THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN
TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
. THE TWOFOLD TESTIMONY OF JOHN
. THE FIRST SABBATH OF JESUS' MINISTRY
. THE FIRST SUNDAY
. THE FIRST DISCIPLES.
(St. John 1:15-51)
THE forty days, which had passed since Jesus had first come to him, must have been to the Baptist a time of soul-quickening, of unfolding understanding, and of ripened decision. We see it in his more emphasised testimony to the Christ; in his fuller comprehension of those prophecies which had formed the warrant and substance of his Mission; but specially in the yet more entire self-abnegation, which led him to take up a still lowlier position, and acquiescingly to realise that his task of heralding was ending, and that what remained was to point those nearest to him, and who had most deeply drunk of his spirit, to Him Who had come. And how could it be otherwise? On first meeting Jesus by the banks of Jordan, he had felt the seeming incongruity of baptizing One of Whom he had rather need to be baptized. Yet this, perhaps, because he had beheld himself by the Brightness of Christ, rather than looked at the Christ Himself. What he needed was not to be baptized, but to learn that it became the Christ to fulfil all righteousness. This was the first lesson. The next, and completing one, came when, after the Baptism, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and the Divine Voice of Testimony pointed to, and explained the promised sign.1 It told him, that the work, which he had begun in the obedience of faith, had reached the reality of fulfillment. The first was a lesson about the Kingdom; the second about the King. And then Jesus was parted from him, and led of the Spirit into the wilderness.
1. St. John 1:33.
Forty days since then - with these events, this vision, those words ever present to his mind! It had been the mightiest impulse; nay, it must have been a direct call from above, which first brought John from his life-preparation of lonely communing with God to the task of preparing Israel for that which he knew was preparing for them. He had entered upon it, not only without illusions, but with such entire self-forgetfulness, as only deepest conviction of the reality of what he announced could have wrought. He knew those to whom he was to speak - the preoccupation, the spiritual dulness, the sins of the great mass; the hypocrisy, the unreality, the inward impenitence of their spiritual leaders; the perverseness of their direction; the hollowness and delusiveness of their confidence as being descended from Abraham. He saw only too clearly their real character, and knew the near end of it all: how the axe was laid to the barren tree, and how terribly the fan would sift the chaff from the wheat. And yet he preached and baptized; for, deepest in his heart was the conviction, that there was a Kingdom at hand, and a King coming. As we gather the elements of that conviction, we find them chiefly in the Book of Isaiah. His speech and its imagery, and, especially, the burden of his message, were taken from those prophecies.2 Indeed, his mind seems saturated with them; they must have formed his own religious training; and they were the preparation for his work. This gathering up of the Old Testament rays of light and glory into the burning-glass of Evangelic prophecy had set his soul on fire. No wonder that, recoiling equally from the externalism of the Pharisees, and the merely material purism of the Essenes, he preached quite another doctrine, of inward repentance and renewal of life.
2. This is insisted upon by Keim, in his beautiful sketch of the Baptist. Would that he had known the Master in the glory of His Divinity, as he understood the Forerunner in the beauty of his humanity! To show how the whole teaching of the Baptist was, so to speak, saturated with Isaiah-language and thoughts, comp. not only Is. 40:3, as the burden of his mission, but as to his imagery (after Keim): Generation of vipers, Is. 59:5; planting of the Lord, Is. 5:7; trees, 6:13; 10:15, 18, 33; 40:24; fire, 1:31; 9:18; 10:17; 5:24; 47:14; floor and fan, 21:10; 27:27 &c.; 30:24; 40:24; 41:15 &c.; bread and coat to the poor, 58:7; the garner, 21:10. Besides these, the Isaiah reference in his Baptism (Is. 52:15; 1:16), and that to the Lamb of God - indeed many others of a more indirect character, will readily occur to the reader. Similarly, when our Lord would afterwards instruct him in his hour of darkness (St. Matt. 11:2), He points for the solution of his doubts to the well-remembered prophecies of Isaiah (Is. 35:5, 6; 61:1; 8:14, 15).
One picture was most brightly reflected on those pages of Isaiah. It was that of the Anointed, Messiah, Christ, the Representative Israelite, the Priest, King, and Prophet,3 in Whom the institution and sacramental meaning of the Priesthood, and of Sacrifices, found their fulfillment.4 In his announcement of the Kingdom, in his call to inward repentance, even in his symbolic Baptism, that Great Personality always stood out before the mind of John, as the One all-overtopping and overshadowing Figure in the background. It was the Isaiah-picture of 'the King in His beauty,' the vision of 'the land of far distances'5 6 - to him a reality, of which Sadducee and Essene had no conception, and the Pharisee only the grossest misconception. This also explains how the greatest of those born of women was also the most humble, the most retiring, and self-forgetful. In a picture such as that which filled his whole vision, there was no room for self. By the side of such a Figure all else appeared in its real littleness, and, indeed, seemed at best but as shadows cast by its light. All the more would the bare suggestion on the part of the Jerusalem deputation, that he might be the Christ, seem like a blasphemy, from which, in utter self-abasement, he would seek shelter in the scarce-ventured claim to the meanest office which a slave could discharge. He was not Elijah. Even the fact that Jesus afterwards, in significant language, pointed to the possibility of his becoming such to Israel (St. Matt. 11:14), proves that he claimed it not;7 not 'that prophet;' not even a prophet. He professed not visions, revelations, special messages. All else was absorbed in the great fact: he was only the voice of one that cried, 'Prepare ye the way!' Viewed especially in the light of those self-glorious times, this reads not like a fictitious account of a fictitious mission; nor was such the profession of an impostor, an associate in a plot, or an enthusiast. There was deep reality of all-engrossing conviction which underlay such self-denial of mission.
3. Is. 9:6 &c.; 11; 42; 52:13 &c. [iii.]; 61. 4. Is. 53. 5. Is. 33:17.
6. I cannot agree with Mr. Cheyne (Prophecies of Is. vol. i. p. 183), that there is no Messianic reference here. It may not be in the most literal sense 'personally Messianic;' but surely this ideal presentation of Israel in the perfectness of its kingdom, and the glory of its happiness, is one of the fullest Messianic picture (comp. vv. 17 to end).
7. This is well pointed out by Keim.
And all this must have ripened during the forty days of probably comparative solitude,8 only relieved by the presence of such 'disciples' as, learning the same hope, would gather around him. What he had seen and what he had heard threw him back upon what he had expected and believed. It not only fulfilled, it transfigured it. Not that, probably, he always maintained the same height which he then attained. It was not in the nature of things that it should be so. We often attain, at the outset of our climbing, a glimpse, afterwards hid from us in our laborious upward toil till the supreme height is reached. Mentally and spiritually we may attain almost at a bound results, too often lost to us till again secured by long reflection, or in the course of painful development. This in some measure explains the fulness of John's testimony to the Christ as 'the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world,' when at the beginning we find ourselves almost at the goal of New Testament teaching. It also explains that last strife of doubt and fear, when the weary wrestler laid himself down to find refreshment and strength in the shadow of those prophecies, which had first called him to the contest. But during those forty days, and in the first meetings with Jesus which followed, all lay bathed in the morning-light of that heavenly vision, and that Divine truth wakened in him the echoes of all those prophecies, which these thirty years had been the music of his soul.
8. We have in a previous chapter suggested that the baptism of Jesus had taken place at Bethabara, that is, the furthest northern point of his activity, and probably at the close of his baptismal ministry. It is not possible in this place to detail the reasons for this view. But the learned reader will find remarks on it in Keim, i. 2, p. 524.
And now, on the last of those forty days, simultaneously with the final great Temptation of Jesus9 which must have summed up all that had preceded it in the previous days, came the hour of John's temptation by the deputation from Jerusalem.10 Very gently it came to him, like the tempered wind that fans the fire into flame, not like that keen, desolating storm-blast which swept over the Master. To John, as now to us, it was only the fellowship of His sufferings, which he bore in the shelter of that great Rock over which its intenseness had spent itself. Yet a very real temptation it was, this provoking to the assumption of successively lower grades of self-assertion, where only entire self-abnegation was the rightful feeling. Each suggestion of lower office (like the temptations of Christ) marked an increased measure of temptation, as the human in his mission was more and more closely neared. And greatest temptation it was when, after the first victory, came the not unnatural challenge of his authority for what he said and did. This was, of all others, the question which must at all times, from the beginning of his mission to the hour of his death, have pressed most closely upon him, since it touched not only his conscience, but the very ground of his mission, nay, of his life. That it was such temptation is evidenced by the fact that, in the hour of his greatest loneliness and depression it formed his final contest, in which he temporarily paused, like Jacob in his Israel-struggle, though, like him, he failed not in it. For what was the meaning of that question which the disciples of John brought to Jesus: 'Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?' other than doubt of his own warrant and authority for what he had said and done? But in that first time of his trial at Bethabara he overcame, the first temptation by the humility of his intense sincerity, the second by the absolute simplicity of his own experimental conviction; the first by what he had seen, the second by what he had heard concerning the Christ at the banks of Jordan. And so, also, although perhaps 'afar off,' it must ever be to us in like temptation.
9. This, of course, on the supposition that the Baptism of Jesus took place at Bethabara, and hence that the 'wilderness' into which He was driven, was close by. It is difficult to see why, on any other supposition, Jesus returned to Bethabara, since evidently it was not for the sake of any personal intercourse with John.
10. This is most beautifully suggested by Canon Westcott in his Commentary on the passage.
Yet, as we view it, and without needlessly imputing malice prepense to the Pharisaic deputation, their questions seemed but natural. After his previous emphatic disclaimer at the beginning of his preaching (St. Luke 3:15), of which they in Jerusalem could scarcely have been ignorant, the suggestion of his Messiahship - not indeed expressly made, but sufficiently implied to elicit what the language of St. John11 shows to have been the most energetic denial - could scarcely have been more than tentative. It was otherwise with their question whether he was 'Elijah?' Yet, bearing in mind what we know of the Jewish expectations of Elijah, and how his appearance was always readily recognised,12 this also could scarcely have been meant in its full literality - but rather as ground for the further question after the goal and warrant of his mission. Hence also John's disavowing of such claims is not satisfactorily accounted for by the common explanation, that he denied being Elijah in the sense of not being what the Jews expected of the Forerunner of the Messiah: the real, identical Elijah of the days of Ahab; or else, that he denied being such in the sense of the peculiar Jewish hopes attaching to his reappearance in the 'last days.' There is much deeper truth in the disclaimer of the Baptist. It was, indeed, true that, as foretold in the Angelic announcement,13 he was sent 'in the spirit and power of Elias,' that is, with the same object and the same qualifications. Similarly, it is true what, in His mournful retrospect of the result of John's mission, and in the prospect of His own end, the Saviour said of him, 'Elias is indeed come,' but 'they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.'14 But on this very recognition and reception of him by the Jews depended his being to them Elijah - who should 'turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,' and so 'restore all things.' Between the Elijah of Ahab's reign, and him of Messianic times, lay the wide cleft of quite another dispensation. The 'spirit and power of Elijah' could 'restore all things,' because it was the dispensation of the Old Testament, in which the result was outward, and by outward means. But 'the spirit and power' of the Elijah of the New Testament, which was to accomplish the inward restoration through penitent reception of the Kingdom of God in its reality, could only accomplish that object if 'they received it' - if 'they knew him.' And as in his own view, and looking around and forward, so also in very fact the Baptist, though Divinely such, was not really Elijah to Israel - and this is the meaning of the words of Jesus: 'And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.'15
11. 'He confessed, and denied not' (St. John 1:20). Canon Westcott points out, that 'the combination of a positive and negative' is intended to 'express the fulness of truth,' and that 'the first term marks the readiness of his testimony, the second its completeness.'
12. See Appendix VIII: 'Rabbinic Traditions about Elijah, the Forerunner of the Messiah.'
13. St. Luke 1:17. 14. St. Mark 9:13; St. Matt. 17:12. 15. St. Matt. 11:14.
More natural still - indeed, almost quite truthful, seems the third question of the Pharisees, whether the Baptist was 'that prophet.' The reference here is undoubtedly to Deut. 18:15, 18. Not that the reappearance of Moses as lawgiver was expected. But as the prediction of the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, especially when taken in connection with the promise16 of a 'new covenant' with a 'new law' written in the hearts of the people, implied a change in this respect, it was but natural that it should have been expected in Messianic days by the instrumentality of 'that prophet.'17 Even the various opinions broached in the Mishnah,18 as to what were to be the reformatory and legislative functions of Elijah, prove that such expectations were connected with the Forerunner of the Messiah.
16. Jer. 31:31 &c.
17. Can the reference in St. Stephen's speech (Acts 7:37) apply to this expected alteration of the Law? At any rate St. Stephen is on his defence for teaching the abolition by Jesus of the Old Testament economy. It is remarkable that he does not deny the charge, and that his contention is, that the Jews wickedly resisted the authority of Jesus (vv. 51-53).
18. Eduy. viii. 7.
But whatever views the Jewish embassy might have entertained concerning the abrogation, renewal, or renovation of the Law19 in Messianic times, the Baptist repelled the suggestion of his being 'that prophet' with the same energy as those of his being either the Christ or Elijah. And just as we notice, as the result of those forty days' communing, yet deeper humility and self-abnegation on the part of the Baptist, so we also mark increased intensity and directness in the testimony which he now bears to the Christ before the Jerusalem deputies.20 'His eye is fixed on the Coming One.''He is as a voice not to be inquired about, but heard;' and its clear and unmistakable, but deeply reverent utterance is: 'The Coming One has come.'21
19. For the Jewish views on the Law in Messianic times, see Appendix XIV.: 'The Law in Messianic Days.'
20. St. John 1:22-28.
21. The words within quotations are those of Archdeacon Watkins, in his Commentary on St. John.
The reward of his overcoming temptation - yet with it also the fitting for still fiercer conflict (which two, indeed, are always conjoined), was at hand. After His victorious contest with the Devil, Angels had come to minister to Jesus in body and soul. But better than Angels' vision came to refresh and strengthen His faithful witness John. On the very day of the Baptist's temptation Jesus had left the wilderness. On the morrow after it, 'John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world!' We cannot doubt, that the thought here present to the mind of John was the description of 'The Servant of Jehovah,'22 as set forth in Is. liii. If all along the Baptist had been filled with Isaiah-thoughts of the Kingdom, surely in the forty days after he had seen the King, a new 'morning' must have risen upon them,23 and the halo of His glory shone around the well-remembered prophecy. It must always have been Messianically understood;24 it formed the groundwork of Messianic thought to the New Testament writers25 - nor did the Synagogue read it otherwise, till the necessities of controversy diverted its application, not indeed from the times, but from the Person of the Messiah.26 But we can understand how, during those forty days, this greatest height of Isaiah's conception of the Messiah was the one outstanding fact before his view. And what he believed, that he spake, when again, and unexpectedly, he saw Jesus.
22. Is. 52:13. 23. Is. 8:20. 24. Is. 52:13 - 53.
25. Comp. St. Matt. 8:17; St. Luke 22:37; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 2:22.
26. Manifestly, whatever interpretation is made of Is. 52:13 - 53, it applies to Messianic times, even if the sufferer were, as the Synagogue now contends, Israel. On the whole subject comp. the most learned and exhaustive discussions by Dr. Pusey in his introduction to the catena of Jewish Interpretations of Is. 53.
Yet, while regarding his words as an appeal to the prophecy of Isaiah, two other references must not be excluded from them: those to the Paschal Lamb, and to the Daily Sacrifice. These are, if not directly pointed to, yet implied. For the Paschal Lamb was, in a sense, the basis of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, not only from its saving import to Israel, but as that which really made them 'the Church,'27 and people of God. Hence the institution of the Paschal Lamb was, so to speak, only enlarged and applied in the daily sacrifice of a Lamb, in which this twofold idea of redemption and fellowship was exhibited. Lastly, the prophecy of Isaiah liii. was but the complete realisation of these two ideas in the Messiah. Neither could the Paschal Lamb, with its completion in the Daily Sacrifice, be properly viewed without this prophecy of Isaiah, nor yet that prophecy properly understood without its reference to its two great types. And here one Jewish comment in regard to the Daily Sacrifice (not previously pointed out) is the more significant, that it dates from the very time of Jesus. The passage reads almost like a Christian interpretation of sacrifice. It explains how the morning and evening sacrifices were intended to atone, the one for the sins of the night, the other for those of the day, so as ever to leave Israel guiltless before God; and it expressly ascribes to them the efficacy of a Paraclete - that being the word used.28 Without further following this remarkable Rabbinic commentation,29 which stretches back its view of sacrifices to the Paschal Lamb, and, beyond it, to that offering of Isaac by Abraham which, in the Rabbinic view, was the substratum of all sacrifices, we turn again to its teaching about the Lamb of the Daily Sacrifice. Here we have the express statement, that both the school of Shammai and that of Hillel - the latter more fully - insisted on the symbolic import of this sacrifice in regard to the forgiveness of sin. 'Kebhasim' (the Hebrew word for 'lambs'), explained the school of Shammai, 'because, according to Micah 7:19, they suppress [in the A.V. 'subdue'] our iniquities (the Hebrew word Kabhash meaning he who suppresseth).'30 Still more strong is the statement of the school of Hillel, to the effect that the sacrificial lambs were termed Kebhasim (from kabhas, 'to wash'), 'because they wash away the sins of Israel.'31 The quotation just made gains additional interest from the circumstance, that it occurs in a 'meditation' (if such it may be called) for the new moon of the Passover-month (Nisan). In view of such clear testimony from the time of Christ, less positiveness of assertion might, not unreasonably, be expected from those who declare that the sacrifices bore no reference to the forgiveness of sins, just as, in the face of the application made by the Baptist and other New Testament writers, more exegetical modesty seems called for on the part of those who deny the Messianic references in Isaiah.
27. To those persons who deny to the people of God under the Old Testament the designation Church, we commend the use of that term by St. Stephen in Acts 7:38.
28. Pesiqta, ed. Buber, p. 61 b; comp. more fully in Yalkut p. 248 d.
29. In i. p. 249 a.
30. This appears more clearly in the Hebrew, where both words ('lambs' and 'suppressors') are written exactly the same, My#bk. In Hillel's derivation it is identified with the root sbk = #bk.
31. And this with special reference to Is. 1:18.
If further proof were required that, when John pointed the bystanders to the Figure of Jesus walking towards them, with these words: 'Behold, the Lamb of God,' he meant more than His gentleness, meekness, and humility, it would be supplied by the qualifying explanation, 'Which taketh away the sin of the world.' We prefer rendering the expression 'taketh away' instead of 'beareth,' because it is in that sense that the LXX. uniformly use the Greek term. Of course, as we view it, the taking away presupposes the taking upon Himself of the sin of the world. But it is not necessary to suppose that the Baptist clearly understood that manner of His Saviourship, which only long afterwards, and reluctantly, came to the followers of the Lamb.32 That he understood the application of His ministry to the whole world, is only what might have been expected of one taught by Isaiah; and what, indeed, in one or another form, the Synagogue has always believed of the Messiah. What was distinctive in the words of the Baptist, seems his view of sin as a totality, rather than sins: implying the removal of that great barrier between God and man, and the triumph in that great contest indicated in Gen. 3:15, which Israel after the flesh failed to perceive. Nor should we omit here to notice an undesigned evidence of the Hebraic origin of the fourth Gospel; for an Ephesian Gospel, dating from the close of the second century, would not have placed in its forefront, as the first public testimony of the Baptist (if, indeed, it would have introduced him at all), a quotation from Isaiah - still less a sacrificial reference.
32. This meets the objection of Keim (i. 2, p.552), which proceeds on the assumption that the words of the Baptist imply that he knew not merely that, but how, Jesus would take away the sin of the world. But his words certainly do not oblige us to think, that he had the Cross in view. But, surely, it is a most strange idea of Godet, that at His Baptism Jesus, like all others, made confession of sins; that, as He had none of His own, He set before the Baptist the picture of the sin of Israel and of the world; and that this had led to the designation: 'The Lamb of God. Which taketh away the sin of the world.'
The motives which brought Jesus back to Bethabara must remain in the indefiniteness in which Scripture has left them. So far as we know, there was no personal interview between Jesus and the Baptist. Jesus had then and there nothing further to say to the Baptist; and yet on the day following that on which John had, in such manner, pointed Him out to the bystanders, He was still there, only returning to Galilee the next day. Here, at least, a definite object becomes apparent. This was not merely the calling of His first disciples, but the necessary Sabbath rest; for, in this instance, the narrative supplies the means of ascertaining the days of the week on which each event took place. We have only to assume, that the marriage in Cana of Galilee was that of a maiden, not a widow. The great festivities which accompanied it were unlikely, according to Jewish ideas, in the case of a widow; in fact, the whole mise en scène of the marriage renders this most improbable. Besides, if it had been the marriage of a widow, this (as will immediately appear) would imply that Jesus had returned from the wilderness on a Saturday, which, as being the Jewish Sabbath, could not have been the case. For uniform custom fixed the marriage of a maiden on Wednesdays, that of a widow on Thursday.33 Counting backwards from the day of the marriage in Cana, we arrive at the following results. The interview between John and the Sanhedrin-deputation took place on a Thursday. 'The next day,' Friday, Jesus returned from the wilderness of the Temptation, and John bore his first testimony to 'the Lamb of God.' The following day, when Jesus appeared a second time in view, and when the first two disciples joined Him, was the Saturday, or Jewish Sabbath. It was, therefore, only the following day, or Sunday,34 that Jesus returned to Galilee,35 calling others by the way. 'And the third day' after it36 - that is, on the Wednesday - was the marriage in Cana.37
33. For the reasons of this, comp. 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' p. 151.
34. St. John 1:43.
35. This may be regarded as another of the undesigned evidences of the Hebraic origin of the fourth Gospel. Indeed, it might also be almost called an evidence of the truth of the whole narrative.
36. St. John 2:1.
37. Yet Renan speaks of the first chapters of St. John's Gospel as scattered notices, without chronological order!
If we group around these days the recorded events of each, they almost seem to intensify in significance. The Friday of John's first pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, recalls that other Friday, when the full import of that testimony appeared. The Sabbath of John's last personal view and testimony to Christ is symbolic in its retrospect upon the old economy. It seems to close the ministry of John, and to open that of Jesus; it is the leave-taking of the nearest disciples of John from the old, their search after the new. And then on the first Sunday - the beginning of Christ's active ministry, the call of the first disciples, the first preaching of Jesus.
As we picture it to ourselves: in the early morning of that Sabbath John stood, with the two of his disciples who most shared his thoughts and feelings. One of them we know to have been Andrew (v. 40); the other, unnamed one, could have been no other than John himself, the beloved disciple.38 They had heard what their teacher had, on the previous day, said of Jesus. But then He seemed to them but as a passing Figure. To hear more of Him, as well as in deepest sympathy, these two had gathered to their Teacher on that Sabbath morning, while the other disciples of John were probably engaged with that, and with those, which formed the surroundings of an ordinary Jewish Sabbath.39 And now that Figure once more appeared in view. None with the Baptist but these two. He is not teaching now, but learning, as the intensity and penetration of his gaze40 calls from him the now worshipful repetition of what, on the previous day, he had explained and enforced. There was no leave-taking on the part of these two - perhaps they meant not to leave John. Only an irresistible impulse, a heavenly instinct, bade them follow His steps. It needed no direction of John, no call from Jesus. But as they went in modest silence, in the dawn of their rising faith, scarce conscious of the what and the why, He turned Him. It was not because He discerned it not, but just because He knew the real goal of their yet unconscious search, and would bring them to know what they sought, that He put to them the question, 'What seek ye?' which elicited a reply so simple, so real, as to carry its own evidence. He is still to them the Rabbi - the most honoured title they can find - yet marking still the strictly Jewish view, as well as their own standpoint of 'What seek ye?' They wish, yet scarcely dare, to say what was their object, and only put it in a form most modest, suggestive rather than expressive. There is strict correspondence to their view in the words of Jesus. Their very Hebraism of 'Rabbi' is met by the equally Hebraic 'Come and see;'41 their unspoken, but half-conscious longing by what the invitation implied (according to the most probable reading, 'Come and ye shall see'42
38. This reticence seems another undesigned evidence of Johannine authorship.
39. The Greek has it: 'John was standing, and from among his disciples two.'
40. The word implies earnest, penetrating gaze.
41. The precise date of the origin of this designation is not quite clear. We find it in threefold development: Rab, Rabbi, and Rabban - 'amplitudo,' 'amplitudo mea,' 'amplitudo nostra,' which mark successive stages. As the last of these titles was borne by the grandson of Hillel (a.d. 30-50), it is only reasonable to suppose that the two preceding ones were current a generation and more before that. Again, we have to distinguish the original and earlier use of the title when it only applied to teachers, and the later usage when, like the word 'Doctor,' it was given indiscriminately to men of supposed learning. When Jesus is so addressed it is in the sense of 'my Teacher.' Nor can there be any reasonable doubt, that thus it was generally current in and before the time noted in the Gospels. A still higher title than any of these three seems to have been Beribbi, or Berabbi, by which Rabban Gamaliel is designated in Shabb. 115 a. It literally means 'belonging to the house of a Rabbi' - as we would say, a Rabbi of Rabbis. On the other hand, the expression 'Come and see' is among the most common Rabbinic formulas, although generally connected with the acquisition of special and important information.
42. Comp. Canon Westcott's note.
It was but early morning - ten o'clock.43 What passed on that long Sabbath-day we know not save from what happened in its course. From it issued the two, not learners now but teachers, bearing what they had found to those nearest and dearest. The form of the narrative and its very words convey, that the two had gone, each to search for his brother - Andrew for Simon Peter, and John for James, though here already, at the outset of this history, the haste of energy characteristic of the sons of Jona outdistanced the more quiet intenseness of John:44 'He (Andrew) first findeth his own brother.'45 But Andrew and John equally brought the same announcement, still markedly Hebraic in its form, yet filled with the new wine, not only of conviction, but of joyous apprehension: 'We have found the Messias.'46 This, then, was the outcome of them of that day - He was the Messiah; and this the goal which their longing had reached, 'We have found Him.' Quite beyond what they had heard from the Baptist; nay, what only personal contact with Jesus can carry to any heart.
43. The common supposition is, that the time must be computed according to the Jewish method, in which case the tenth hour would represent 4 p.m. But remembering that the Jewish day ended with sunset, it could, in that case, have been scarcely marked, that 'they abode with Him that day.' The correct interpretation would therefore point in this, as in the other passages of St. John, to the Asiatic numeration of hours, corresponding to our own. Comp. J. B. McLellan's New Testament, pp. 740-742.
44. v. 41.
45. This appears from the word 'first,' used as an adjective here, v. 41 (although the reading is doubtful), and from the implied reference to some one else later on.
46. On the reading of the Aramaic Meshicha by Messias, see Delitzsch in the Luther. Zeitschr. for 1876, p. 603 Of course, both Messias and Christ mean 'the Anointed.'
And still this day of first marvellous discovery had not closed. It almost seems, as if this 'Come and see' call of Jesus were emblematic, not merely of all that followed in His own ministry, but of the manner in which to all time the 'What seek ye?' of the soul is answered. It could scarcely have been but that Andrew had told Jesus of his brother, and even asked leave to bring him. The searching, penetrating glance47 of the Saviour now read in Peter's inmost character his future call and work: 'Thou art Simon, the son of John48 - thou shalt be called49 Cephas, which is interpreted (Grecianised) Peter.'50
47. The same word as that used in regard to the Baptist looking upon Jesus.
48. So according to the best text, and not Jona.
49. 'Hereafter thou shalt win the name.' - Westcott.
50. So in the Greek, of which the English interpretation is 'a stone' - Keyph, or Keypha, 'a rock.'
It must not, of course, be supposed that this represents all that had passed between Jesus and Peter, any more than that the recorded expression was all that Andrew and John had said of Jesus to their brothers. Of the interview between John and James his brother, the writer, with his usual self-reticence, forbears to speak. But we know its result; and, knowing it, can form some conception of what passed on that holy evening between the new-found Messiah and His first four disciples: of teaching manifestation on His part, and of satisfied heart-peace on theirs. As yet they were only followers, learners, not yet called to be Apostles, with all of entire renunciation of home, family, and other calling which this implied. This, in the course of proper development, remained for quite another period. Alike their knowledge and their faith for the present needed, and could only bear, the call to personal attachment.51
51. The evidence for the great historic difference between this call to personal attachment, and that to the Apostolate, is shown - I should think beyond the power of cavil - by Godet, and especially by Canon Westcott. To these and other commentators the reader must be referred on this and many points, which it would be out of place to discuss at length in this book.
It was Sunday morning, the first of Christ's Mission-work, the first of His Preaching. He was purposing to return to Galilee. It was fitting He should do so: for the sake of His new disciples; for what He was to do in Galilee; for His own sake. The first Jerusalem-visit must be prepared for by them all; and He would not go there till the right time - for the Paschal Feast. It was probably a distance of about twenty miles from Bethabara to Cana. By the way, two other disciples were to be gained - this time not brought, but called, where, and in what precise circumstances, we know not. But the notice that Philip was a fellow-townsman of Andrew and Peter, seems to imply some instrumentality on their part. Similarly, we gather that, afterwards, Philip was somewhat in advance of the rest, when he found his acquaintance Nathanael, and engaged in conversation with him just as Jesus and the others came up. But here also we mark, as another characteristic trait of John, that he, and his brother with him, seem to have clung close to the Person of Christ, just as did Mary afterwards in the house of her brother. It was this intense exclusiveness of fellowship with Jesus which traced on his mind that fullest picture of the God-Man, which his narrative reflects.
The call to Philip from the lips of the Saviour met, we know not under what circumstances, immediate responsive obedience. Yet, though no special obstacles had to be overcome, and hence no special narrative was called for, it must have implied much of learning, to judge from what he did, and from what he said to Nathanael. There is something special about Nathanael's conquest by Christ - rather implied, perhaps, than expressed - and of which the Lord's words gives significant hints. They seem to point to what had passed in his mind just before Philip found him. Alike the expression 'an Israelite in truth, in whom is no guile'52 - looking back on what changed the name of Jacob into Israel - and the evident reference to the full realisation of Jacob's vision in Bethel,53 may be an indication that this very vision had engaged his thoughts. As the Synagogue understood the narrative, its application to the then state of Israel and the Messianic hope would most readily suggest itself. Putting aside all extravagances, the Synagogue thought, in connection with it, of the rising power of the Gentiles, but concluded with the precious comfort of the assurance, in Jer. 30:11, of Israel's final restoration.54 Nathanael (Theodore, 'the gift of God,') had, as we often read of Rabbis,55 rested for prayer, meditation, or study, in the shadow of that wide-spreading tree so common in Palestine, the fig-tree.56 The approaching Passover-season, perhaps mingling with thoughts of John's announcement by the banks of Jordan, would naturally suggest the great deliverance of Israel in 'the age to come;'57 all the more, perhaps, from the painful contrast in the present. Such a verse as that with which, in a well-known Rabbinic work,58 the meditation for the New Moon of Nisan, the Passover month, closes: 'Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,'59 would recur, and so lead back the mind to the suggestive symbol of Jacob's vision, and its realisation in 'the age to come.'60
52. v. 47. 53. v. 51. 54. Tanchuma on the passage, ed. Warsh. p. 38 a, b.
55. Corroborative and illustrative passages are here too numerous, perhaps also not sufficiently important, to be quoted in detail.
56. Ewald imagines that this 'fig-tree' had been in the garden of Nathanael's house at Cana, and Archdeacon Watkins seems to adopt this view, but, as it seems to me, without historical ground.
57. So in Tanchuma. 58. Pesiqta.
59. Ps. 146:5; Pesiqta, ed. Buber, p. 62 a. 60. Tanchuma, u. s.
These are, of course, only suppositions; but it might well be that Philip had found him while still busy with such thoughts. Possibly their outcome, and that quite in accordance with Jewish belief at the time, may have been, that all that was needed to bring that happy 'age to come' was, that Jacob should become Israel in truth. In such case he would himself have been ripening for 'the Kingdom' that was at hand. It must have seemed a startling answer to his thoughts, this announcement, made with the freshness of new and joyous conviction: 'We have found Him of Whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write.' But this addition about the Man of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph,61 would appear a terrible anti-climax. It was so different from anything that he had associated either with the great hope of Israel, or with the Nazareth of his own neighbourhood, that his exclamation, without implying any special imputation on the little town which he knew so well, seems not only natural, but, psychologically, deeply true. There was but one answer to this - that which Philip made, which Jesus had made to Andrew and John, and which has ever since been the best answer to all Christian inquiry: 'Come and see.' And, despite the disappointment, there must have been such moving power in the answer which Philip's sudden announcement had given to his unspoken thoughts, that he went with him. And now, as ever, when in such spirit we come, evidences irrefragable multiplied at every step. As he neared Jesus, he heard Him speak to the disciples words concerning him, which recalled, truly and actually, what had passed in his soul. But could it really be so, that Jesus knew it all? The question, intended to elicit it, brought such proof that he could not but burst into the immediate and full acknowledgment: 'Thou art the Son of God,' Who hast read my inmost being; 'Thou art the King of Israel,' Who dost meet its longing and hope. And is it not ever so, that the faith of the heart springs to the lips, as did the water from the riven rock at the touch of the God-gifted rod? It needs not long course of argumentation, nor intricate chain of evidences, welded link to link, when the secret thoughts of the heart are laid bare, and its inmost longings met. Then, as in a moment, it is day, and joyous voice of song greets its birth.
61. This, as it would seem, needless addition (if the narrative were fictitious) is of the highest evidential value. In an Ephesian Gospel of the end of the second century it would have been well-nigh impossible.
And yet that painful path of slower learning to enduring conviction must still be trodden, whether in the sufferings of the heart, or the struggle of the mind. This it is which seems implied in the half-sad question of the Master,62 yet with full view of the final triumph ('thou shalt see greater things than these'), and of the true realisation in it of that glorious symbol of Jacob's vision.63
62. v. 50 comp. the words to Peter in St. John 13:36-38; and to the disciples, St. John 16:31, 32.
63. v. 51.
And so Nathanael, 'the God-given' - or, as we know him in after-history, Bartholomew, 'the son of Telamyon'64 - was added to the disciples. Such was on that first Sunday the small beginning of the great Church Catholic; these the tiny springs that swelled into the mighty river which, in its course, has enriched and fertilised the barrenness of the far-off lands of the Gentiles.
64. So, at least, most probably. Comp. St. John 21:2, and the various commentaries.
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