The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE GREAT CRISIS IN POPULAR FEELING
THE LAST DISCOURSES IN THE SYNAGOGUE OF CAPERNAUM
CHRIST THE BREAD OF LIFE
'WILL YE ALSO GO AWAY?'1 (St. John 6:22-71.)
1. It is specially
requested that this chapter be read along with the text of
THE narrative now returns to those who, on the previous
evening, had, after the miraculous meal, been 'sent away' to their homes. We
remember, that this had been after an abortive attempt on their part to take
Jesus by force and make Him their Messiah-King. We can understand that the
effectual resistance of Jesus to their purpose not only weakened, but in great
measure neutralised, the effect of the miracle which they had witnessed. In
fact, we look upon this check as the first turning of the tide of popular
enthusiasm. Let us bear in mind what ideas and expectations of an altogether
external character those men connected with the Messiah of their dreams. At
last, by some miracle more notable even than the giving of the Manna in the
wilderness, enthusiasm has been raised to the highest pitch, and thousands were
determined to give up their pilgrimage to the Passover, and then and there
proclaim the Galilean Teacher Israel's King. If He were the Messiah, such was
His rightful title. Why then did He so strenuously and effectually resist it?
In ignorance of His real views concerning the Kingship, they would naturally
conclude that it must have been from fear, from misgiving, from want of belief
in Himself. At any rate, He could not be the Messiah, Who would not be Israel's
King. Enthusiasm of this kind, once repressed, could never be kindled again.
Henceforth there was continuous misunderstanding, doubt and defection among
former adherents, growing into opposition and hatred unto death. Even to those
who took not this position, Jesus, His Words and Works, were henceforth a
And so it came, that the morning after the miraculous meal found the vast
majority of those who had been fed, either in their homes or on their
pilgrim-way to the Passover at Jerusalem. Only comparatively few came back to
seek Him, where they had eaten bread at His Hand. And even to them, as the
after-conversation shows, Jesus was a mystery. They could not disbelieve, and
yet they could not believe; and they sought both 'a sign' to guide, and an
explanation to give them its understanding. Yet out of them was there such
selection of grace, that all that the Father had given would reach Him, and
that they who, by a personal act of believing choice and by determination of
conviction, would come, should in no wise be rejected of Him.
2. We are here involuntarily reminded of the fate of Elijah on the morning after the miracle on Mount Carmel. But how different the bearing of Christ from that of the great prophet!
It is this view of the mental and moral state of those who, on
the morning after the meal, came to seek Jesus, which alone explains the
question and answers of the interview at Capernaum. As we read it: 'the day
following the multitude which stood on the other (the eastern) side of the sea'
'saw that Jesus was not there, neither His disciples.'3
But of two facts they were cognizant. They knew that, on the evening before,
only one boat had come over, bringing Jesus and His disciples; and that Jesus
had not returned in it with His disciples, for they had seen them depart, while
Jesus remained to dismiss the people. In these circumstances they probably
imagined, that Christ had returned on foot by land, being, of course, ignorant
of the miracle of that night. But the wind which had been contrary to the
disciples, had also driven over to the eastern shore a number of fishing-boats
from Tiberias (and this is one of the undesigned confirmations of the
narrative). These they now hired, and came to Capernaum, making inquiry for
Jesus. Whether on that Friday afternoon they went to meet Him on His way from
Gennesaret (which the wording of St. John vi. 25 makes likely), or awaited His
arrival at Capernaum, is of little importance. Similarly, it is difficult to
determine whether the conversation and outlined address of Christ took place on
one or partly on several occasions: on the Friday afternoon or Sabbath morning,
or only on the Sabbath. All that we know for certain is, that the last
part (at any rate4)
was spoken 'in Synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.'5
It has been well observed, that 'there are evident breaks after verse 40 and
verse 51.'6 Probably
the succession of events may have been that part of what is here recorded by
St. John7 had taken
place when those from across the Lake had first met Jesus;8
part on the way to, and entering, the Synagogue;9
and part as what He spoke in His Discourse,10
and then after the defection of some of His former disciples.11
But we can only suggest such an arrangement, since it would have been quite
consistent with Jewish practice, that the greater part should have taken place
in the Synagogue itself, the Jewish questions and objections representing
either an irregular running commentary on His Words, or expressions during
breaks in, or at the conclusion of, His teaching.
3. vv. 22, 24.
4. St. John vi. 53-58.
5. ver. 59.
6. Westcott, ad. loc.
7. vi. 25-65.
This, however, is a primary requirement, that, what Christ is
reported to have spoken, should appear suited to His hearers: such as would
appeal to what they knew, such also as they could understand. This must be kept
in view, even while admitting that the Evangelist wrote his Gospel in the light
of much later and fuller knowledge, and for the instruction of the Christian
Church, and that there may be breaks and omissions in the reported, as compared
with the original Discourse, which, if supplied, would make its understanding
much easier to a Jew. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind all the
circumstances of the case. The Discourse in question was delivered in the city,
which had been the scene of so many of Christ's great miracles, and the centre
of His teaching, and in the Synagogue, built by the good Centurion, and of
which Jairus was the chief ruler. Here we have the outward and inward
conditions for even the most advanced teaching of Christ. Again, it was
delivered under twofold moral conditions, to which we may expect the Discourse
of Christ to be adapted. For, first, it was after that miraculous feeding which
had raised the popular enthusiasm to the highest pitch, and also after that
chilling disappointment of their Judaistic hopes in Christ's utmost resistance
to His Messianic proclamation. They now came 'seeking for Jesus,' in every
sense of the word. They knew not what to make of those, to them, contradictory
and irreconcilable facts; they came, because they did eat of the loaves,
without seeing in them 'signs.'12
And therefore they came for such a 'sign' as they could perceive, and for such
teaching in interpretation of it as they could understand. They were outwardly
- by what had happened - prepared for the very highest teaching, to which the
preceding events had led up, and therefore they must receive such, if any. But
they were not inwardly prepared for it, and therefore they could not understand
it. Secondly, and in connection with it, we must remember that two high points
had been reached - by the people, that Jesus was the Messiah-King; by the
ship's company, that He was the Son of God. However imperfectly these truths
may have been apprehended, yet the teaching of Christ, if it was to be
progressive, must start from them and then point onwards and upwards. In this
expectation we shall not be disappointed. And if, by the side of all this, we
shall find allusions to peculiarly Jewish thoughts and views, these will not
only confirm the Evangelic narrative, but furnish additional evidence of the
Jewish authorship of the Fourth Gospel.
12. ver. 26.
1. The question:13
'Rabbi, when camest Thou hither?' with which they from the eastern shore
greeted Jesus, seems to imply that they were perplexed about, and that some
perhaps had heard a vague rumour of the miracle of His return to the western
shore. It was the beginning of that unhealthy craving for the miraculous which
the Lord had so sharply to reprove. In His own words: they sought Him not because
they 'saw signs,' but because they 'ate of the loaves,' and, in their coarse
love for the miraculous, 'were filled.'14
What brought them, was not that they had discerned either the higher meaning of
that miracle, or the Son of God, but those carnal Judaistic expectancies which
had led them to proclaim Him King. What they waited for, was a Kingdom of God -
not in righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost, but in meat and drink -
a kingdom with miraculous wilderness-banquets to Israel, and coarse miraculous
triumphs over the Gentiles. Not to speak of the fabulous Messianic banquet
which a sensuous realism expected, or of the achievements for which it looked,
every figure in which prophets had clothed the brightness of those days was
first literalised, and then exaggerated, till the most glorious poetic
descriptions became the most repulsively incongruous caricatures of spiritual
Messianic expectancy. The fruit-trees were every day, or at least every week or
two, to yield their riches, the fields their harvests;15
the grain was to stand like palm trees, and to be reaped and winnowed without
blessings were to visit the vine; ordinary trees would bear like fruit trees,
and every produce, of every clime, would be found in Palestine in such abundance
and luxuriance as only the wildest imagination could conceive.
13. St. John vi. 25-29.
14. Canon Westcott notes the intended realism in the choice of words: 'Literally, "were satisfied with food as animals with fodder."' - ecortasqhte.
15. Shabb. 30 b; Jer. Sheqal. vi. 2.
16. Kethub. 111 b.
Such were the carnal thoughts about the Messiah and His Kingdom
of those who sought Jesus because they 'ate of the loaves, and were filled.'
What a contrast between them and the Christ, as He pointed them from the search
for such meat to 'work for the meat which He would give them,' not a
merely Jewish Messiah, but as 'the son of Man.' And yet, in uttering this
strange truth, Jesus could appeal to something they knew when He added, 'for
Him the Father hath sealed, even God.' The words, which seem almost
inexplicable in this connection, become clear when we remember that this was a
well-known Jewish expression. According to the Rabbis, 'the seal of God was Truth
(AeMeTH),' the three letters of which this word is composed in Hebrew
(tm#) being, as was significantly pointed out, respectively the first, the
middle, and the last letters of the alphabet.17
Thus the words of Christ would convey to His hearers that for the real meat,
which would endure to eternal life - for the better Messianic banquet - they
must come to Him, because God had impressed upon Him His own seal of truth, and
so authenticated His Teaching and Mission.
17. Jer. Sanh. 18 a; Ber. R. 81.
In passing, we mark this as a Jewish allusion, which only a Jewish
writer (not an Ephesian Gospel) would have recorded. But it is by no means the
only one. It almost seems like a sudden gleam of light - as if they were
putting their hand to this Divine Seal, when they now ask Him what they must
do, in order to work the Works of God? Yet strangely refracted seems this ray
of light, when they connect the Works of God with their own doing. And Christ
directed them, as before, only more clearly, to Himself. To work the Works of
God they must not do, but believe in Him Whom God had sent. Their twofold error
consisted in imagining, that they could work the Works of God, and this by some
doing of their own. On the other hand, Christ would have taught them that these
Works of God were independent of man, and that they would be achieved through
man's faith in the Mission of the Christ.
2. As it impresses itself on our minds, what now follows18
took place at a somewhat different time - perhaps on the way to the Synagogue.
It is a remarkable circumstance, that among the ruins of the Synagogue of
Capernaum the lintel has been discovered, and that it bears the device of a pot
of manna, ornamented with a flowing pattern of vine leaves and clusters of
grapes.19 Here then
were the outward emblems, which would connect themselves with the Lord's
teaching on that day. The miraculous feeding of the multitude in the 'desert
place' the evening before, and the Messianic thoughts which clustered around
it, would naturally suggest to their minds remembrance of the manna. That
manna, which was Angels' food, distilled (as they imagined) from the upper
light, 'the dew from above'20
- miraculous food, of all manner of taste, and suited to every age, according
to the wish or condition of him who see ate it,21
but bitterness to Gentile palates - they expected the Messiah to bring again
from heaven. For, all that the first deliverer Moses had done, the second -
Messiah - would also do.22
And here, over their Synagogue, was the pot of manna - symbol of what God had
done, earnest of what the Messiah would do: that pot of manna, which was now
among the things hidden, but which Elijah, when he came, would restore again!
20. Yoma 75 b.
21. Shem. R. 25.
22. Midr. on Eccles. i. 9.
Here, then, was a real sign. In their view the events of
yesterday must lead up to some such sign, if they had any real meaning. They
had been told to believe on Him, as the One authenticated by God with the seal
of Truth, and Who would give them meat to eternal life. By what sign would
Christ corroborate His assertion, that they might see and believe? What work
would He do to vindicate His claim? Their fathers had eaten manna in the
wilderness. To understand the reasoning of the Jews, implied but not fully
expressed, as also the answer of Jesus, it is necessary to bear in mind (what
forms another evidence of the Jewish authorship of the Fourth Gospel), that it
was the oft and most anciently expressed opinion that, although God had given
them this bread out of heaven, yet it was given through the merits of Moses,
and ceased with his death.23
This the Jews had probably in view, when they asked: 'What workest Thou?'; and
this was the meaning of Christ's emphatic assertion, that it was not
Moses who gave Israel that bread. And then by what, with all reverence, may
still be designated a peculiarly Jewish turn of reasoning - such as only those
familiar with Jewish literature can fully appreciate (and which none but a
Jewish reporter would have inserted in his Gospel) - the Saviour makes quite
different, yet to them familiar, application of the manna. Moses had not given
it - his merits had not procured it - but His Father gave them the true bread
out of heaven. 'For,' as He explained, 'the bread of God is that24
which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.' Again, this
very Rabbinic tradition, which described in such glowing language the wonders
of that manna, also further explained its other and real meaning to be, that if
Wisdom said, 'Eat of my bread and drink of my wine,'25
it indicated that the manna and the miraculous water-supply were the sequence
of Israel's receiving the Law and the Commandments26
- for the real bread from heaven was the Law.2728
23. Targ. Pseudo Jon. on Deut. xxxiv. 8; Taan. 9 a.
24. Not as in the A.V. of ver. 33: 'He Which cometh down from heaven.' The alteration is most important in the argument as addressed to the Jews: the one they could understand and would admit, not so the other.
25. Prov. ix. 5.
26. Shem. R. 25.
27. Comp. Chag. 14 a.
28. In the Midrash on Eccl. ii. 24; iii. 12; viii. 15, we are told, that when in Ecclesiastes we read of eating and drinking, it always refers to the Law and good works.
It was an appeal which the Jews understood, and to which they
could not but respond. Yet the mood was brief. As Jesus, in answer to the
appeal that He would evermore give them this bread, once more directed them to
Himself - from works of men to the Works of God and to faith - the passing
gleam of spiritual hope had already died out, for they had seen Him and 'yet
did not believe.'
With these words of mingled sadness and judgment, Jesus turned
away from His questioners. The solemn sayings which now followed29
could not have been spoken to, and they would not have been understood by, the
multitude. And accordingly we find that, when the conversation of the Jews is
once more introduced,30
it takes up the thread where it had been broken off, when Jesus spake of
Himself as the Bread Which had come down from heaven. Had they heard what, in
our view, Jesus spake only to His disciples, their objections would have been
to more than merely the incongruity of Christ's claim to have come down from
29. St. John vi. 37-40.
30. ver. 41.
31. After having arrived at this conclusion, I find that Canon Westcott has expressed the same views, and I rejoice in being fortified by so great an authority.
3. Regarding these words of Christ, then, as addressed to the
disciples, there is really nothing in them beyond their standpoint, though they
open views of the far horizon. They had the experience of the raising of the
young man at Nain, and there, at Capernaum, of Jairus' daughter. Besides,
believing that Jesus was the Messiah, it might perhaps not be quite
strange nor new to them as Jews - although not commonly received - that He
would at the end of the world raise the pious dead.32
Indeed, one of the names given to the Messiah - that of Yinnon,
according to Ps. lxxii. 1733
- has by some been derived from this very expectancy.34
Again, He had said, that it was not any Law, but His Person, that was the bread
which came down from heaven, and gave life, not to Jews only, but unto the
world - and they had seen Him and believed not. But none the less would the
loving purpose of God be accomplished in the totality of His true people, and
its joyous reality be experienced by every individual among them: 'All that
(the total number, pan o) which
the Father giveth Me shall come unto Me (shall reach Me35),
and him that cometh unto Me (the coming one to Me) I will not cast out
outside.' What follows is merely the carrying out in all directions, and to its
fullest consequences, of this twofold fundamental principle. The totality of
the God-given would really reach Him, despite all hindrances, for the object of
His Coming was to do the Will of His Father; and those who came would not be
cast outside, for the Will of Him that had sent Him, and which He had come to
do, was that of 'the all which He has given' Him, He 'should not lose anything
out of this, but raise it up in the last day.' Again, the totality - the all -
would reach Him, since it was the Will of Him that sent Him 'that everyone (paV) who intently looketh36
at the Son, and believeth on Him, should have eternal life;' and the coming
ones would not be cast outside, since this was His undertaking and promise as
the Christ in regard to each: 'And raise him up will I at the last day.'37
32. But not here and there one dead. In general, see vol. i. p. 633, where the question of Jewish belief on that subject is discussed.
33. Sanh. 98 b.
34. Midrash on Ps. xciii. 1; PirkÚ de R. Eliez. 32, ed. Lemb. p. 39 b.
35. So Canon Westcott; and also Godet ad loc.
36. Mark the special meaning of qewrwn as
37. St. John vi. 40.
Although these wonderful statements reached in their full
meaning far beyond the present horizon of His disciples, and even to the utmost
bounds of later revelation and Christian knowledge, there is nothing in them
which could have seemed absolutely strange or unintelligible to those who heard
them. Given belief in the Messiahship of Jesus and His Mission by the Father;
given experience of what He had done, and perhaps, to a certain extent, Jewish
expectancy of what the Messiah would do in the last day; and all this directed
or corrected by the knowledge concerning His work which His teaching had
imparted, and the words were intelligible and most suitable, even though they
would not convey to them all that they mean to us. If so seemingly incongruous
an illustration might be used, they looked through a telescope that was not yet
drawn out, and saw the same objects, through quite diminutively and far
otherwise than we, as gradually the hand of Time has drawn out fully that
through which both they and we, who believe, intently gaze on the Son.
4. What now follows38
is again spoken to 'the Jews,' and may have occurred just as they were entering
the Synagogue. To those spiritually unenlightened, the point of difficulty
seemed, how Christ could claim to be the Bread come down from heaven. Making
the largest allowance, His known parentage and early history39
forbade anything like a literal interpretation of His Words. But this inability
to understand, ever brings out the highest teaching of Christ. We note the
analogous fact, and even the analogous teaching, in the case of Nicodemus.4041
Only, his was the misunderstanding of ignorance, theirs of wilful resistance to
His Manifestation; and so the tone towards them was other than to the Rabbi.
38. St. John vi. 41-51.
39. This is not narrated in the Fourth Gospel. But allusions like this cover the whole early history of Jesus, and prove that omissions of the most important facts in the history of Jesus are neither due to ignorance of them on the part of the writer of the Fourth Gospel, nor to the desire to express by silence his dissent from the accounts of the Synoptists.
40. St. John iii. 3 &c.
41. Canon Westcott has called attention to this.
Yet we also mark, that what Jesus now spake to 'the Jews' was
the same in substance, though different in application, from what He had just
uttered to the disciples. This, not merely in regard to the Messianic
prediction of the Resurrection, but even in what He pronounced as the judgment
on their murmuring. The words: 'No man can come to Me, except the Father Which
hath sent Me draw him,' present only the converse aspect of those to the
disciples: 'All that which the Father giveth Me shall come unto Me, and him
that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.' For, far from being a judgment
on, it would have been an excuse of, Jewish unbelief, and, indeed, entirely
discordant with all Christ's teaching, if the inability to come were regarded
as other than personal and moral, springing from man's ignorance and opposition
to spiritual things. No man can come to the Christ - such is the condition of
the human mind and heart, that coming to Christ as a disciple is, not an
outward, but an inward, not a physical, but a moral impossibility - except the
Father 'draw him.' And this, again, not in the sense of any constraint, but in
that of the personal, moral, loving influence and revelation, to which Christ
afterwards refers when He saith: 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will
draw all men unto Myself.'42
42. St. John xii. 32.
Nor did Jesus, even while uttering these high, entirely
un-Jewish truths, forget that He was speaking them to Jews. The appeal to their
own Prophets was the more telling, that Jewish tradition also applied these two
prophecies (Is. liv. 13; Jer. xxxi. 34) to the teaching by God in the Messianic
But the explanation of the manner and issue of God's teaching was new:
'Everyone that hath heard from the Father, and learned, cometh unto Me.' And
this, not by some external or realistic contact with God, such as they regarded
that of Moses in the past, or expected for themselves in the latter days; only
'He Which is from God, He hath seen the Father.' But even this might sound
general and without exclusive reference to Christ. So, also, might this
statement seem: 'He that believeth45
hath eternal life.' Not so the final application, in which the subject was
carried to its ultimate bearing, and all that might have seemed general or
mysterious plainly set forth. The Personality of Christ was the Bread of
Life: 'I am the Bread of Life.'46
The Manna had not been bread of life, for those who ate it had died, their
carcasses had fallen in the wilderness. Not so in regard to this, the true
Bread from heaven. To share in that Food was to have everlasting life, a life
which the sin and death of unbelief and judgment would not cut short, as it had
that of them who had eaten the Manna and died in the wilderness. It was another
and a better Bread which came from heaven in Christ, and another, better, and deathless
life which was connected with it: 'the Bread that I will give is My Flesh,47
for the life of the world.'
43. Is. liv. 13 in Ber. R. 95 on Gen. xlvi. 28; Jerem. xxxi. 34 in Yalkut vol ii. p. 66 d.
44. For other Rabbinic applications of these verses to the Messiah and His times, see the Appendix on Messianic passages.
45. The words 'on Me' are spurious.
46. ver. 48.
47. The words in the A.V., 'which I will give,' are spurious.
5. These words, so deeply significant to us, as pointing out
the true meaning of all His teaching, must, indeed, have sounded most
mysterious. Yet the fact that they strove about their meaning shows, that they
must have had some glimmer of apprehension that they bore on His
self-surrender, or, as they might view it, His martyrdom. This last point is
set forth in the concluding Discourse,48
which we know to have been delivered in the Synagogue, whether before, during,
or after, His regular Sabbath address. It was not a mere martyrdom for the life
of the world, in which all who benefitted by it would share - but personal
fellowship with Him. Eating the Flesh and drinking the Blood of the Son of Man,
such was the necessary condition of securing eternal life. It is impossible to
mistake the primary reference of these words to our personal application of His
Death and Passion to the deepest need and hunger of our souls; most difficult,
also, to resist the feeling that, secondarily,49
they referred to that Holy Feast which shows forth that Death and Passion, and
is to all time its remembrance, symbol, seal, and fellowship. In this, also,
has the hand of History drawn out the telescope; and as we gaze through it,
every sentence and word sheds light upon the Cross and light from the Cross,
carrying to us this twofold meaning: His Death, and its Celebration in the
great Christian Sacrament.
48. vv. 53-58.
49. Canon Westcott (ad loc.) clearly shows, that the reference to the Holy Supper can only be secondary. Mark here specially, that in the latter we have 'the Body,' not 'the Flesh' of the Lord.
6. But to them that heard it, nay even to many of His
disciples, this was an hard saying. Who could bear it? For it was a thorough
disenchantment of all their Judaic illusions, an entire upturning of all their
Messianic thoughts, and that, not merely to those whose views were grossly
carnal, but even to many who had hitherto been drawn closer to Him. The 'meat'
and 'drink' from heaven which had the Divine seal of 'truth' were, according to
Christ's teaching, not 'the Law,' nor yet Israel's privileges, but fellowship
with the Person of Jesus in that state of humbleness ('the Son of Joseph,'50),
nay, or martyrdom, which His words seemed to indicate, 'My Flesh is the true51
meat, and My Blood is the true drink;'52
and what even this fellowship secured, consisted only in abiding in Him and He
in them;53 or, as
they would understand it, in inner communion with Him, and in sharing His
condition and views. Truly, this was a totally different Messiah and Messianic
Kingdom from what they either conceived or wished.
50. ver. 42.
51. Comp. here the remarks on ver. 27, about Truth as the seal with which God sealed the Christ.
52. ver. 55.
53. ver. 56.
Though they spake it not, this was the rock of offence over
which they stumbled and fell. And Jesus read their thoughts. How unfit were
they to receive all that was yet to happen in connection with the Christ - how
unprepared for it! If they stumbled at this, what when they came to contemplate54
the far more mysterious and un-Jewish facts of the Messiah's Crucifixion and
not outward following, but only inward and spiritual life-quickening could be
of profit - even in the case of those who heard the very Words of Christ, which
were spirit and life. Thus it again appeared, and most fully, that, morally
speaking, it was absolutely impossible to come to Him, even if His Words were
heard, except under the gracious influence from above.56
54. Mark here also the special meaning of qewrhte.
55. ver. 62.
56. ver. 65; comp. vv. 37, 44.
And so this was the great crisis in the History of the Christ.
We have traced the gradual growth and development of the popular movement, till
the murder of the Baptist stirred popular feeling to its inmost depth. With his
death it seemed as if the Messianic hope, awakened by his preaching and
testimony to Christ, were fading from view. It was a terrible disappointment,
not easily borne. Now must it be decided, whether Jesus was really the Messiah.
His Works, notwithstanding what the Pharisees said, seemed to prove it. Then
let it appear; let it come, stroke upon stroke - each louder and more effective
than the other - till the land rang with the shout of victory and the world
itself re-echoed it. And so it seemed. That miraculous feeding - that
wilderness-cry of Hosanna to the Galilean King-Messiah from thousands of
Galilean voices - what were they but its beginning? All the greater was the
disappointment: first, in the repression of the movement - so to speak, the
retreat of the Messiah, His voluntary abdication, rather, His defeat; then,
next day, the incongruousness of a King, Whose few unlearned followers, in
their ignorance and un-Jewish neglect of most sacred ordinances, outraged every
Jewish feeling, and whose conduct was even vindicated by their Master in a
general attack on all traditionalism, that basis of Judaism - as it might be
represented, to the contempt of religion and even of common truthfulness in the
denunciation of solemn vows! This was not the Messiah Whom the many - nay, Whom
almost any - would own.57
57. St. Matt. xv. 12.
Here, then, we are at the parting of the two ways; and, just
because it was the hour of decision, did Christ so clearly set forth the
highest truths concerning Himself, in opposition to the views which the
multitude entertained about the Messiah. The result was yet another and a sorer
defection. 'Upon this many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with
Him.'58 Nay, the
searching trial reached even unto the hearts of the Twelve. Would they also go
away? It was an anticipation of Gethsemane - its first experience. But one
thing kept them true. It was the experience of the past. This was the basis of
their present faith and allegiance. They could not go back to their old
past; they must cleave to Him. So Peter spake it in name of them all: 'Lord, to
whom shall we go? Words of Eternal Life hast Thou!' Nay, and more than this, as
the result of what they had learned: 'And we have believed and know that Thou
art the Holy One of God.'5960
It is thus, also, that many of us, whose thoughts may have been sorely tossed,
and whose foundations terribly assailed, may have found our first resting-place
in the assured, unassailable spiritual experience of the past. Whither can we
go for Words of Eternal Life, if not to Christ? If He fails us, then all hope
of the Eternal is gone. But He has the Words of Eternal life - and we
believed when they first came to us; nay, we know that He is the Holy One of
God. And this conveys all that faith needs for further learning. The rest will
He show, when He is transfigured in our sight.
58. St. John vi. 66.
59. vv. 68, 69.
60. This is the reading of all the best MSS., and not as in the A.V. 'that Christ, the Son of the Living God.' For the history of the variations by which this change was brought about, see Westcott, ad loc.
But of these Twelve Christ knew one to be 'a devil' - like that
Angel, fallen from highest height to lowest depth.61 The apostasy of Judas had already
commenced in his heart. And, the greater the popular expectancy and
disappointment had been, the greater the reaction and the enmity that followed.
The hour of decision was past, and the hand on the dial pointed to the hour of
61. The right reading of ver. 71 is: 'Judas the son of Simon Iscariot,' that is, 'a man of Kerioth.' Kerioth was in JudŠa (Josh. xv. 25), and Judas, it will be remembered, the only JudŠan disciple of Jesus.