Life and Times of Jesus
Section 3, Part 12

Jesus heals the multitudes
Four Thousand Miraculously Fed
Demands for sign from heaven
Warning regarding false teachings
Christ will build new church upon himself


If even the brief stay of Jesus in that friendly Jewish home by the borders of Tyre could not remain unknown, the fame of the healing of the Syro-Phonician maiden would soon have rendered impossible that privacy and retirement. Making a long circuit through the territory of Sidon, He descended - probably through one of the passes of the Hermon range - into the country of the Tetrarch Philip. There He continued 'through the midst of the borders of Decapolis,' till He once more reached the eastern, or south-eastern, shore of the Lake of Galilee.

It will be remembered that the Decapolis, or confederacy of 'the Ten Cities,' was wedged in between the Tetrarchies of Philip and Antipas. It embraced ten cities, although that was not always their number, and their names are variously enumerated. Of these cities Hippos, on the southeastern shore of the Lake, was the most northern, and Philadelphia, the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, the most southern. Scythopolis, the ancient Beth-Shean, with its district, was the only one of them on the western bank of the Jordan. This extensive 'Ten Cities' district was essentially heathen territory. Their ancient monuments show, in which of them Zeus, Astarte, and Athene, or else Artemis, Hercules, Dionysos, Demeter, or other Grecian divinities, were worshipped. Their political constitution was that of the free Greek cities. They were subject only to the Governor of Syria, and formed part of Coele-Syria, in contradistinction to Syro-Phoenicia. Their privileges dated from the time of Pompey, from which also they afterwards reckoned their era.

It is important to keep in view that, although Jesus was now within the territory of ancient Israel, the district and all the surroundings were essentially heathen, although in closest proximity to, and intermingling with, that which was purely Jewish. Matthew gives only a general description of Christ's activity there, concluding with a notice of the impression produced on those who witnessed His mighty deeds, as leading them to glorify ' the God of Israel. ' This, of course, confirms the impression that the scene is laid among a population chiefly heathen, and agrees with the more minute notice of the locality in the Gospel of Mark.
Among those brought to Him was one deaf, whose speech had, probably in consequence of this, been so affected as practically to deprive him of its power. This circumstance, and that he is not spoken of as so afflicted from his birth, leads us to infer that the affection was - as not unfrequently - the result of disease, and not congenital. Remembering, that alike the subject of the miracle and they who brought him were heathens, but in constant and close contact with Jews, what follows is vividly true to life. The scriptures in question are in the book of Mark.

"And after departing from the district of Tyre and Sidon, and passing through the middle of the borders of Decapolis, He again came to the Sea of Galilee.

"Then they brought to Him a deaf man who spoke with difficulty, and they requested of Him that He lay His hands on him. And after taking him apart from the multitude, He put His fingers into his ears; and then He spit on His finger and touched his tongue; And after looking up to heaven, He groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha"; that is, "Be opened!" And immediately his ears were opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.

"Then He commanded them not to tell anyone. But although He had ordered them to keep quiet, they proclaimed it more and more. For they were astonished above measure, saying, 'He has done all things well; He makes both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.'" (Mark 7:31-37, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))

"Now after leaving there, Jesus came toward the Sea of Galilee; and He went up into the mountain and sat there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the dumb, the maimed, and many others; and they laid them at the feet of Jesus, and He healed them; So that the multitudes were amazed, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel." (Matthew 15:29-31, HBFV)

The entreaty to 'lay His hands on him' was heathen, and yet semi-Jewish also. Quite peculiar it is, when the Lord took him aside from the multitude; and again that, in healing him, ' He spit, ' applying it directly to the diseased organ. We read of the direct application of saliva only here and in the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. We are disposed to regard this as peculiar to the healing of Gentiles. Peculiar, also, is the term expressive of burden on the mind, when, 'looking up to heaven, He groaned.' Peculiar, also, is the 'thrusting' of His Fingers into the man's ears, and the touch of his tongue. Only the upward look to Heaven and the command 'Ephphatha' - 'be opened' - seem the same as in His every day wonders of healing. But we mark that all here seems much more elaborate than in Israel. The reason of this must, of course, be sought in the moral condition of the person healed. Certain characteristics about the action of the Lord may, perhaps, help us to understand it better. There is an accumulation of means, yet each and all inadequate to effect the purpose, but all connected with His Person. This elaborate use of such means would banish the idea of magic; it would arouse the attention, and fix it upon Christ, as using these means, which were all connected with His own person; while, lastly, the sighing, and the word of absolute command, would all have here their special significance.

From amongst this mass of misery we single out and follow one, whom the Savior takes aside, that it may not merely be the breath of heaven's spring passing over them all, that wooeth him to new life, but that He may touch and handle him, and so give health to soul and body. The man is to be alone with Christ and the disciples. It is not magic; means are used, and such as might not seem wholly strange to the man. And quite a number of means! He thrust His Fingers into his deaf ears, as if to make a way for the sound: He spat on his tongue, using a means of healing accepted in popular opinion of Jew and Gentile; He touched his tongue. Each act seemed a fresh incitement to his faith - and all connected itself with the Person of Christ. As yet there was not breath of life in it all. But when the man's eyes followed those of the Savior to heaven, he would understand whence He expected, whence came to Him the power - Who had sent Him, and Whose He was.

And as he followed the movement of Christ's lips, as he groaned under the felt burden He had come to remove, the sufferer would look up expectant. Once more the Savior's lips parted to speak the word of command: ' Be opened ' - and straightway the gladsome sound would pass into 'his hearing, ' and the bond that seemed to have held his tongue was loosed. He was in a new world, into which He had put him that had spoken that one Word; He, Who had been burdened under the load which He had lifted up to His Father; to Whom all the means that had been used had pointed, and with Whose Person they had been connected.

This Jewish word, Ephphatha, spoken to the Gentile Church by Him, Who, looking up to heaven, sighed under the burden, even while He uplifted it, has opened the hearing and loosed the bond of speech. Most significantly was it spoken in the language of the Jews; and this also does it teach, that Jesus must always have spoken the Jews' language. For, if ever, to a Grecian in Grecian territory would He have spoken in Greek, not in the Jews' language, if the former and not the latter had been that of which He made use in His Words and Working.

It was thus that the celebrated Rabbi Meir relieved one of his fair hearers, when her husband, in his anger at her long detention by the Rabbi's sermons, had ordered her to spit in the preacher's face. Pretending to suffer from his eyes, the Rabbi contrived that the woman publicly spat in his eyes, thus enabling her to obey her husband's command. The anecdote at least proves, that the application of saliva was popularly regarded as a remedy for affections of the eyes.

Thus in this instance also, as in that of the deaf and dumb, there was the use of means, Jewish means, means manifestly insufficient (since their first application was only partially successful), and a multiplication of means - yet all centering in, and proceeding from, His Person. As further analogies between the two, we mark that the blindness does not seem to have been congenital, but the consequence of disease, and that silence was enjoined after the healing. Lastly, the confusedness of his sight, when first restored to him, surely conveyed, not only to him but to us all, both a spiritual lesson and a spiritual warning.

Four Thousand Miraculously Fed

"And after calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, "I am moved with compassion toward the multitude because they have been with Me for three days, and they have nothing to eat; and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint along the way."

"Then His disciples said to Him, "Where in this wilderness can we find enough loaves of bread to satisfy so great a multitude?" And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish." Then He commanded the multitude to sit on the ground; And He took the seven loaves and the fish, and gave thanks, and broke them, and gave them to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

"And they all ate and were satisfied; and they took up seven baskets full of fragments that were left. Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after dismissing the multitude, He went into the ship and came to the area of Magdala." (Matthew 15:32-39, HBFV)

They might well gather to Jesus in their thousands, with their wants of body and soul, these sheep wandering without a shepherd; for His Ministry in that district, as formerly in Galilee, was about to draw to a close. And here it is remarkable, that each time His prolonged stay and Ministry in a district were brought to a close with some supper, so to speak, some festive entertainment on his part. The Galilean Ministry had closed with the feeding of the five thousand, the guests being mostly from Capernaum and the towns around, as far as Bethsaida, many in the number probably on their way to the Passover feast at Jerusalem. But now at the second provision for the four thousand, with which His Decapolis Ministry closed, the guests were not strictly Jews, but semi-Gentile inhabitants of that district and its neighborhood. Lastly, his Judean Ministry closed with the Last Passover.

There can be little doubt that this second feeding of the multitude took place in the area of the Sea of Galilee. Those who sat down to the meal were chiefly the inhabitants of that district. If it be lawful, departing from strict history, to study the symbolism of this event, as compared with the previous feeding of the five thousand who were Jews, somewhat singular differences will present themselves to the mind. On the former occasion there were five thousand fed with five loaves, when twelve baskets of fragments were left. On the second occasion, four thousand were fed from seven loaves, and seven baskets of fragments collected. It is at least curious, that the number five in the provision for the Jews is that of the Pentateuch, just as the number twelve corresponds to that of the tribes and of the Apostles. On the other hand, in the feeding of the Gentiles we mark the number four, which is the signature of the world, and seven, which is that of the Sanctuary. We would not by any means press it, as if these were, in the telling of the narrative, designed coincidences; but, just because they are undesigned, we value them, feeling that there is more of undesigned symbolism in all God's manifestations - in nature, in history, and in grace - than meets the eye of those who observe the merely phenomenal. Nay, does it not almost seem, as if all things were cast in the mould of heavenly realities, and all earth's 'shewbread' 'Bread of His Presence'?

On all general points the narratives of the two-fold miraculous feeding run so parallel, that it is not necessary again to consider this event in detail. But the attendant circumstances are so different, that only the most reckless negative criticism could insist, that one and the same event had been presented by the Evangelists as two separate occasions. The broad lines of difference as to the number of persons, the provision, and the quantity of fragments left, cannot be overlooked. Besides, on the former occasion the repast was provided in the evening for those who had gone after Christ, and listened to Him all day, but who, in their eager haste, had come without victuals, when He would not dismiss them faint and hungry, because they had been so busy for the Bread of Life that they had forgotten that of earth.

But on this second occasion, of the feeding of the Gentiles, the multitude had been three days with Him, and what sustenance they had brought must have failed, when, in His compassion, the Savior would not send them to their homes fasting, lest they should faint by the way. This could not have befallen those Gentiles, who had come to the Christ for food to their souls. And, it must be kept in view, that Christ dismissed them, not, as before, because they would have made Him their King, but because Himself was about to depart from the place; and that, sending them to their homes, He could not send them to faint by the way. Yet another marked difference lies even in the designation of 'the baskets' in which the fragments left were gathered. At the first feeding, there were, as the Greek word shows, the small wicker-baskets which each of the Twelve would carry in his hand. At the second feeding they were the large baskets, in which provisions, chiefly bread, were stored or carried for longer voyages. For, on the first occasion, when they passed into Israelitish territory - and, as they might think, left their home for a very brief time - there was not the same need to make provision for storing necessaries as on the second, when they were on a lengthened journey, and passing through, or tarrying in Gentile territory.

But the most noteworthy difference seems to us this - that on the first occasion, they who were fed were Jews - on the second, Gentiles. There is an exquisite little trait in the narrative which affords striking, though utterly undesigned, evidence of it. In referring to the blessing which Jesus spake over the first meal, it was noted, that, in strict accordance with Jewish custom, He only rendered thanks once, over the bread. But no such custom would rule His conduct when dispensing the food to the Gentiles; and, indeed, His speaking the blessing only over the bread, while He was silent when distributing the fishes, would probably have given rise to misunderstanding. Accordingly, we find it expressly stated that He not only gave thanks over the bread, but also spake the blessing over the fishes. Nor should we, when marking such undesigned evidences, omit to notice, that on the first occasion, which was immediately before the Passover, the guests were, as three of the Evangelists expressly state, ranged on 'the grass,' while, on the present occasion, which must have been several weeks later, when in the East the grass would be burnt up, we are told by the two Evangelists that they sat on 'the ground.' Even the difficulty, raised by some, as to the strange repetition of the disciples' reply, the outcome, in part, of non-expectancy, and, hence, non-belief, and yet in part also of such doubt as tends towards faith: 'Whence should we have, in a solitary place, so many loaves as to fill so great a multitude? seems to us only confirmatory of the narrative, so psychologically true is it.

There is no need for the ingenious apology, that, in the remembrance and tradition of the first and second feeding, the similarity of the two events had led to greater similarity in their narration than the actual circumstances would perhaps have warranted. Interesting thoughts are here suggested by the remark, that it is not easy to transport ourselves into the position and feelings of those who had witnessed such a miracle as that of the first feeding of the multitude. 'We think of the Power as inherent, and, therefore, permanent. To them it might seem intermittent - a gift that came and went.' And this might seem borne out by the fact that, ever since, their wants had been supplied in the ordinary way, and that, even on the first occasion, they had been directed to gather up the fragments of the heaven-supplied meal.

But more than this requires to be said. First, we must here once more remind ourselves, that the former provision was for Jews, and the disciples might, from their standpoint, well doubt, or at least not assume, that the same miracle would supply the need of the Gentiles, and the same board be surrounded by Jew and Gentile. But, further, the repetition of the same question by the disciples really indicated only a sense of their own inability, and not a doubt of the Savior's power of supply, since on this occasion it was not, as on the former, accompanied by a request on their part, to send the multitude away. Thus the very repetition of the question might be a humble reference to the past, of which they dared not, in the circumstances, ask the repetition.

Yet, even if it were otherwise, the strange forgetfulness of Christ's late miracle on the part of the disciples, and their strange repetition of the self-same question which had once - and, as it might seem to us, for ever - been answered by wondrous deed, need not surprise us. To them the miraculous on the part of Christ must ever have been the new, or else it would have ceased to be the miraculous. Nor did they ever fully realize it, till after His Resurrection they understood, and worshipped Him as God Incarnate. And it is only Realizing faith of this, which it was intended gradually to evolve during Christ's Ministry on earth, that enables us to apprehend the Divine Help as, so to speak, incarnate and ever actually present in Christ. And yet even thus, how often we do, who have so believed in Him, forget the Divine provision which has come to us so lately, and repeat, though perhaps not with the same doubt, yet with the same want of certainty, the questions with which we had at first met the Savior's challenge of our faith. And even at the last it is met, as by the prophet, in sight of the apparently impossible, by: ' Lord, Thou knowest. ' More frequently, alas! is it met by nonbelief, misbelief, disbelief, or doubt, engendered by misunderstanding or forgetfulness of that which past experience, as well as the knowledge of Him, should long ago have indelibly written on our minds.

On the occasion referred to in the preceding narrative, those who had lately taken counsel together against Jesus - the Pharisees and the Herodians, or, to put it otherwise, the Pharisees and Sadducees - were not present. For, those who, politically speaking, were 'Herodians,' might also, though perhaps not religiously speaking, yet from the Jewish standpoint of Matthew, be designated as, or else include, Sadducees. But they were soon to reappear on the scene, as Jesus came close to the Jewish territory of Herod.

We suppose the feeding of the multitude to have taken place close to the Eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee. As Jesus sent away the multitude whom He had fed he got on a ship with His disciples and came to Magdala.

Demanding a Sign from Heaven

"Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Him, tempting Him and asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He answered and said to them, "When evening has come, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, you say, 'Today it will storm, for the sky is red and lowering.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet." Then He left them and went away." (Mark 16:1-4, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))

It was from the Jewish territory of Galilee, close by, that the Pharisees now came 'with the Sadducees' tempting Him with questions, and desiring that His claims should be put to the ultimate arbitrament of 'a sign from heaven.' We can quite understand such a challenge on the part of Sadducees, who would disbelieve the heavenly Mission of Christ, or, indeed, to use a modern term, any supra-naturalistic connection between heaven and earth. But, in the mouth of the Pharisees also, it had a special meaning. Certain supposed miracles had been either witnessed by, or testified to them, as done by Christ. As they now represented it - since Christ laid claims which, in their view, were inconsistent with the doctrine received in Israel, preached a Kingdom quite other than that of Jewish expectancy - was at issue with all Jewish customs - more than this, was a breaker of the Law, in its most important commandments, as they understood them - it followed that, according to Deuteronomy 13, He was a false prophet, who was not to be listened to. Then, also, must the miracles which He did have been wrought by the power of Beelzebul, 'the lord of idolatrous worship,' the very prince of devils. But had there been real signs, and might it not all have been an illusion? Let Him show them 'a sign,' and let that sign come direct from heaven!

Two striking instances from Rabbinic literature will show, that this demand of the Pharisees was in accordance with their notions and practice. We read that, when a certain Rabbi was asked by his disciples about the time of Messiah's Coming, he replied: 'I am afraid that you will also ask me for a sign.' When they promised they would not do so, he told them that the gate of Rome would fall and be rebuilt, and fall again, when there would not be time to restore it, ere the Son of David came. On this they pressed him, despite his remonstrance, for 'a sign,' when this was given them - that the waters which issued from the cave of Pamias were turned into blood. Again, as regards 'a sign from heaven,' it is said that Rabbi Eliezer, when his teaching was challenged, successively appealed to certain 'signs.' First, a locust-tree moved at his bidding one hundred, or, according to some, four hundred cubits. Next, the channels of water were made to flow backwards; then the walls of the Academy leaned forward, and were only arrested at the bidding of another Rabbi. Lastly, Eliezer exclaimed: 'If the Law is as I teach, let it be proved from heaven!' when a voice fell from the sky (the Bath Qol): 'What have ye to do with Rabbi Eliezer, for the Halakhah is as he teaches?'

It was, therefore, no strange thing, when the Pharisees asked of Jesus 'a sign from heaven,' to attest His claims and teaching. The answer which He gave was among the most solemn which the leaders of Israel could have heard, and He spake it in deep sorrow of spirit. They had asked Him virtually for some sign of His Messiahship; some striking vindication from heaven of His claims. It would be given them only too soon. We have already seen, that there was a Coming of Christ in His Kingdom - a vindication of His kingly claim before His apostate rebellious subjects, when they who would not have Him to reign over them, but betrayed and crucified Him, would have their commonwealth and city, their polity and Temple, destroyed. By the lurid light of the flames of Jerusalem and the Sanctuary were the words on the cross to be read again. God would vindicate His claims by laying low the pride of their rebellion. The burning of Jerusalem was God's answer to the Jews' cry, 'Away with Him - we have no king but Caesar;' the thousands of crosses on which the Romans hanged their captives, the terrible counterpart of the Cross on Golgotha.

It was to this, that Jesus referred in His reply to the Pharisees and 'Sadducean' Herodians. How strange! Men could discern by the appearance of the sky whether the day would be fair or stormy. And yet, when all the signs of the gathering storm, that would destroy their city and people, were clearly visible, they, the leaders of the people, failed to perceive them! Israel asked for 'a sign'! No sign should be given the doomed land and city other than that which had been given to Nineveh: ' the sign of Jonah. ' The only sign to Nineveh was Jonah's solemn warning of near judgment, and his call to repentance - and the only sign now, or rather ' unto this generation no sign, ' was the warning cry of judgment and the loving call to repentance. It was but a natural, almost necessary, sequence, that He left them.

Warning of the false teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees

"Now when His disciples came to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. And Jesus said to them, "Watch out, and be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we did not take bread." But when Jesus knew this, He said to them, 'O you of little faith, why are you reasoning among yourselves that it is because you did not bring bread?'

"'How is it that you do not understand that I was not speaking of bread when I told you to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees?' Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Mark 16:5-8, 11-12, HBFV)

Once more the ship, which bore Him and His disciples, spread its sails towards the coast of Bethsaida. He was on His way to the utmost limit of the land, to Caesarea Philippi, in pursuit of His purpose to delay the final conflict. For the great crisis must begin, as it would end, in Jerusalem, and at the Feast; it would begin at the Feast of Tabernacles, and it would end at the following Passover. But by the way, the disciples themselves showed how little even they, who had so long and closely followed Christ, understood His teaching, and how prone to misapprehension their spiritual dulness rendered them. Yet it was not so gross and altogether incomprehensible, as the common reading of what happened would imply.

When the Lord touched the other shore, His mind and heart were still full of the scene from which He had lately passed. For truly, on this demand for a sign did the future of Israel seem to hang. Perhaps it is not presumptuous to suppose, that the journey across the Lake had been made in silence on His part, so deeply were mind and heart engrossed with the fate of His own royal city. And now, when they landed, they carried ashore the empty provision-baskets; for, as, with his usual attention to details, Mark notes, they had only brought one loaf of bread with them. In fact, in the excitement and hurry 'they forgot to take bread' with them. Whether or not something connected with this arrested the attention of Christ, He at last broke the silence, speaking that which was so much on His mind. He warned them, as greatly they needed it, of the leaven with which Pharisees and Sadducees had, each in their own manner, leavened, and so corrupted, the holy bread of Scripture truth. The disciples, aware that in their hurry and excitement they had forgotten bread, misunderstood these words of Christ, although not in the utterly unaccountable manner which commentators generally suppose: as implying 'a caution against procuring bread from His enemies. '

It is well-nigh impossible, that the disciples could have understood the warning of Christ as meaning any such thing - even irrespective of the consideration, that a prohibition to buy bread from either the Pharisees or Sadducees would have involved an impossibility. The misunderstanding of the disciples was, if unwarrantable, at least rational. They thought the words of Christ implied, that in His view they had not forgotten to bring bread, but purposely omitted to do so, in order, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, to 'seek of Him a sign ' of His Divine Messiahship - nay, to oblige Him to show such - that of miraculous provision in their want. The mere suspicion showed what was in their minds, and pointed to their danger. This explains how, in His reply, Jesus reproved them, not for utter want of discernment, but only for 'little faith.' It was their lack of faith - the very leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees - which had suggested such a thought.

Again, if the experience of the past - their own twice-repeated question, and the practical answer which it had received in the miraculous provision of not only enough, but to spare - had taught them anything, it should have been to believe, that the needful provision of their wants by Christ was not 'a sign,' such as the Pharisees had asked, but what faith might ever expect from Christ, when following after, or waiting upon, Him. Then understood they truly, that it was not of the leaven of bread that He had bidden them beware - that His mysterious words bore no reference to bread, nor to their supposed omission to bring it for the purpose of eliciting a sign from Him, but pointed to the far more real danger of 'the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees,' which had underlain the demand for a sign from heaven.

Here, as always, Christ rather suggests than gives the interpretation of His meaning. And this is the law of His teaching. Our modern Pharisees and Sadducees, also, too often ask of him a sign from heaven in evidence of His claims. And we also too often misunderstand His warning to us concerning their leaven. Seeing the scanty store in our basket, our little faith is busy with thoughts about possible signs in multiplying the one loaf which we have, forgetful that, where Christ is, faith may ever expect all that is needful, and that our care should only be in regard to the teaching which might leaven and corrupt that on which our souls are fed.

From Dalmanutha, across the Lake, then by the plain where so lately the five thousand had been fed, and near to Bethsaida, would the road of Christ and His disciples lead to the capital of the Tetrarch Philip, the ancient Paneas, or, as it was then called, Caesarea Philippi, the modern Banias. Two days' journey would accomplish the whole distance. There would be no need of taking the route now usually followed, by Safed. Straight northwards from the Lake of Galilee, a distance of about ten miles, leads the road to the uppermost Jordan-Lake, that now called Huleh, the ancient Merom. As we ascend from the shores of Gennesaret, we have a receding view of the whole Lake and the Jordan-valley beyond. Before us rise hills; over them, to the west, are the heights of Safed; beyond them swells the undulating plain between the two ranges of Anti-Libanus; far off is Hermon, with its twin snow-clad heads ('the Hermons'), and, in the dim far background, majestic Lebanon. It is scarcely likely, that Jesus and His disciples skirted the almost impenetrable marsh and jungle by Lake Merom. It was there, that Joshua had fought the last and decisive battle against Jabin and his confederates, by which Northern Palestine was gained to Israel.

We turn north of the Lake, and west to Kedes, the Kedesh Naphtali of the Bible, the home of Barak. We have now passed from the limestone of Central Palestine into the dark basalt formation. How splendidly that ancient Priest-City of Refuge lay! In the rich heritage of Naphtali, Kedesh was one of the fairest spots. As we climb the steep hill above the marshes of Merom, we have before us one of the richest plains of about two thousand acres. We next pass through olive-groves and up a gentle slope. On a knoll before us, at the foot of which gushes a copious spring, lies the ancient Kedesh.

The scenery is very similar, as we travel on towards Caesarea Philippi. About an hour and a half farther, we strike the ancient Roman road. We are now amidst vines and mulberry-trees. Passing through a narrow rich valley, we ascend through a rocky wilderness of hills, where the woodbine luxuriantly trails around the plane trees. On the height there is a glorious view back to Lake Merom and the Jordan-valley; forward, to the snowy peaks of Hermon; east, to height on height, and west, to peaks now only crowned with ruins. We still continued along the height, then descended a steep slope, leaving, on our left, the ancient Abel Beth Maachah, the modern Abil. Another hour, and we are in a plain where all the springs of the Jordan unite. The view from here is splendid, and the soil most rich, the wheat crops being quite ripe in the beginning of May. Half an hour more, and we cross a bridge over the bright blue waters of the Jordan, or rather of the Hasbany, which, under a very wilderness of oleanders, honeysuckle, clematis, and wild rose, rush among huge boulders, between walls of basalt.

We leave aside, at a distance of about half an hour to the east, the ancient city of Dan. Dan lies on a hill above the plain. On the western side of it, under overhanging thickets of oleander and other trees, and amidst masses of basalt boulders, rise what are called 'the lower springs' of Jordan, issuing as a stream from a basin sixty paces wide, and from a smaller source close by. The 'lower springs' supply the largest proportion of what forms the Jordan. And from Dan olive-groves and oak-glades slope up to Banias, or Caesarea Philippi.

The situation of the ancient Caesarea Philippi is, indeed, magnificent. Nestling amid three valleys on a terrace in the angle of Hermon, it is almost shut out from view by cliffs and woods. 'Everywhere there is a wild medley of cascades, mulberry trees, fig-trees, dashing torrents, festoons of vines, bubbling fountains, reeds, and ruins, and the mingled music of birds and waters.' The vegetation and fertility all around are extraordinary. The modern village of Banias is within the walls of the old fortifications, and the ruins show that it must anciently have extended far southwards. But the most remarkable points remain to be described. The western side of a steep mountain, crowned by the ruins of an ancient castle, forms an abrupt rock-wall. Here, from out an immense cavern, bursts a river. These are 'the upper sources' of the Jordan. This cave, an ancient heathen sanctuary of Pan, gave its earliest name of Paneas to the town. Here Herod, when receiving the tetrarchy from Augustus, built a temple in his honor. On the rocky wall close by, votive niches may still be traced, one of them bearing the Greek inscription, 'Priest of Pan.'

Christ will build new church upon himself

"Now after coming into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned His disciples, saying, "Whom do men declare Me, the Son of man, to be?"

"And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But you, whom do you declare Me to be?" Then Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father, Who is in heaven. And I say also to you, that you are Peter; but upon this Rock (Christ himself and his teachings) I will build My church, and the gates of the grave shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:13-18, HBFV)

It seems worth while, even at such length, to describe the scenery along this journey, and the look and situation of Caesarea, when we recall the importance of the events enacted there, or in the immediate neighborhood. It was into this chiefly Gentile district, that the Lord now withdrew with His disciples after that last and decisive question of the Pharisees. It was here that, as His question, like Moses' rod, struck their hearts, there leaped from the lips of Peter the living, life-spreading waters of his confession. It may have been, that this rock-wall below the castle, from under which sprang Jordan, or the rock on which the castle stood, supplied the material suggestion for Christ's words: ' Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build My Church. ' In Caesarea, or its immediate neighborhood, did the Lord spend after making this statement.

As we think of it, there seems nothing strange in it, but all most wise and most gracious, that such events should have taken place far away from Galilee and Israel, in the lonely grandeur of the shadows of Hermon, and even amongst a chiefly Gentile population. Not in Judea, nor even in Galilee - but far away from the Temple, the Synagogue, the Priests, Pharisees and Scribes, was the first confession of the Church made, and on this confession its first foundations laid. Even this spoke of near judgment and doom to what had once been God's chosen congregation. And all that happened, though Divinely shaped as regards the end, followed in a natural and orderly succession of events. Let us briefly recall the circumstances, which in the previous chapters have been described in detail.

In that distant and obscure corner, on the boundary-line between Jew and Gentile, had that greatest crisis in the history of the world occurred, which sealed the doom of Israel, and in their place substituted the Gentiles as citizens of the Kingdom. And, in this respect also, it is most significant, that the confession of the Church likewise took place in territory chiefly inhabited by Gentiles, and the Transfiguration on Mount Hermon. That crisis had been the public challenge of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that Jesus should legitimate His claims to the Messiahship by a sign from heaven. It is not too much to assert, that neither His questioners, nor even His disciples, understood the answer of Jesus, nor yet perceived the meaning of His 'sign.' To the Pharisees Jesus would seem to have been defeated, and to stand self-convicted of having made Divine claims which, when challenged, He could not substantiate. He had hitherto elected (as they, who understood not His teaching, would judge) to prove Himself the Messiah by the miracles which He had wrought - and now, when met on His own ground, He had publicly declined, or at least evaded, the challenge. He had conspicuously - almost self-confessedly - failed! At least, so it would appear to those who could not understand His reply and 'sigh.'

We note that a similar final challenge was addressed to Jesus by the High-Priest, when he adjured Him to say, whether He was what He claimed. His answer then was an assertion - not a proof; and, unsupported as it seemed, His questioners would only regard it as blasphemy.

But what of the disciples, who (as we have seen) would probably understand 'the sign' of Christ little better than the Pharisees? That what might seem Christ's failure, in not daring to meet the challenge of His questioners, must have left some impression on them, is not only natural, but appears even from Christ's warning of the leaven - that is, of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Indeed, that this unmet challenge and virtual defeat of Jesus did make lasting and deepest impression in His disfavor, is evident from the later challenge of His own relatives to go and meet the Pharisees at headquarters in Judea, and to show openly, if He could, by His works, that He was the Messiah.

All the more remarkable appears Christ's dealing with His disciples, His demand on, and training of their faith. It must be remembered, that His last 'hard' sayings at Capernaum had led to the defection of many, who till then had been His disciples. Undoubtedly this had already tried their faith, as appears from the question of Christ: ' Will ye also go away? ' It was this wise and gracious dealing with them - this putting the one disappointment of doubt, engendered by what they could not understand, against their whole past experience in following Him, which enabled them to overcome. And it is this which also enables us to answer the doubt, perhaps engendered by inability to understand seemingly unintelligible, hard sayings of Christ, such as that to the disciples about giving them His Flesh to eat, or about His being the Living Bread from heaven.

And all that followed only renewed and deepened the trial of faith. We shall, perhaps, best understand it when following the progress of this trial in him who, at last, made shipwreck of his faith: Judas Iscariot. Without attempting to gaze into the mysterious abyss of the Satanic element in his apostasy, we may trace his course in its psychological development. We must not regard Judas as a monster, but as one with passions like ourselves. True, there was one terrible master-passion in his soul - covetousness; but that was only the downward, lower aspect of what seems, and to many really is, that which leads to the higher and better - ambition. It had been thoughts of Israel's King which had first set his imagination on fire, and brought him to follow the Messiah. Gradually, increasingly, came the disenchantment.

We repeat it, that what so, and permanently, penetrated Judas, could not (as Christ's warning shows) have left the others wholly unaffected. The very presence of Judas with them must have had its influence. And how did Christ deal with it? There was, first, the silent sail across the Lake, and then the warning which put them on their guard, lest the little leaven should corrupt the bread of the Sanctuary, on which they had learned to live. The littleness of their faith must be corrected; it must grow and become strong.

There is a significant emphasis in the words, with which Jesus turned from the opinion of 'the multitudes' to elicit the faith of the disciples: ' But you, whom do you say that I am? ' It is the more marked, as the former question was equally emphasized by the use of the article (in the original): ' Who do the men say that I am? '

Previously to the confession of Peter, the ship's company, that had witnessed His walking on the water, had owned: ' Of a truth Thou art the Son of God, ' but not in the sense in which a well-informed, believing Jew would hail Him as the Messiah, and ' the Son of the Living God, ' designating both His Office and His Nature - and these two in their combination. Again, Peter himself had made a confession of Christ, when, after his discourse at Capernaum, so many of His disciples had forsaken Him. It had been: 'We have believed, and know that Thou art the Holy One of God. ' The mere mention of these words shows both their internal connection with those of his last and crowning confession: 'Thou art the Christ of God,' and the immense progress made.

The more closely we view it, the loftier appears the height of this confession. We think of it as an advance on Peter's past; we think of it in its remembered contrast to the late challenge of the Pharisees, and as so soon following on the felt danger of their leaven. And we think of it, also, in its almost immeasurable distance from the appreciative opinion of the better disposed among the people. In the words of this confession Peter has consciously reached the firm ground of Messianic acknowledgment. All else is implied in this, and would follow from it. It is the first real confession of the Church. We can understand, how it followed after solitary prayer by Christ - we can scarcely doubt, for that very revelation by the Father, which He afterwards joyously recognized in the words of Peter.

The whole form here is Hebraistic. The 'Blessed are you' is Jewish in spirit and form; the address of Simon Bar-Jona proves that the Lord spake in Aramaic. Indeed, a Jewish Messiah responding, in the hour of his Messianic acknowledgment, in Greek to His Jewish confessor, seems utterly incongruous. Lastly, the expression ' flesh and blood,' as contrasted with God, occurs not only in that Apocryphon of strictly Jewish authorship, the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, and in the letters of Paul, but in almost innumerable passages in Jewish writings, as denoting man in opposition to God; while the revelation of such a truth by ' the Father Which is in Heaven,' represents not only both Old and New Testament Teaching, but is clothed in language familiar to Jewish ears.

Not less Jewish in form are the succeeding words of Christ,

"you are Peter (Petros, a small stone); but upon this Rock (Petra - a giant stone representing Christ himself and his teachings) I will build My church,'

According to Jewish ideas, the world would not have been created, unless it had rested, as it were, on some solid foundation of piety and acceptance of God's Law - in other words, it required a moral, before it could receive a physical foundation. Rabbinism here contrasts the Gentile world with Israel. It is, so runs the comment, as if a king were going to build a city. One and another site is tried for a foundation, but in digging they always come upon water. At last they come upon a Rock (Petra). So, when God was about to build his world, He could not rear it on the generation of Enos nor on that of the flood, who brought destruction on the world; but 'when He beheld that Abraham would arise in the future, He said: Behold I have found a Rock (Petra) to build on it, and to found the world,' whence also Abraham is called a Rock as it is said: 'Look unto the Rock whence ye are hewn.'

The parallel between Abraham and Peter might be carried even further. If, from a misunderstanding of the Lord's promise to Peter, later Christian legend represented the Apostle as sitting at the gate of heaven, Jewish legend represents Abraham as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, so as to prevent all who had the seal of circumcision from falling into its abyss. To complete this sketch, in the curious Jewish legend about the Apostle Peter. Peter is always designated as Simon Kepha, there being, however, some reminiscence of the meaning attached to his name in the statement made, that, after his death, they built a church and tower, and called it Peter 'which is the name for stone, because he sat there upon a stone till his death'

And yet significantly it is only said, that 'He began' to teach them these things - no doubt, as regarded the manner, as well as the time of this teaching. The Evangelists, indeed, write it down in plain language, as fully taught them by later experience, that He was to be rejected by the rulers of Israel, slain, and to rise again the third day. And there can be as little doubt, that Christ's language (as afterwards they looked back upon it) must have clearly implied all this, as that at the time they did not fully understand it. He was so constantly in the habit of using symbolic language, and had only lately reproved them for taking that about 'the leaven' in a literal, which He had meant in a figurative sense, that it was but natural, they should have regarded in the same light announcements which, in their strict literality, would seem to them well nigh incredible. They could well understand His rejection by the Scribes - a sort of figurative death, or violent suppression of His claims and doctrines, and then, after briefest period, their resurrection, as it were - but not these terrible details in their full literality.

Peter's words were to be made useful, by affording to the Master the opportunity of correcting what was amiss in the hearts of all His disciples, and teaching them such general principles about His Kingdom, and about that implied in true discipleship, as would, if received in the heart, enable them in due time victoriously to bear those trials connected with that rejection and Death of the Christ, which at the time they could not understand. Not a Messianic Kingdom, with glory to its heralds and chieftains - but self-denial, and the voluntary bearing of that cross on which the powers of this world would nail the followers of Christ. They knew the torture which their masters - the power of the world - the Romans, were wont to inflict: such must they, and similar must we all, be prepared to bear, and, in so doing, begin by denying self. In such a contest, to lose life would be to gain it, to gain would be to lose life. And, if the issue lay between these two, who could hesitate what to choose, even if it were ours to gain or lose a whole world? For behind it all there was a reality - a Messianic triumph and Kingdom.

Adapted from
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by A. Edersheim
Jewish World in First Century A.D.
Hellenism prepares
people for gospel
Jesus cleanses
the temple
John the Baptist killed
Five Thousand fed
Walking on Water
Parable of Great
Supper, Lost Sheep,
The Prodigal Son
Judas arranges betrayal
The Last Passover
Jews and the
Roman Empire
Jesus and Nicodemus
The Samaritans
The Bread of Life
Vain religious traditions
Lazarus resurrected
Jewish Burial Rites
The True Vine
Garden of Gethsemane
Arrested and betrayed
Coming of
John the Baptist
Jesus' First
Public Message
Four Thousand Fed
Demands for a sign
Is divorce allowed?
Blessing of Children
Peter denies Jesus
Judas commits suicide
Beaten and crucified
What Messiah did
the Jews Expect?
The Sermon
on the Mount
Jesus rebukes Peter
The Transfiguration
The Triumphal Entry
Barren Fig Tree cursed
Forsaken and stabbed
Death and Burial
Birth of Jesus
Visit of the Magi
Jesus heals man
and forgives sins
The Good Shepherd
Jesus pays temple tax
Parable of Vineyard
and Wedding Feast.
Spies try to entrap Jesus
Jewish views on Angels,
Demons, Fall of Angels,
Magic and Magicians
A Voice in
the Wilderness
Jesus selects apostles
Widow's Son resurrected
Seventy sent to preach
The Good Samaritan
Marriage - Resurrection
Is Christ son of David?
The Widow's Mites
Old Testament verses applied to Messiah
in Jewish Writings
Jesus' First Disciples
and First Public Miracle
Jesus attends Feast
Parables of Sower, Tares,
Mustard Seed, Pearl
The foolish Rich Man
Jesus almost stoned
End Time prophecies
Parable of the Ten
Virgins and Talents
The Theology
of Ancient Rabbis
Temptation of
Jesus by Satan
A Legion of demons Ruler's daughter raised

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