The Ministry in Galilee --Its Aim and Method
125. The work of Jesus in Galilee, which is the principal theme of the first three gospels, began with a removal from Nazareth to Capernaum, and the calling of four fishermen to be his constant followers. The ready obedience which Simon and Andrew and James and John gave to this call is an interesting evidence that they did not first come to know Jesus at the time of this summons. The narrative presupposes some such earlier association as is reported in John, followed by a temporary return to their old homes and occupations, while Jesus sought seclusion after his work in Judea. The first evangelist has most vividly indicated the development of the Galilean ministry, directing attention to two points of beginning, -- the beginning of Jesus' preaching of the kingdom (Matt. iv.17) and the beginning of his predictions of his own sufferings and death (xvi.21). Between these two beginnings lies the ministry of Jesus to the enthusiastic multitudes, the second of them marking his choice of a more restricted audience and a less popular message. Within the first of these periods two events mark epochs, -- the mission of the twelve (Matt. ix.36; x. I) to preach the coming kingdom of God and to multiply Jesus' ministry of healing, and the feeding of the five thousand when the popular enthusiasm reached its climax (John vi.14, 15). These events fall not far apart, and mark two different phases of the same stage of development in his work. The first is emphasized by Matthew, the second by John; both help to a clearer understanding of the narrative which Mark has furnished to the other gospels for their story of the Galilean ministry. The table at the head of this chapter indicates in outline the probable succession of events in the Galilean period. The order adopted is that of Mark, supplemented by the other gospels. Luke's additions are inserted in his order where there is not some reason for believing that he himself disregarded the exact sequence of events. Thus the rejection at Nazareth is placed late, as in Mark. Much of the material in the long section peculiar to Luke is assigned in general to this Galilean period, since all knowledge of its precise location in time and place has been lost for us, as it not unlikely was for Luke. Although Matthew is the gospel giving the clearest general view of the Galilean work, it shows the greatest disarrangement of details, and aids but little in determining the sequence of events. The material from that gospel is assigned place in accordance with such hints as are discoverable in parallel or associated parts of Mark or Luke. Of John's contributions one -- the feeding of the multitudes -- is clearly located by its identity with a narrative found in all the other gospels. The visit to Jerusalem at the unnamed feast can be only tentatively placed.

126. Viewing this gospel story as a whole, the parallel development of popular enthusiasm and official hostility at once attracts attention. Jesus' first cures in the synagogue at Capernaum roused the interest and wonder of the multitudes to such an extent that he felt constrained to withdraw to other towns. On his return to Capernaum he was so beset with crowds that the friends of the paralytic could get at him only by breaking up the roof. It was when Jesus found himself followed by multitudes from all parts of the land that he selected twelve of his disciples "that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach," and addressed to them in the hearing of the multitudes the exacting, although unspeakably winsome teaching of the sermon on the mount. This condition of things continued even after Herod had killed John the Baptist, for when Jesus, having heard of John's fate, sought retirement with his disciples across the sea of Galilee, he was robbed of his seclusion by throngs who flocked to him to be healed and to hear of the kingdom of God.

127. The popular enthusiasm was not indifferent to the question who this new teacher might be. At first Jesus impressed the people by his authoritative teaching and cures. After the raising of the widow's son at Nain the popular feeling found a more definite declaration, -- "a great prophet has risen up among us." The cure of a demoniac in Capernaum raised the further incredulous query, "Can this be the Son of David?" The notion that he might be the Messiah seems to have gained acceptance more and more as Jesus' popularity grew, for at the time of the feeding of the multitudes the enthusiasm burst into a flame of determination to force him to undertake the work for which he was so eminently fitted, but from which for some inexplicable reason he seemed to shrink (John vi.15).

128. Parallel with the growth of popular enthusiasm, and in part because of it, the religious leaders early assumed and consistently maintained an attitude of opposition. The gospels connect the critics of Jesus now and again with the Pharisees of the capital -- the Galilean Pharisees being represented as more or less friendly. At the first appearance of Jesus in Capernaum even the Sabbath cure in the synagogue passed unchallenged; but on the return from his first excursion to other towns, Jesus found critics in his audience (Luke connects them directly with Jerusalem). From time to time such censors as these objected to the forgiveness by Jesus of the sins of the paralytic (Mark ii.6, 7), criticised his social relations with outcasts like the publicans (Mark ii.16), took offence at his carelessness of the Sabbath tradition in his instruction of his disciples (Mark ii.24), and sought to turn the tide of rising popular enthusiasm by ascribing his power to cure to a league with the devil (Mark iii.22). Baffled in one charge, they would turn to another, until, after the feeding of the multitudes, Jesus showed his complete disregard of all they held most dear, replying to a criticism of his disciples for carelessness of the ritual of hand-washing by an authoritative setting aside of the whole body of their traditions, as well as of the Levitical ceremonial of clean and unclean meats (Mark vii.1-23).

129. The wonder is, not that popular enthusiasm for Jesus was great, but that it was so hesitating in its judgment about him. The province which provided a following to Judas of Galilee a generation earlier than the public ministry of Jesus, and which under John of Gischala furnished the chief support to the revolt against Rome a generation later, could have been excited to uncontrollable passion by the simple idea that a leader was present who could be made to head a movement for Jewish liberty. But there was something about Jesus which made it impossible to think of him as such a Messiah. He was much more moved by sin lurking within than by wrong inflicted from without. He looked for God's kingdom, as did the Zealots, but he looked for it within the heart more than in outward circumstances. Even the dreamers among the people, who were as unready as Jesus for any uprising against Rome, and who waited for God to show his own hand in judgment, found in Jesus -- come to seek and to save that which was lost -- something so contradictory of their idea of the celestial judge that they could not easily think of him as a Messiah. Jesus was a puzzle to the people. They were sure that he was a prophet; but if at any time some were tempted to query, "Can this be the Son of David?" the incredulous folk expected ever a negative reply.

130. This was as Jesus wished it to be. An unreasoning enthusiasm could only hinder his work. When his early cures in Capernaum stirred the ardent feelings of the multitudes, he took occasion to withdraw to other towns and allow popular feeling to cool. When later he found himself pressed upon by crowds from all quarters of the land, by the sermon on the mount he set them thinking on strange and highly spiritual things, far removed from the thoughts of Zealots and apocalyptic dreamers.

131. The manifest contradiction of popular Messianic ideas which Jesus presented in his own person usually served to check undue ardor as long as he was present. But when some demoniac proclaimed the high station of Jesus, and thus seemed to the people to give supernatural testimony; or when some one in need sought him apart from the multitudes, Jesus frequently enjoined silence. These injunctions of silence are enigmas until they are viewed as a part of Jesus' effort to keep control of popular feeling. In his absence the people might dwell on his power and easily come to imagine him to be what he was not and could not be. Jesus was able by these means to restrain unthinking enthusiasm until the multitudes whom he fed on the east side of the sea determined to force him to do their will as a Messiah. Then he refused to follow where they called, and that happened which would doubtless have happened at an earlier time but for Jesus' caution, -- the popular enthusiasm subsided, and his active work with the common people was at an end. But he had held off this crisis until there were a few who did not follow the popular defection, but rather clung to him from whom they had heard the words of eternal life (John vi.68).

132. Jesus' caution brings to light one aspect of his aim in the Galilean ministry, -- he sought to win acceptance for the truth he proclaimed. His message as reported in the synoptic gospels was the near approach of the kingdom of God. Any such proclamation was sure of eager hearing. At first he seems to have been content to gather and interest the multitudes by this preaching and the works which accompanied it. But he early took occasion to state his ideas in the hearing of the multitudes, and in terms so simple, so concerned with every-day life, so exacting as respects conduct, and so lacking in the customary glowing picture of the future, that the people could not mistake such a teacher for a simple fulfiller of their ideas. In this early sermon in effect, and later with increasing plainness, he set forth his doctrine of a kingdom of heaven coming not with observation, present actually among a people who knew it not, like a seed growing secretly in the earth, or leaven quietly leavening a lump of meal. By word and deed, in sermon and by parable, he insisted on this simple and every-day conception of God's rule among men. With Pharisee, Zealot, and dreamer, he held that "the best is yet to be," yet all three classes found their most cherished ideals set at nought by the new champion of the soul's inner life in fellowship with the living God. In all his teaching there was a claim of authority and a manifest independence which indicate certainty on his part concerning his own mission. Yet so completely is the personal question retired for the time, that in his rebuke of the blasphemy of the Pharisees he took pains to declare that it was not because they had spoken against the Son of Man, that they were in danger, but because they had spoken against the Spirit of God, whose presence was manifest in his works. He wished, primarily, to win disciples to the kingdom of God.

133. Yet Jesus was not indifferent in Galilee to what the people thought about himself. The question at Caesarea Philippi shows more fully the aim of his ministry. During all the period of the preaching of the kingdom he never hesitated to assert himself whenever need for such self-assertion arose. This was evident in his dealing with his pharisaic critics. He rarely argued with them, and always assumed a tone of authority which was above challenge, asserting that the Son of Man had authority to forgive sins, was lord of the Sabbath, was greater than the temple or Jonah or Solomon. Moreover, in his positive teaching of the new truth he assumed such an authoritative tone that any who thought upon it could but remark the extraordinary claim involved in his simple "I say unto you." He wished also to win disciples to himself.

134. The key to the ministry in Galilee is furnished in Jesus' answer to the message from John the Baptist. John in prison had heard of the works of his successor. Jesus did so much that promised a fulfilment of the Messianic hope, yet left so much undone, contradicting in so many ways the current idea of a Messiah by his studied avoidance of any demonstration, that the older prophet felt a momentary doubt of the correctness of his earlier conviction. It is in no way strange that he experienced a reaction from that exalted moment of insight when he pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, particularly after his restless activity had been caged within the walls of his prison. Jesus showed that he did not count it strange, by his treatment of John's quesestion and by his words about John after the messengers had gone. Yet in his reply he gently suggested that the question already had its answer if John would but look rightly for it. He simply referred to the things that were being done before the eyes of all, and asked John to form from them a conclusion concerning him who did them. One aid he offered to the imprisoned prophet, -- a word from the Book of Isaiah (xxxv.5f., lxi.1f.), -- and added a blessing for such as "should find nothing to stumble at in him." Here Jesus emphasized his works, and allowed his message to speak for itself; but he frankly indicated that he expected people to pass from wonder at his ministry to an opinion about himself. At Caesarea Philippi he showed to his disciples that this opinion about himself was the significant thing in his eyes. Throughout the ministry in Galilee, therefore, this twofold aim appears. Jesus would first divert attention from himself to his message, in order that he might win disciples to the kingdom of God as he conceived it. Having so attached them to his idea of the kingdom, he desired to be recognized as that kingdom's prince, the Messiah promised by God for his people. He retired behind his message in order that men might be drawn to the truth which he held dear, knowing that thus they would find themselves led captive to himself in a willing devotion.

135. This aim explains his retirement when popularity pressed, his exacting teaching about the spirituality of the kingdom of God, and his injunctions of silence. He wished to be known, to be thought about, to be accepted as God's anointed, but he would have this only by a genuine surrender to his leadership. His disciples must own him master and follow him, however much he might disappoint their misconceptions. This aim, too, explains his frank self-assertions and exalted personal claims in opposition to official criticism. He would not be false to his own sense of masterhood, nor allow people to think him bold when his critics were away, and cowardly in their presence. Therefore, when needful, he invited attention to himself as greater than the temple or as lord of the Sabbath. This kind of self-assertion, however, served his purpose as well as his customary self-retirement, for it forced people to face the contradiction which he offered to the accepted religious ideas of their leaders.

136. The method which Jesus chose has already been repeatedly indicated, -- teaching and preaching on the one hand, and works of helpfulness to men on the other. The character of the teaching of this period is shown in three discourses, -- the Sermon on the Mount, the Discourse in Parables, and the Instructions to the Twelve. The sermon on the mount is given in different forms in Matthew and Luke, that in Matthew being evidently the more complete, even after deduction has been made of those parts which Luke has assigned with high probability to a later time. This address was spoken to the disciples of Jesus found among the multitudes who flocked to him from all quarters. It opened with words of congratulation for those who, characterized by qualities often despised, were yet heirs of God's kingdom. The thought then passed to the responsibility of such heirs of the kingdom for the help of a needy world. Next, since much in the words and works of Jesus hitherto might have suggested to men that he was indifferent to the older religion of his people, he carefully explained that he came, not to set aside the old, but to realize the spiritual idea for which it stood, by establishing a more exacting standard of righteousness. This more exacting righteousness Jesus illustrated by a series of restatements of the older law, and then by a group of criticisms of current religious practice. The sermon closed with warnings against complacent censoriousness in judging other men's failures, and a solemn declaration of the vital seriousness of "these sayings of mine." The righteousness required by this new law is not only more exacting but unspeakably worthier than the old, being more simply manifested in common life, and demanding more intimate filial fellowship with the living God.

137. The teachings included in the sermon by the first gospel, but placed later by Luke, supplement the sermon by bidding God's child to lead a trustful life, knowing that the heavenly Father cares for him. That Luke has omitted much which from Matthew's account clearly belonged to the original sermon may be explained by the fact that Gentile readers did not share the interest which Jesus' hearers had, and which the readers of the first gospel had, in the relation of the new gospel to the older law. Hence the restatement of older commands and the criticism of current practice was omitted. Similar to the teachings which the first gospel has included in the sermon, are many which Luke has preserved in the section peculiar to himself. It is not unlikely that they belong also to the Galilean ministry. They urge the same sincere, reverent life in the sight of God, the same trust in the heavenly Father, the same certainty of his love and care; and they do not have that peculiar note of impending judgment which entered into the teachings of Jesus after the confession at Caesarea Philippi.

138. In the story of Mark, which is reproduced in the first and third gospels, the use of parable was first introduced in a way to attract the attention of the disciples, after pharisaic opposition to Jesus had become somewhat bitter and there was need of checking a too speedy culmination of opposition. He chose at that time a form of parable which was enigmatic to his disciples, and could but further puzzle hearers who had no sympathy with him and his message. Mark (iv.12) states that this perplexity was in accordance with the purpose of Jesus. But it is equally clear that Jesus meant to teach the teachable as well as to perplex the critical by these illustrations, for in explaining the Sower he suggested that the disciples should have understood it without explanation (Mark iv.13). Many of Jesus' parables, however, had no such enigmatic character, but were intended simply to help his hearers to understand him. He made use of this kind of teaching from first to last. The pictures of the wise and foolish builders with which the sermon on the mount concludes show that it was not the use of illustration which surprised the disciples in the parables associated with the Sower, but his use of such puzzling illustrations. Some of the parables of Luke's peculiar section may belong to the Galilean ministry, and even to the earlier stages of it. These have none of the enigmatic character; the parables of the last days of Jesus' life also seem to have been simple and clear to his hearers. The Oriental mind prefers the concrete to the abstract, and its teachers have ever made large use of illustration. Jesus stands unique, not in that he used parables, but in the simplicity and effective beauty of those which he used. These illustrations, whether Jesus intended them for the moment to enlighten or to confound, served always to set forth concretely some truth concerning the relation of men to God, or concerning his kingdom and their relation to it. The form of teaching was welcome to his hearers, and served as one of the attractions to draw men to him.

139. The first gospel assigns another extended discourse to this Galilean period, -- the Instructions to the Twelve. The mission of the twelve formed a new departure as Jesus saw the Galilean crisis approaching. He sought thereby to multiply his own work, and commissioned his disciples to heal and preach as he was doing. The restriction of their field to Israel (Matt. x.5, 6) simply applied to them the rule he adopted for himself during the Galilean period (Matt. xv.24). Comparison with the accounts in Mark and Luke, as well as the character of the instructions found in Matthew, show that here the first evangelist has followed his habit of gathering together teachings on the same general theme from different periods in Jesus' life. Much in the tenth chapter of Matthew indicates clearly that the ministry of Jesus had already passed the period of popularity, and that his disciples could now look for little but scorn and persecution. This was the situation at the end of Jesus' public life, and parallel sayings are found in the record of the last week in Jerusalem.

140. When the teaching of the sermon and the parables is compared with Jesus' self-assertion in his replies to pharisaic criticism and blasphemy, the difference is striking. Ordinarily he avoided calling attention to himself, wishing men to form their opinion of him after they had learned to know him as he was. Yet when one looks beneath the surface of his teaching, the tone of authority which astonished the multitudes is identical with the calm self-confidence which replied to pharisaic censure: "The Son of Man hath authority on the earth to forgive sins."

141. Jesus drew the multitudes after him not only by his teachings, but also by his mighty works. He certainly was for his contemporaries a wonder-worker and healer of disease, and, in order to appreciate the impression which he made, the miracles recorded in the gospels must be allowed to reveal what they can of his character. The mighty works which enchained attention in Galilee were chiefly cures of disease, with occasional exhibitions of power over physical nature, -- such as the stilling of the tempest and the feeding of the five thousand. The significant thing about them is their uniform beneficence of purpose and simplicity of method. Nothing of the spectacular attached itself to them. Jesus repeatedly refused to the critical Pharisees a sign from heaven. This was not because he disregarded the importance of signs for his generation, -- witness his appeal to his works in the reply to John (Matt. xi.4-6); but he felt that in his customary ministry to the needy multitudes he had furnished signs in abundance, for his deeds both gave evidence of heavenly power and revealed the character of the Father who had sent him.

142. One of the commonest of the ailments cured by Jesus is described in the gospels as demoniac possession, the popular idea being that evil spirits were accustomed to take up their abode in men, speaking with their tongues and acting through their bodies, at the same time afflicting them with various physical diseases. Six specific cures of such possession are recorded in the story of the Galilean ministry, besides general references to the cure of many that were possessed. Of these specific cases the Gadarene demoniac shows symptoms of violent insanity; the boy cured near Caesarea Philippi, those of epilepsy; in other cases the disease was more local, showing itself in deafness, or blindness, or both. In the cures recorded Jesus addressed the possessed with a command to the invading demon to depart. He was ordinarily greeted, either before or after such a command, with a loud outcry, often accompanied with a recognition of him as God's Holy One.

143. The record of such maladies and their cure is not confined to the New Testament. The evil spirit which came upon King Saul is a similar case, and Josephus tells of Jewish exorcists who cured possessed persons by the use of incantations handed down from King Solomon. The early Christian fathers frequently argued the truth of Christianity from the way in which demons departed at the command of Christian exorcists, while in the middle ages and down to modern times belief in demoniac possession has been common, particularly among some of the more superstitious of the peasantry in Europe. Moreover, from missionaries in China and other eastern lands it is learned that diseases closely resembling the cases of possession recorded in the New Testament are frequently met with, and are often cured by native Christian ministers.

144. The similarity of the symptoms of so-called possession to recognized mental and physical derangements such as insanity, epilepsy, and hysteria, suggests the conclusion that possession should be classed with other ailments due to ill adjustment of the relations of the mental and physical life. If this conclusion is valid, the idea of actual possession by evil spirits becomes only an ancient effort to interpret the mysterious symptoms in accordance with wide-spread primitive beliefs. This explanation would doubtless be generally adopted were it not that it seems to compromise either the integrity or the knowledge of Jesus. The gospels plainly represent him as treating the supposed demoniac influence as real, addressing in his cures not the invalid, but the invading demon. If he did this knowing that the whole view was a superstition, was he true to his mission to release mankind from its bondage to evil and sin? If he shared the superstition of his time, had he the complete knowledge necessary to make him the deliverer he claimed to be? These questions are serious and difficult, but they form a part of the general problem of the extent of Jesus' knowledge, and can be more intelligently discussed in connection with that whole problem (sects.249-251). It is reasonable to demand, however, that any conclusion reached concerning the nature of possession in the time of Jesus must be considered valid for similar manifestations of disease in our own day.

145. What astonished people in Jesus' cures was not so much that he healed the sick as that he did it with such evidence of personal authority. His cures and his teachings alike served to attract attention to himself and to invite question as to who he could be. Yet a far more powerful means to the end he had in view was the subtle, unobtrusive, personal influence which without their knowledge knit the hearts of a few to himself. In reality both his teaching and his cures were only means of self-disclosure. His permanent work during this Galilean period was the winning of personal friends. His chief agency in accomplishing his work was what Renan somewhat too romantically has called his "charm." It was that in him which drew to his side and kept with him the fishermen of Galilee and the publican of Capernaum, during months of constant disappointment of their preconceived religious ideas and Messianic hopes; it was that which won the confidence of the woman who was a sinner, and the constant devotion of Mary Magdalene and Susanna and the others who followed him "and ministered to him of their substance." The outstanding wonder of early Christianity is the complete transformation not only of life but of established religious ideas by the personal impress of Jesus on a Peter, a John, and a Paul. The secret of the new element of the Christian religion -- salvation through personal attachment to Jesus Christ -- is simply this personal power of the man of Nazareth. The multitudes followed because they saw wonderful works or heard wonderful words; many because they hoped at length to find in the new prophet the champion of their hopes in deliverance from Roman bondage. But these sooner or later fell away, disappointed in their desire to use the new leader for their own ends. It was only because from out the multitudes there were a few who could answer, "To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life," when Jesus asked, "Will ye also go away?" that the work in Galilee did not end in complete failure. These few had felt his personal power, and they became the nucleus of a new religion of love to a personal Saviour.

146. The test of the personal attachment of the few came shortly after the execution of John the Baptist by Antipas. Word of this tragedy was brought to Jesus by John's disciples about the time that he and the twelve returned to Capernaum from their tour of preaching. At the suggestion of Jesus they withdrew to the eastern side of the lake in search of rest. It is not unlikely that the little company also wished to avoid for the time the territory of the tyrant who had just put John to death, for Jesus was not yet ready for the crisis of his own life. Such a desire for seclusion would be intensified by the continued impetuous enthusiasm of the multitudes who flocked about him again in Capernaum. In fact, so insistent was their interest in Jesus that they would not allow him the quiet he sought, but followed around the lake in great numbers when they learned that he had taken ship for the other side. He who came not to be ministered unto but to minister could not repel the crowds who came to him, and he at once "welcomed them, and spake to them of the kingdom of God, and them that had need of healing he healed" (Luke ix.11). The day having passed in this ministry, he multiplied the small store of bread and fish brought by his disciples in order to feed the weary people. This work of power seemed to some among the multitudes to be the last thing needed to prove that Jesus was to be their promised deliverer, and they "were about to come and take him by force and make him king" (John vi.15), when he withdrew from them and spent the night in prayer.

147. This sudden determination on the part of the multitudes to force the hand of Jesus was probably due to the prevalence of an idea, found also in the later rabbinic writers, that the Messiah should feed his people as Moses had provided them manna in the desert. The rebuff which Jesus quietly gave them did not cool their ardor, until on the following day, in the synagogue in Capernaum, he plainly taught them that they had quite missed the significance of his miracle. They thought of loaves and material sustenance. He would have had them find in these a sign that he could also supply their spirits' need, and he insisted that this, and this alone, was his actual mission. From the first the popular enthusiasm had had to ignore many contradictions of its cherished notions. But his power and the indescribable force of his personality had served hitherto to hold them to a hope that he would soon discard the perplexing role which he had chosen for the time to assume, and take up avowedly the proper work of the Messiah. This last refusal to accept what seemed to them to be his evident duty caused a revulsion in the popular feeling, and "many of his disciples turned back and walked no more with him" (John vi.66). The time of sifting had come. Jesus had known that such a rash determination to make him king was possible to the Galilean multitudes, and that whenever it should come it must be followed by a disillusionment. Now the open ministry had run its course. As the multitudes were turning back and walking no more with him, he turned to the twelve with the question, "Will ye also go away?" and found that with them his method had borne fruit. They clung to him in spite of disillusionment, for in him they had found what was better than their preconceptions.

148. It is the fourth gospel that shows clearly the critical significance of this event. The others tell nothing of the sudden determination of the multitude, nor of the revulsion of feeling that followed Jesus' refusal to yield to their will. Yet these other gospels indicate in their narratives that from this time on Jesus avoided the scenes of his former labors, and show that when from time to time he returned to the neighborhood of Capernaum he was met by such a spirit of hostility that he withdrew again immediately to regions where he and his disciples could have time for quiet intercourse.

149. The months of toil in Galilee show results hardly more significant than the grain of mustard seed or the little leaven. Popular enthusiasm had risen, increased, reached its climax, and waned. Official opposition had early been aroused, and had continued with a steadily deepened intensity. The wonderful teaching with authority, and the signs wrought on them that were sick, had been as seed sown by the wayside or in thorny or in stony ground, except for the little handful of hearers who had felt the personal power of Jesus and had surrendered to it, ready henceforth to follow where he should lead, whether or not it should be in a path of their choice. These, however, were the proof that those months had been a time of rewarded toil.

ii the early ministry in
Top of Page
Top of Page