We have heard nothing for some time of any opposition; but now a fresh conflict arose with certain scribes who had come down Opposition of the Scribes. from Jerusalem, and who complained that the disciples neglected the ceremonial washing of their hands before meals. Jesus replied with a stern rebuke, addressing the questioners as hypocrites, and exposing the falsity of a system which allowed the breach of fundamental commandments in order that traditional regulations might be observed. He then turned from them to the multitude, and uttered a saying which in effect annulled the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean meats. This was a direct attack on the whole Pharisaic position. The controversy was plainly irreconcilable, and Jesus withdrew to the north, actually passing outside the limits of the Holy Land. He desired to remain unknown, and not to extend His mission to the heathen population, but the extraordinary faith and the modest importunity of a Syrophenician woman induced Him to heal her daughter. Then He returned by a circuitous route to the Sea of Galilee. His return was marked by another miraculous feeding of the multitude, and also by two healing miracles which present unusual features. In both the patient was withdrawn from the multitude and the cure was wrought with the accompaniment of symbolic actions. Moreover, in one case Jesus is described as groaning before He spoke; in the other the cure was at first incomplete; and both of the men were strictly charged to observe silence afterwards. It cannot be a mere coincidence that these are the last cures which St Mark records as performed in Galilee.
In fact the Galilean ministry is now closed. Jesus retires northwards to Caesarea Philippi, and appears henceforth to Messianic Teaching. devote Himself entirely to the instruction of his disciples, who needed to be prepared for the fatal issue which could not long be delayed. He begins by asking them the popular opinion as to His Person. The suggestions are still the same — John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other of the prophets. But when He asked their own belief, Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ.” He warned them not to make this known; and He proceeded to give them the wholly new teaching that the Son of Man must suffer and be killed, adding that after three days He must rise again. Peter took Him aside and urged Him not to speak so. But He turned to the other disciples and openly rebuked Peter. And then, addressing a yet wider circle, He demanded of those who should follow Him a self-sacrifice like His own. He even used the metaphor of the cross which was carried by the sufferer to the place of execution. Life, he declared, could only be saved by voluntary death. He went on to demand an unswerving loyalty to Himself and His teaching in the face of a threatening world; and then He promised that some of those who were present should not die before they had seen the coming of the kingdom of God. We have had no hint of such teaching as this in the whole of the Galilean ministry. Jesus had stood forth as the strong healer and helper of men; it was bewildering to hear Him speak of dying. He had promised to fulfil men's highest expectations, if only they would not doubt His willingness and power. He had been enthusiastically reverenced by the common people, though suspected and attacked by the religious leaders. He had spoken of “the will of God” as supreme, and had set aside ceremonial traditions. He had announced the nearness of the kingdom of God, but had
described it only in parables from nature. He had adopted the vague title of the “Son of Man,” but had refrained from proclaiming Himself as the expected Messiah. At last the disciples had expressed their conviction that He Was the Christ, and immediately He tells them that He goes to meet humiliation and death as the necessary steps to a resurrection and a coming of the Son of Man in the glory of His Father. It was an amazing announcement and He plainly added that their path like His own lay through death to life. The dark shadows of this picture of the future alone could impress their minds, but a week later three of them were allowed a momentary vision of the light which should overcome the darkness. They saw Jesus transfigured in a radiance of glory: Elijah appeared with Moses, and they talked with Jesus. A cloud came over them, and a Voice, like that of the Baptism, proclaimed “This is My Son, the Beloved: hear ye Him.” They were bidden to keep the vision secret till the Son of Man should have risen from the dead. It was in itself a foretaste of resurrection, and the puzzled disciples remembered that the scribes declared that before the resurrection Elijah would appear. Their minds were confused as to what resurrection was meant. Jesus told them that Elijah had in fact come; and He also said that the Scriptures foretold the sufferings of the Son of Man. But the situation was wholly beyond their grasp, and the very language of St Mark at this point seems to reflect the confusion of their minds.
The other disciples, in the meantime, had been vainly endeavouring to cure a peculiarly violent case of demoniacal possession. Jesus Himself cast out the demon, but not before the suffering child had been rendered seemingly lifeless by a final assault. Then they journeyed secretly through Galilee towards Judaea and the eastern side of the Jordan. On the way Jesus reinforced the new lesson of self-renunciation. He offered the little children as the type of those to whom the kingdom of God belonged; and He disappointed a young and wealthy aspirant to His favour, amazing His disciples by saying that the kingdom of God could hardly be entered by the rich; he who forsook all should have all, and more than all; the world's estimates were to be reversed — the first should be last and the last first. They were now journeying towards Jerusalem, and the prediction of the Passion was repeated. James and John, who had witnessed the Transfiguration, and who were confident of the coming glory, asked for the places nearest to their Master, and professed their readiness to share His sufferings. When the other ten were aggrieved Jesus declared that greatness was measured by service, not by rank; and that the Son of Man had come not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to ransom many other lives. As they came up from the Jordan valley and passed through Jericho, an incident occurred which signalized the beginning of the final period. A blind man appealed to Jesus as “the Son of David,” and was answered by the restoration of his sight; and when, a little later, Jesus fulfilled an ancient prophecy by mounting an ass and riding into Jerusalem, the multitudes shouted their welcome to the returning “kingdom of David.” Hitherto He had not permitted any public recognition of His Messiahship, but now He entered David's city in lowly but significant pomp as David's promised heir.
Two incidents illustrate the spirit of judgment with which He approached the splendid but apostate city. On His arrival He Entry into Jerusalem. had carefully observed the condition of the Temple, and had retired to sleep outside the city. On the following morning, finding no fruit on a fig-tree in full leaf, He said, “Let no man eat fruit of thee henceforth for ever.” It was a parable of impending doom. Then, when He entered the Temple, He swept away with a fiery zeal the merchants and merchandise which had turned God's House into “robbers' den.” The act was at once an assertion of commanding authority and an open condemnation of the religious rulers who had permitted the desecration. Its immediate effect was to make new and powerful enemies; for the chief priests, as well as their rivals the scribes, were now inflamed against Him. At the moment they could do nothing, but the next day they formally
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