at daybreak to take part in the service. The pilgrims are all in festive array. In his right hand each carries what is called the Lulabh, which, although properly meaning 'a branch,' or 'palm-branch,' consisted of a myrtle and willow-branch tied together with a palm-branch between them. This was supposed to be in fulfilment of the command, Leviticus 23:40. 'The fruit of the goodly trees,' mentioned in the same verse of Scripture, was supposed to be the Ethrog, the so-called Paradise-apple, a species of citron. This Ethrog each worshipper carries in his left hand. It is scarcely necessary to add, that this interpretation of Leviticus 23:40 was given by the Rabbis; perhaps more interesting to know, that this was one of the points in controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Thus armed with Lulabh in their right, and Ethrog in their left hands, the festive multitude would divide into three bands. Some would remain in the Temple to attend the preparation of the Morning Sacrifice. Another band would go in procession 'below Jerusalem' to a place called Moza, the 'Kolonia' of the Jerusalem Talmud, which some have sought to identify with the Emmaus of the Resurrection-Evening. At Moza they cut down willow-branches, with which, amidst the blasts of the Priests' trumpets, they adorned the altar, forming a leafy canopy about it. Yet a third company were taking part in a still more interesting service. To the sound of music a procession started from the Temple. It followed a Priest who bore a golden pitcher, capable of holding three log. Onwards it passed, probably, through Ophel, which recent investigations have shown to have been covered with buildings to the very verge of Siloam, down the edge of the TyropSon Valley, where it merges into that of the Kedron. To this day terraces mark where the gardens, watered by the living spring, extended from the King's Gardens by the spring Rogel down to the entrance into the TyropSon. Here was the so-called 'Fountain-Gate,' and still within the City-wall 'the Pool of Siloam,' the overflow of which fed a lower pool.
When the Temple-procession had reached the Pool of Siloam, the Priest filled his golden pitcher from its waters. Then they went back to the Temple, so timing it, that they should arrive just as they were laying the pieces of the sacrifice on the great Altar of Burnt-offering, towards the close of the ordinary Morning-Sacrifice service. A threefold blast of the Priests' trumpets welcomed the arrival of the Priest, as he entered through the 'Water-gate,' which obtained its name from this ceremony, and passed straight into the Court of the Priests. Here he was joined by another Priest, who carried the wine for the drink-offering. The two Priests ascended 'the rise' of the altar, and turned to the left. There were two silver funnels here, with narrow openings, leading down to the base of the altar. Into that at the east, which was somewhat wider, the wine was poured, and, at the same time, the water into the western and narrower opening, the people shouting to the Priest to raise his hand, so as to make sure that he poured the water into the funnel.
For, although it was held, that the water-pouring was an ordinance instituted by Moses, 'a Halakhah of Moses from Sinai,' this was another of the points disputed by the Sadducees. And, indeed, to give practical effect to their views, the High-Priest Alexander Jannaeus had on one occasion poured the water on the ground, when he was nearly murdered, and in the riot, that ensued, six thousand persons were killed in the Temple.
Immediately after 'the pouring of water,' the great 'Hallel,' consisting of Psalms 113. to 118. (inclusive), was chanted antiphonally, or rather, with responses, to the accompaniment of the flute. As the Levites intoned the first line of each Psalm, the people repeated it; while to each of the other lines they responded by Hallelu Yah ('Praise ye the Lord'). But in Psalm 118 the people not only repeated the first line, ' O give thanks to the Lord,' but also these, 'O then, work now salvation, Jehovah, ' 'O Lord, send now prosperity; ' and again, at the close of the Psalm, 'O give thanks to the Lord.' As they repeated these lines, they shook towards the altar the Lulabh which they held in their hands - as if with this token of the past to express the reality and cause of their praise, and to remind God of His promises. It is this moment which should be chiefly kept in view.
The festive morning-service was followed by the offering of the special sacrifices for the day, with their drink-offerings, and by the Psalm for the day, which, on ' the last, the Great Day of the Feast, ' was Psalm 82. from verse 5: The Psalm was, of course, chanted, as always, to instrumental accompaniment, and at the end of each of its three sections the Priests blew a threefold blast, while the people bowed down in worship. In further symbolism of this Feast, as pointing to the ingathering of the heathen nations, the public services closed with a procession round the Altar by the Priests, who chanted:
'O then, work now salvation, Jehovah! O Jehovah, send now prosperity. '
But on the Last Great Day this procession of Priests made the circuit of the altar, not only once, but seven times, as if they were again compassing, but now with prayer, the Gentile Jericho which barred their possession of the promised land. Hence the seventh or last day of the Feast was also called that of 'the Great Hosannah.' As the people left the Temple, they saluted the altar with words of thanks, and on the last day of the Feast they shook off the leaves on the willow-branches round the altar, and beat their palm-branches to pieces. On the same afternoon the 'booths' were dismantled, and the Feast ended.
It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the outpouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118 - given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their Lulabh towards the altar, thus praising 'with heart, and mouth, and hands,' and then silence had fallen upon them - that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased: He interpreted, and He fulfilled them.
Whether we realize it in connection with the deeply-stirring rites just concluded, and the song of praise that had scarcely died out of the air; or think of it as a vast step in advance in the history of Christ's Manifestation, the scene is equally wondrous. But yesterday they had been divided about Him, and the authorities had given directions to take Him; to-day He is not only in the Temple, but, at the close of the most solemn rites of the Feast, asserting, within the hearing of all, His claim to be regarded as the fulfilment of all, and the true Messiah! And yet there is neither harshness of command nor violence of threat in His proclamation. It is the King, meek, gentle, and loving; the Messiah, Who will not break the bruised reed, Who will not lift up His Voice in tone of anger, but speak in accents of loving, condescending compassion, Who now bids, whosoever thirsteth, come unto Him and drink. And so the words have to all time remained the call of Christ to all that thirst, whence- or what-soever their need and longing of soul may be. But, as we listen to these words as originally spoken, we feel how they mark that Christ's hour was indeed coming: the preparation past; the manifestation in the present, unmistakable, urgent, and loving; and the final conflict at hand.
Of those who had heard Him, none but must have understood that, if the invitation were indeed real, and Christ the fulfilment of all, then the promise also had its deepest meaning, that he who believed on Him would not only receive the promised fulness of the Spirit, but give it forth to the fertilising of the barren waste around. It was, truly, the fulfilment of the Scripture-promise, not of one but of all: that in Messianic times the Nabhi, 'prophet,' literally the weller forth, viz., of the Divine, should not be one or another select individual, but that He would pour out on all His handmaidens and servants of His Holy Spirit, and thus the moral wilderness of this world be changed into a fruitful garden.
And so we scarcely wonder that many, on hearing Him, said, though not with that heart-conviction which would have led to self-surrender, that He was the Prophet promised of old, even the Christ, while others, by their side, regarding Him as a Galilean, the Son of Joseph, raised the ignorant objection that He could not be the Messiah, since the latter must be of the seed of David and come from Bethlehem. Nay, such was the anger of some against what they regarded a dangerous seducer of the poor people, that they would fain have laid violent hands on Him. But amidst all this, the strongest testimony to His Person and Mission remains to be told. It came, as so often, from a quarter whence it could least have been expected. Those Temple-officers, whom the authorities had commissioned to watch an opportunity for seizing Jesus, came back without having done their behest, and that, when, manifestly, the scene in the Temple might have offered the desired ground for His imprisonment. To the question of the Pharisees, they could only give this reply, which has ever since remained unquestionable fact of history, admitted alike by friend and foe that never a man spoke like this man (Jesus). For, as all spiritual longing and all upward tending, not only of men but even of systems, consciously or unconsciously tends towards Christ, so can we measure and judge all systems by this, which no sober student of history will gainsay, that no man or system ever so spake.
The startling teaching on the Biblical Feast known as the Last Great Day was not the only one delivered at that season. The impression left on the mind is, that after silencing, as they thought, Nicodemus, the leaders of the Pharisees had dispersed. The addresses of Jesus which followed must, therefore, have been delivered, either later on that day, or, what on every account seems more likely, chiefly, or all, on the next day, which was the Octave of the Feast, when the Temple would be once more thronged by worshippers.