(Mat_13:54-58; Mat_10:1, 5-42; Mat_11:1; Mar_6:1-13; Luk_9:1-6)
It almost seems, as if the departure of Jesus from Capernaum marked a crisis in the history of that town. From henceforth it ceases to be the centre of His activity, and is only occasionally, and in passing, visited. Indeed, the concentration and growing power of Pharisaic opposition, and the proximity of Herod’s residence at Tiberias would have rendered a permanent stay there impossible at this stage in our Lord’s history. Henceforth, His Life is, indeed, not purely missionary, but He has no certain dwelling-place: in the sublime pathos of His own language, ‘He hath not where to lay His Head.’
The notice in Mark’s Gospel, that His disciples followed Him, seems to connect the arrival of Jesus in ‘His own country’ (at Nazareth) with the departure from the house of Jairus, into which He had allowed only three of His Apostles to accompany Him. The circumstances of the present visit, as well as the tone of His countrymen at this time, are entirely different from what is recorded of His former sojourn at Nazareth. The tenacious narrowness, and the prejudices, so characteristic of such a town, with its cliques and petty family-pride, all the more self-asserting that the gradation would be almost imperceptible to an outsider, are, of course, the same as on the former visit of Jesus. Nazareth would have ceased to be Nazareth, had its people felt or spoken otherwise than nine or ten months before. That His fame had so grown in the interval, would only stimulate the conceit of the village-town to try, as it were, to construct the great Prophet out of its own building materials, with this additional gratification that He was thoroughly their own, and that they possessed even better materials in their Nazareth. All this is so quite according to life, that the substantial repetition of the former scene in the Synagogue, so far from surprising us, seems only natural. What surprises us is, what He marvelled at: the unbelief of Nazareth, which lay at the foundation of its estimate and treatment of Jesus.
Upon their own showing their unbelief was most unwarrantable. If ever men had the means of testing the claims of Jesus, the Nazarenes possessed them. True, they were ignorant of the miraculous event of His Incarnation; and we can now perceive at least one of the reasons for the mystery, which was allowed to enwrap it, as well as the higher purpose in Divine Providence of His being born, not in Nazareth, but in Bethlehem of Judaea, and of the interval of time between that Birth and the return of His parents from Egypt to Nazareth. Apart from prophecy, it was needful for Nazareth that Christ should have been born in Bethlehem, otherwise the ‘mystery of His Incarnation’ must have become known. And yet it could not have been made known, alike for the sake of those most nearly concerned, and for that of those who, at that period of His History, could not have understood it; to whom, indeed, it would have been an absolute hindrance to belief in Him. And He could not have returned to Bethlehem, where He was born, to be brought up there, without calling attention to the miracle of His Birth. If, therefore, for reasons easily comprehended, the mystery of His Incarnation was not to be divulged, it was needful that the Incarnate of Nazareth should be born at Bethlehem, and the Infant of Bethlehem be brought up at Nazareth.
By thus withdrawing Him successively from one and the other place, there was really none on earth who knew of His miraculous Birth, except the Virgin-Mother, Joseph, Elizabeth, and probably Zacharias. The vision and guidance vouchsafed to the shepherds on that December night did not really disclose the mystery of His Incarnation. Remembering their religious notions, it would not leave on them quite the same impression as on us. It might mean much, or it might mean little, in the present: time would tell. In those lands the sand buries quickly and buries deep-preserving, indeed, but also hiding what it covers. And the sands of thirty years had buried the tale which the shepherds had brought; the wise men from the East had returned another way; the excitement which their arrival in Jerusalem and its object had caused, was long forgotten. Messianic expectations and movements were of constant recurrence: the religious atmosphere seemed charged with such elements; and the political changes and events of the day were too engrossing to allow of much attention to an isolated report, which, after all, might, mean little, and which certainly was of the long past. To keep up attention, there must be communication; and that was precisely what was wanting in this instance. The reign of Herod was tarnished by many suspicions and murders such as those of Bethlehem. Then intervened the death of Herod, – while the carrying of Jesus into Egypt and His non-return to Bethlehem formed a complete break in the continuity of His History. Between obscure, Bethlehem in the far south, and obscure Nazareth in the far north, there was no communication such as between towns in our own land, and they who had sought the Child’s life, as well as they who might have worshipped Him, must have been dead. The aged parents of the Baptist cannot have survived the thirty years which lay between the Birth of Christ and the commencement of His Ministry. We have already seen reason for supposing that Joseph had died before. None, therefore, knew all except the Virgin-Mother; and she would bide it the deeper in her heart, the more years passed, and she increasingly felt, as they passed, that, both in His early obscurity and in His later manifestation, she could not penetrate into the real meaning of that mystery, with which she was so closely connected. She could not understand it; how dated she speak of it? She could not understand; nay, we can almost perceive, how she might even misunderstand – not the fact, but the meaning and the purport of what had passed.
But in Nazareth they knew nothing of all this; and of Him only as that Infant Whom His parents, Joseph the carpenter and Mary, had brought with them months after they had first left Nazareth. Jewish law and custom made it possible, that they might have been married long before. And now they only know of this humble family, that they lived in retirement, and that sons and daughters had grown around their humble board. Of Jesus, indeed, they must have heard that He was not like others around – so quite different in all ways, as He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. Then came that strange tarrying behind on His first visit to Jerusalem, when His parents had to return to seek, and at last found Him in the Temple. This, also, was only strange, though perhaps not strange in a child such as Jesus; and of His own explanation of it, so full of deepest meaning, they might not have heard. If we may draw probable, though not certain, inferences, after that only these three outward circumstances in the history of the family might have been generally noticed: that Jesus followed the occupation of His adoptive father; that Joseph had died; and that the mother and ‘brethren’ of Jesus had left Nazareth, while His ‘sisters’ apparently continued there, being probably married to Nazarenes.
When Jesus had first left Nazareth to seek Baptism at the hands of John, it could scarcely have attracted much attention. Not only did ‘the whole world’ go after the Baptist, but, considering what was known of Jesus, His absence from, not His presence at the banks of Jordan, would have surprised the Nazarenes. Then came vague reports of His early doings, and, what probably His countrymen would much more appreciate, the accounts which the Galileans brought back from the Feast of what Jesus had done at Jerusalem. His fame had preceded Him on that memorable Sabbath, when all Nazareth had thronged the Synagogue, curious to hear what the Child of Nazareth would have to say, and still more eager to see what He could do. Of the charm of His words there could be no question. Both what He said and how He said it, was quite other than what they had ever listened to. The difference was not in degree, but in kind: He spoke to them of the Kingdom; yet not as for Israel’s glory, but for unspeakable comfort in the soul’s deepest need. It was truly wonderful, and that not abstractly, but as on the part of ‘Joseph’s Son.’ That was all they perceived. Of that which they had most come to see there was, and could be, no manifestation, so long as they measured the Prophet by His outward antecedents, forgetful that it was inward kinship of faith, which connected Him that brought the blessing with those who received it.
But this seeming assumption of superiority on the part of Joseph’s Son was quite too much for the better classes of Nazareth. It was intolerable, that He should not only claim equality with an Elijah or an Elisha, but place them, the burghers of Nazareth, as it were, outside the pale of Israel, below a heathen man or woman. And so, if He had not, without the show of it, proved the authority and power He possessed, they would have cast Him headlong over the ledge of the hill of their insulted town. And now He had come back to them, after nine or ten months, in totally different circumstances. No one could any longer question His claims, whether for good or for evil. As on the Sabbath He stood up once more in that Synagogue to teach, they were astonished. The rumour must have spread that, notwithstanding all, His own kin – probably His ‘sisters,’ whom He might have been supposed by many to have come to visit – did not own and honour Him as a Prophet. Or else, had they of His own house purposely spread it, so as not to be involved in His Fate? But the astonishment with which they heard Him on that Sabbath was that of unbelief. The cause was so apparently inadequate to the effect! They knew His supposed parentage and His brothers; His sisters were still with them; and for these many years had they known Him as the carpenter, the son of the carpenter. Whence, then, had ‘this One,’ ‘these things,’ ‘and what the wisdom which’ was ‘given to this One’ – and these mighty works done by His Hands?’ It was, indeed, more than a difficulty – an impossibility – to account for it on their principles. There could be no delusion, no collusion, no deception. In our modern cant-phraseology, theirs might have been designated Agnosticism and philosophic doubt. But philosophic it certainly was not, any more than much that now passes, because it bears that name; at least, if, according to modern negative criticism, the inexplicable is also the unthinkable. Nor was it really doubt or Agnosticism, any more than much that now covers itself with that garb. It was, what Christ designated it – unbelief, since the questions would have been easily answered – indeed, never have arisen – had they believed that He was the Christ. And the same alternative still holds true. If ‘this One’ is what negative criticism declares Him, which is all that it can know of Him by the outside: the Son of Mary, the Carpenter and Son of the carpenter of Nazareth, Whose family occupied the humblest position among Galileans – then whence this wisdom which, say of it what you will, underlies all modern thinking, and these mighty works, which have moulded all modern history? Whence – if He be only what you can see by the outside, and yet His be such wisdom, and such mighty deeds have been wrought by His Hands? Is He only what you say and see, seeing that such results are noways explicable on such principles; or is He not much more than this – even the Christ of God?
‘And He marvelled because of their unbelief.’ In view of their own reasoning it was most unreasonable. And equally unreasonable is modern unbelief. For, the more strongly negative criticism asserts its position as to the Person of Jesus, the more unaccountable are His Teaching and the results of His Work.
In such circumstances as at Nazareth, nothing could be done by a Christ, in contradistinction to a miracle-monger. It would have been impossible to have finally given up His own town of Nazareth without one further appeal and one further opportunity of repentance. As He had begun, so He closed this part of His Galilean Ministry, by preaching in His own Synagogue of Nazareth. Save in the case of a few who were receptive, on whom He laid His Hands for healing, His visit passed away without such ‘mighty works’ as the Nazarenes had heard of. He will not return again to Nazareth. Henceforth He will make commencement of sending forth His disciples, partly to disarm prejudices of a personal character, partly to spread the Gospel-tidings farther and wider than he alone could have carried them. For His Heart compassionated the many who were ignorant and out of the way. And the harvest was near, and the harvesting was great, and it was His Harvest, into which He would send forth labourers.
For, although, in all likelihood, the words, from which quotation has just been made, were spoken at a later time, they are so entirely in the spirit of the present Mission of the Twelve, that they, or words to a similar effect, may also have been uttered on the present occasion. Of such seeming repetitions, when the circumstances were analogous, although sometimes with different application of the same many-sided words, there are not a few instances, of which one will presently come under notice. Truly those to whom the Twelve were sent forth were ‘troubled’ as well as ‘scattered,’ like sheep that have not a Shepherd, and it was to deliver them from the ‘distress’ caused by ‘grievous wolves,’ and to gather into His fold those that had been scattered abroad, that Jesus sent forth the Twelve with the special commission to which attention will now be directed. Viewing it in its fullest form, it is to be noted: –
First: That this Discourse of Christ consists of five parts: Mat_10:5-15; Mat_10:16-23; Mat_10:24-33; Mat_10:34-39; Mat_10:40 to the end.
Secondly: That many passages in it occur in different connections in the other two Synoptic Gospels, specially in Mark 13 and in Lk 12 and Lk 21. From this it may be inferred, either that Jesus spake the same or similar words on more than one occasion (when the circumstances were analogous), or else that Matthew grouped together into one Discourse, as being internally connected, sayings that may have been spoken on different occasions. Or else – and this seems to us the most likely – both these inferences may in part be correct. For,
Thirdly: It is evident, that the Discourse reported by Matthew goes far beyond that Mission of the Twelve, beyond even that of the Early Church, indeed, sketches the history of the Church’s Mission in a hostile world, up ‘to the end.’ At the same time it is equally evident, that the predictions, warnings, and promises applicable to a later period in the Church’s history, hold equally true in principle in reference to the first Mission of the Twelve; and, conversely, that what specially applied to it, also holds true in principle of the whole subsequent history of the Church in its relation to a hostile world. Thus, what was specially spoken at this time to the Twelve, has ever since, and rightly, been applied to the Church; while that in it which specially refers to the Church of the future, would in principle apply also to the Twelve.
Fourthly: This distinction of primary and secondary application in the different parts of the Discourse, and their union in the general principles underlying them, has to be kept in view, if we are to understand this Discourse of Christ. Hence, also, the present and the future seem in it so often to run into each other. The horizon is gradually enlarging throughout the Discourse, but there is no change in the standpoint originally occupied; and so the present merges into the future, and the future mingles with the present. And this, indeed, is also the characteristic of much of Old Testament prophecy, and which made the prophet ever a preacher of the present, even while he was a foreteller of the future.
Lastly: It is evidential of its authenticity, and deserves special notice, that this Discourse, while so un-Jewish in spirit, is more than any other, even more than that on the Mount, Jewish in its forms of thought and modes of expression.
With the help of these principles, it will be more easy to mark the general outline of this Discourse. Its first part applies entirely to this first Mission of the Twelve, although the closing words point forward to ‘the judgment.’ Accordingly it has its parallels, although in briefer form, in the other two Gospels.
1. The Twelve were to go forth two and two, furnished with authority – or, as Luke more fully expresses it, with ‘power and authority’ – alike over all demons and to heal all manner of diseases. It is of secondary importance, whether this was conveyed to them by word only, or with some sacramental sign, such as breathing on them or the laying on of hands. The special commission, for which they received such power, was to proclaim the near advent of the Kingdom, and, in manifestation as well as in evidence of it, to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. They were to speak good and to do good in the highest sense, and that in a manner which all would feel good: freely, even as they had received it. Again, they were not to make any special provision for their journey, beyond the absolute immediate present. They were but labourers, yet as such they had claim to support. Their Employer would provide, and the field in which they worked might well be expected to supply it.
In accordance with this, singleness of purpose and an entire self-denial, which should lead them not to make provision ‘for the flesh,’ but as labourers to be content with daily food, were the further injunctions laid on them. Before entering into a city, they were to make inquiry, literally to ‘search out,’ who in it was ‘worthy,’ and of them to ask hospitality; not seeking during their stay a change for the gratification of vanity or for self-indulgence. If the report on which they had made choice of a host proved true, then the ‘Peace with thee!’ with which they had entered their temporary home, would become a reality. Christ would make it such. As He had given them ‘power and authority,’ so He would ‘honour’ the draft on Him, in acknowledgment of hospitable reception, which the Apostles’ ‘Peace with thee!’ implied.
But even if the house should prove unworthy, the Lord would none the less own the words of His messengers and make them real; only, in such case the peace would return to them who had spoken it. Yet another case was possible. The house to which their inquiries had led them, or the city into which they had entered, might refuse to receive them, because they came as Christ’s ambassadors. Greater, indeed, would be their guilt than that of the cities of the plain, since these had not known the character of the heavenly guests to whom they refused reception; and more terrible would be their future punishment. So Christ would vindicate their authority as well as His own, and show the reality of their commission: on the one hand, by making their Word of Peace a reality to those who had proved ‘worthy;’ and, on the other, by punishment if their message was refused. Lastly, in their present Mission they were not to touch either Gentile or Samaritan territory. The direction – so different in spirit from what Jesus Himself had previously said and done, and from their own later commission – was, of course, only ‘for the present necessity.’ For the present they were neither prepared nor fitted to go beyond the circuit indicated. It would have been a fatal anticipation of their inner and outer history to have attempted this, and it would have defeated the object of our Lord of disarming prejudices when making a final appeal to the Jews of Galilee. Even these considerations lead us to expect a strictly Jewish cast in this Discourse to the Disciples. The command to abstain from any religious fellowship with Gentiles and Samaritans was in temporary accommodation to the prejudices of His disciples and of the Jews. And the distinction between ‘the way of the Gentiles’ and ‘any city of the Samaritans’ is the more significant, when we bear in mind that even the dust of a heathen road was regarded as defiling, while the houses, springs, roads, and certain food of the Samaritans were declared clean. At the same time, religiously and as regarded fellowship, the Samaritans were placed on the same footing with Gentiles. Nor would the injunction, to impart their message freely, sound strange in Jewish ears. It was, in fact, what the Rabbis themselves most earnestly enjoined in regard to the teaching of the Law and traditions, however different their practice may have been. Indeed, the very argument, that they were to impart freely, because they had received freely, is employed by the Rabbis, and derived from the language and example of Moses in Deu_4:5. Again, the directions about not taking staff, shoes, nor money-purse, exactly correspond to the Rabbinic injunction not to enter the Temple-precincts with staff, shoes (mark, not sandals), and a money-girdle. The symbolic reasons underlying this command would, in both cases, be probably the same: to avoid even the appearance of being engaged on other business, when the whole being should be absorbed in the service of the Lord. At any rate, it would convey to the disciples the idea, that they were to consider themselves as if entering the Temple-precincts, thus carrying out the principle of Christ’s first thought in the Temple: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’ Nor could they be in doubt what severity of final punishment a doom heavier than that of Sodom and Gomorrah would imply, since, according to early tradition, their inhabitants were to have no part in the world to come. And most impressive to a Jewish mind would be the symbolic injunction, to shake off the dust of their feet for a testimony against such a house or city. The expression, no doubt, indicated that the ban of the Lord was resting on it, and the symbolic act would, as it were, be the solemn pronouncing that ‘nought of the cursed thing’ clave to them. In this sense, anything that clave to a person was metaphorically called ‘the dust,’ as for example, ‘the dust of an evil tongue,’ the dust of usury,’ as, on the other hand, to ‘dust to idolatry’ meant to cleave to it. Even the injunction not to change the dwelling, where one had been received, was in accordance with Jewish views, the example of Abraham being quoted, who ‘returned to the place where his tent had been at the beginning.
These remarks show how closely the Lord followed, in this first part of His charge to the disciples, Jewish forms of thinking and modes of expression. It is not otherwise in the second, although the difference is here very marked. We have no longer merely the original commission, as it is given in almost the same terms by Mark and Luke. But the horizon is now enlarged, and Matthew reports that which the other Evangelists record at a later stage of the Lord’s Ministry. Whether or not when the Lord charged His disciples on their first mission, He was led gradually to enlarge the scope of His teaching so as to adapt it to all times, need not be discussed. For Matthew himself could not have intended to confine the words of Christ to this first journey of the Apostles, since they contain references to division in families, persecutions, and conflict with the civil power, such as belong to a much later period in the history of the Church; and, besides, contain also that prediction which could not have applied to this first Mission of the Apostles, ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.’
Without here anticipating the full inquiry into the promise of His immediate Coming, it is important to avoid, even at this stage, any possible misunderstanding on the point. The expectation of the Coming of ‘the Son of Man’ was grounded on a prophecy of Daniel, in which that Advent, or rather manifestation, was associated with judgment. The same is the case in this Charge of our Lord. The disciples in their work are described ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves, a phrase which the Midrash applies to the position of Israel amidst a hostile world, adding: How great is that Shepherd, Who delivers them, and vanquishes the wolves! Similarly, the admonition to ‘be wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ is reproduced in the Midrash, where Israel is described as harmless as the dove towards God, and wise as serpents towards the hostile Gentile nations. Such and even greater would be the enmity which the disciples, as the true Israel, would have to encounter from Israel after the flesh. They would be handed over to the various Sanhedrin, and visited with such punishments as these tribunals had power to inflict. More than this, they would be brought before governors and kings – primarily, the Roman governors and the Herodian princes. And so determined would be this persecution, as to break the ties of the closest kinship, and to bring on them the hatred of all men. The only, but the all-sufficient, support in those terrible circumstances was the assurance of such help from above, that, although unlearned and humble, they need have no care, nor make preparation in their defence, which would be given them from above. And with this they had the promise, that he who endured to the end would be saved, and the prudential direction, so far as possible, to avoid persecution by timely withdrawal, which could be the more readily achieved, since they would not have completed their circuit of the cities of Israel before the ‘Son of Man be come.’
It is of the greatest importance to keep in view that, at whatever period of Christ’s Ministry this prediction and promise were spoken, and whether only once or oftener, they refer exclusively to a Jewish state of things. The persecutions are exclusively Jewish. This appears from Mat_10:18, where the answer of the disciples is promised to be ‘for a testimony against them,’ who had delivered them up, that is, here evidently the Jews, as also against ‘the Gentiles.’ And the Evangelistic circuit of the disciples in their preaching was to be primarily Jewish; and not only so, but in the time when there were still ‘Cities Of Israel,’ that is, previous to the final destruction of the Jewish commonwealth. The reference, then, is to that period of Jewish persecution and of Apostolic preaching in the cities of Israel, which is bounded by the destruction of Jerusalem. Accordingly, the ‘coming of the Son of Man,’ and the ‘end’ here spoken of, must also have the same application. It was, as we have seen, according to Dan_7:13, a coming in judgment. To the Jewish persecuting authorities, who had rejected the Christ, in order, as they imagined, to save their City and Temple from the Romans, and to whom Christ had testified that He would come again, this judgment on their city and state, this destruction of their polity, was ‘the Coming of the Son of Man’ in judgment, and the only coming which the Jews, as a state, could expect, the only one meet for them, even as, to them who look for Him, He will appear a second time, without sin unto salvation.
That this is the only natural meaning attaching to this prediction, especially when compared with the parallel utterances recorded in Mar_13:9-13, appears to us indubitable. It is another question how, or how far, those to whom these words were in the first place addressed would understand their full bearing, at least at that time. Even supposing, that the disciples who first heard did not distinguish between the Coming to Israel in judgment, and that to the world in mingled judgment and mercy, as it was afterwards conveyed to them in the Parable of the Forthshooting of the Fig-tree, yet the early Christians must soon have become aware of it. For, the distinction is sharply marked. As regards its manner, the ‘second’ Coming of Christ may be said to correspond to the state of those to whom He cometh. To the Jews His first Coming was visible, and as claiming to be their King. They had asked for a sign; and no sign was given them at the time. They rejected Him, and placed the Jewish polity and nation in rebellion against ‘the King.’ To the Jews, who so rejected the first visible appearance of Christ as their King, the second appearance would be invisible but real; the sign which they had asked would be given them, but as a sign of judgment, and His Coming would be in judgment. Thus would His authority be vindicated, and He appear, not, indeed, visibly but really, as what He had claimed to be. That this was to be the manner and object of His Coming to Israel, was clearly set forth to the disciples in the Parable of the Unthankful Husbandmen. The coming of the Lord of the vineyard would be the destruction of the wicked husbandman. And to render misunderstanding impossible, the explanation is immediately added, that the Kingdom of God was to be taken from them, and given to those who would bring forth the fruits thereof. Assuredly, this could not, even in the view of the disciples, which may have been formed on the Jewish model, have applied to the Coming of Christ at the end of the present Aeon dispensation.
We bear in mind that this second, outwardly invisible but very real, Coming of the Son of Man to the Jews, as a state, could only be in judgment on their polity, in that ‘Sign’ which was once refused, but which, when it appeared, would only too clearly vindicate His claims and authority. Thus viewed, the passages, in which that second Coming is referred to will yield their natural meaning. Neither the mission of the disciples, nor their journeying through the cities of Israel, was finished, before the Son of Man came. Nay, there were those standing there who would not taste death, till they had seen in the destruction of the city and state the vindication of the Kingship of Jesus, which Israel had disowned. And even in those last Discourses in which the horizon gradually enlarges, and this Coming in judgment to Israel merges in the greater judgment on an unbelieving world, this earlier Coming to the Jewish nation is clearly marked. The three Evangelists equally record it, that ‘this generation’ should not pass away, till all things were fulfilled. To take the lowest view, it is scarcely conceivable that these sayings would have been allowed to stand in all the three Gospels, if the disciples and the early Church had understood the Coming of the Son of Man in any other sense than as to the Jews in the destruction of their polity. And it is most significant, that the final utterances of the Lord as to His Coming were elicited by questions arising from the predicted destruction of the Temple. This the early disciples associated with the final Coming of Christ. To explain more fully the distinction between them would have been impossible, in consistency with the Lord’s general purpose about the doctrine of His Coming. Yet the Parables which in the Gospels (especially in that by Matthew) follow on these predictions, and the teaching about the final Advent of ‘the Son of Man,’ point clearly to a difference and an interval between the one and the other.
The disciples must have the more readily applied this prediction of His Coming to Palestine, since ‘the woes’ connected with it so closely corresponded to those expected by the Jews before the Advent of Messiah. Even the direction to flee from persecution is repeated by the Rabbis in similar circumstances and established by the example of Jacob, of Moses, and of David.
In the next section of this Discourse of our Lord, as reported by Matthew, the horizon is enlarged. The statements are still primarily applicable to the early disciples, and their preaching among the Jews and in Palestine. But their ultimate bearing is already wider, and includes predictions and principles true to all time. In view of the treatment which their Master received, the disciples must expect misrepresentation and evil-speaking. Nor could it seem strange to them, since even the common Rabbinic proverb had it: ‘It is enough for a servant to be as his lord’ (דיו לעבד שיהא כרבו). As we hear it from the lips of Christ, we remember that this saying afterwards comforted those, who mourned the downfall of wealthy and liberal homes in Israel, by thoughts of the greater calamity which had overthrown Jerusalem and the Temple. And very significant is its application by Christ: ‘If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more them of His household.’ This charge, brought of course by the Pharisaic party of Jerusalem, had a double significance. We believe, that the expression ‘Master of the house’ looked back to the claims which Jesus had made on His first purification of the Temple. We almost seem to hear the coarse Rabbinic witticism in its play on the word Beelzebul. For, zeḇul, (זְבוּל) means in Rabbinic language, not any ordinary dwelling, but specifically the Temple, and beelzebul would be the Master of the Temple.’ On the other hand, zibul (זִבּוּל) means sacrificing to idols; and hence beelzebul would, in that sense, be equivalent to ‘lord’ or ‘chief of idolatrous sacrificing’ – the worst and chiefest of demons, who presided over, and incited to, idolatry. ‘The Lord of the Temple’ (which truly was His Church) was to them ‘the chief of idolatrous worship,’ the Representative of God that of the worst of demons: Beelzebul was Beelzibbul! What then might ‘His Household’ expect at their hands?
But they were not to fear such misrepresentations. In due time the Lord would make manifest both His and their true character. Nor were they to be deterred from announcing in the clearest and most public manner, in broad daylight, and from the flat roofs of houses, that which had been first told them in the darkness, as Jewish teachers communicated the deepest and highest doctrines in secret to their disciples, or as the preacher would whisper his discourse into the ear of the interpreter. The deepest truths concerning His Person, and the announcement of His Kingdom and Work, were to be fully revealed, and loudly proclaimed. But, from a much higher point of view, how different was the teaching of Christ from that of the Rabbis! The latter laid it down as a principle, which they tried to prove from Scripture, that, in order to save one’s life, it was not only lawful, but even duty – if necessary, to commit any kind of sin, except idolatry, incest, or murder. Nay, even idolatry was allowed, if only it were done in secret, so as not to profane the Name of the Lord – than which death was infinitely preferable. Christ, on the other hand, not only ignored this vicious Jewish distinction of public and private as regarded morality, but bade His followers set aside all regard for personal safety, even in reference to the duty of preaching the Gospel. There was a higher fear than of men: that of God – and it should drive out the fear of those who could only kill the body. Besides, why fear? God’s Providence extended even over the meanest of His creatures. Two sparrows cost only an assarion (איסר), about the third of a penny. Yet even one of them would not perish without the knowledge of God. No illustration was more familiar to the Jewish mind than that of His watchful care even over the sparrows. The beautiful allusion in Amo_3:5 was somewhat realistically carried out in a legend which occurs in more than one Rabbinic passage. We are told that, after that great miracle-worker of Jewish legend, R. Simeon ben Jochai, had been for thirteen years in hiding from his persecutors in a cave, where he was miraculously fed, he observed that, when the bird-catcher laid his snare, the bird escaped, or was caught, according as a voice from heaven proclaimed, ‘Mercy,’ or else, ‘Destruction.’ Arguing, that if even a sparrow could not be caught without heaven’s bidding, how much more safe was the life of, a ‘son of man’(נפש דבר נש), he came forth.
Nor could even the additional promise of Christ: ‘But of you even the hairs of the head are all numbered, surprise His disciples. But it would convey to them the gladsome assurance that, in doing His Work, they were performing the Will of God, and were specially in His keeping. And it would carry home to them – with the comfort of a very different application, while engaged in doing the Work and Will of God – what Rabbinism expressed in a realistic manner by the common sayings, that whither a man was to go, thither his feet would carry him; and, that a man could not injure his finger on earth, unless it had been so decreed of him in heaven. And in later Rabbinic writings we read, in almost the words of Christ: ‘Do I not number all the hairs of every creature?’ And yet an even higher outlook was opened to the disciples. All preaching was confessing, and all confessing a preaching of Christ; and our confession or denial would, almost by a law of nature, meet with similar confession or denial on the part of Christ before His Father in heaven. This, also, was an application of that fundamental principle, that ‘nothing is covered that shall not be revealed, which, indeed, extendeth to the inmost secrets of heart and life.
What follows in our Lord’s Discourse still further widens the horizon. It describes the condition and laws of His Kingdom, until the final revelation of that which is now covered and hidden. So long as His claims were set before a hostile world they could only provoke war. On the other hand, so long as such decision was necessary, in the choice of either those nearest and dearest, of ease, nay, of life itself, or else of Christ, there could be no compromise. Not that, as is sometimes erroneously supposed, a very great degree of love to the dearest on earth amounts to loving them more than Christ. No degree of proper affection can ever make affection wrongful, even as no diminution of it could make wrongful affection right. The love which Christ condemneth differs not in degree, but in kind, from rightful affection. It is one which takes the place of love to Christ – not which is placed by the side of that of Christ. For, rightly viewed, the two occupy different provinces. Wherever and whenever the two affections come into comparison, they also come into collision. And so the questions of not being worthy of Him (and who can be positively worthy?), and of the true finding or losing of our life, have their bearing on our daily life and profession.
But even in this respect the disciples must, to some extent, have been prepared to receive the teaching of Christ. It was generally expected, that a time of great tribulation would precede the Advent of the Messiah. Again, it was a Rabbinic axiom, that the cause of the Teacher, to whom a man owed eternal life, was to be taken in hand before that of his father, to whom he owed only the life of this world. Even the statement about taking up the cross in following Christ, although prophetic, could not sound quite strange. Crucifixion was, indeed, not a Jewish punishment, but the Jews must have become sadly familiar with it. The Targum speaks of it as one of the four modes of execution which Naomi described to Ruth as those in custom in Palestine, the other three being – stoning, burning, and beheading. Indeed, the expression ‘bearing the cross,’ as indicative of sorrow and suffering, is so common, that we read, Abraham carried the wood for the sacrifice of Isaac, ‘like one who bears his cross on his shoulder.’
Nor could the disciples be in doubt as to the meaning of the last part of Christ’s address. They were old Jewish forms of thought only filled with the new wine of the Gospel. The Rabbis taught, only in extravagant terms, the merit attaching to the reception and entertainment of sages. The very expression ‘in the name of’ a prophet, or a righteous man, is strictly Jewish (לשם), and means for the sake of, or with intention, in regard to. It appears to us, that Christ introduced His own distinctive teaching by the admitted Jewish principle, that hospitable reception for the sake of, or with the intention of doing it to, a prophet or a righteous man, would procure a share in the prophet’s or righteous man’s reward. Thus, tradition had it, that the Obadiah of King Ahab’s court had become the prophet of that name, because he had provided for the hundred prophets. And we are repeatedly assured, that to receive a sage, or even an elder, was like receiving the Shekhinah itself. But the concluding promise of Christ, concerning the reward of even ‘a cup of cold water’ to ‘one of these little ones’ ‘in the name of a disciple,’ goes far beyond the farthest conceptions of His contemporaries. Yet, even so, the expression would, so far as its form is concerned, perhaps bear a fuller meaning to them than to us. These ‘little ones’ (קטנים) were ‘the children,’ who were still learning the elements of knowledge, and who would by-and-by grow into ‘disciples.’ For, as the Midrash has it: ‘Where there are no little ones, there are no disciples; and where no disciples, no sages: where no sages, there no elders; where no elders, there no prophets; and where no prophets, there does God not cause His Shekhinah to rest.
We have been so particular in marking the Jewish parallelisms in this Discourse, first, because it seemed important to show, that the words of the Lord were not beyond the comprehension of the disciples. Starting from forms of thought and expressions with which they were familiar, He carried them far beyond Jewish ideas and hopes. But, secondly, it is just in this similarity of form, which proves that it was of the time and to the time, as well as to us and to all times, that we best see, how far the teaching of Christ transcended all contemporary conception.
But the reality, the genuineness, the depth and fervour of self-surrender, which Christ expects, is met by equal fulness of acknowledgment on His part, alike in heaven and on earth. In fact, there is absolute identification with His ambassadors on the part of Christ. As He is the Ambassador of the Father, so are they His, and as such also the ambassadors of the Father. To receive them was, therefore, not only to receive Christ, but the Father, Who would own the humblest, even the meanest service of love to One of the learners, ‘the little ones.’ All the more painful is the contrast of Jewish pride and self-righteousness, which attributes supreme merit to ministering, not as to God, but as to man; not for God’s sake, but for that of the man; a pride which could give utterance to such a saving, ‘All the prophets have announced salvation only to the like of those who give their daughters in marriage to sages, or cause them to make gain, or give of their goods to them. But what the bliss of the sages themselves is, no mortal eye has seen.’
It was not with such sayings that Christ sent forth His disciples; nor in such spirit, that the world has been subdued to Him. The relinquishing of all that is nearest and dearest, cross-bearing, loss of life itself – such were the terms of His discipleship. Yet acknowledgment there would surely be, first, in the felt and assured sense of His Presence; then, in the reward of a prophet, a righteous man, or, it might be, a disciple. But all was to be in Him, and for Him, even the gift of ‘a cup of cold water’ to ‘a little one.’ Nay, neither the ‘little ones,’ the learners, nor the cup of cold water given them, would be overlooked or forgotten.
But over all did the ‘Meek and Lowly One’ cast the loftiness of His Humility.