THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN
TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
. THE GREAT CONFESSION
. THE GREAT COMMISSION
. THE GREAT INSTRUCTION
. THE GREAT TEMPTATION
. THE GREAT DECISION
(St. Matthew 16:13-28; St. Mark 8:27-9:1; St. Luke 9:18-27.)
If we are right in identifying the little bay - Dalmanutha - with the neighbourhood of Tarichæa, yet another link of strange coincidence connects the prophetic warning spoken there with its fulfillment. From Dalmanutha our Lord passed across the Lake to Cæsarea Philippi. From Cæsarea Philippi did Vespasian pass through Tiberias to Tarichæa, when the town and people were destroyed, and the blood of the fugitives reddened the Lake, and their bodies choked its waters. Even amidst the horrors of the last Jewish war, few spectacles could have been so sickening as that of the wild stand at Tarichæa, ending with the butchery of 6,500 on land and sea, and lastly, the vile treachery by which they, to whom mercy had been promised, were lured into the circus at Tiberias, when the weak and old, to the number of about 1,200, were slaughtered, and the rest - upwards of 30,400 - sold into slavery.1 2 Well might He, Who foresaw and foretold that terrible end, standing on that spot, deeply sigh in spirit as He spake to them who asked 'a sign,' and yet saw not what even ordinary discernment might have perceived of the red and lowering sky overhead.1. Jos. Jew. War iii. 10.
2. If it were for no other reason than the mode in which the ex-general of the Galileans, Josephus, tells this story, he would deserve our execration.
From Dalmanutha, across the Lake, then by the plain where so lately the five thousand had been fed, and near to Bethsaida, would the road of Christ and His disciples lead to the capital of the Tetrarch Philip, the ancient Paneas, or, as it was then called, Cæsarea Philippi, the modern Banias. Two days' journey would accomplish the whole distance. There would be no need of taking the route now usually followed, by Safed. Straight northwards from the Lake of Galilee, a distance of about ten miles, leads the road to the uppermost Jordan-Lake, that now called Huleh, the ancient Merom.3 As we ascend from the shores of Gennesaret, we have a receding view of the whole Lake and the Jordan-valley beyond. Before us rise hills; over them, to the west, are the heights of Safed; beyond them swells the undulating plain between the two ranges of Anti-Libanus; far off is Hermon, with its twin snow-clad heads ('the Hermons'),4 and, in the dim far background, majestic Lebanon. It is scarcely likely, that Jesus and His disciples skirted the almost impenetrable marsh and jungle by Lake Merom. It was there, that Joshua had fought the last and decisive battle against Jabin and his confederates, by which Northern Palestine was gained to Israel.5 We turn north of the Lake, and west to Kedes, the Kedesh Naphtali of the Bible, the home of Barak. We have now passed from the limestone of Central Palestine into the dark basalt formation. How splendidly that ancient Priest-City of Refuge lay! In the rich heritage of Naphtali,6 Kedesh was one of the fairest spots. As we climb the steep hill above the marshes of Merom, we have before us one of the richest plains of about two thousand acres. We next pass through olive-groves and up a gentle slope. On a knoll before us, at the foot of which gushes a copious spring, lies the ancient Kedesh.3. For the geographical details I must refer to the words of Stanley and Tristram, and to Bädeker's Palästina. I have not deemed it necessary to make special quotation of my authority in each case.
4. Ps. 13:6. 5. Josh. 11:1-5. 6. Deut. 33:23.
The scenery is very similar, as we travel on towards Cæsarea Philippi. About an hour and a half farther, we strike the ancient Roman road. We are now amidst vines and mulberry-trees. Passing through a narrow rich valley, we ascend through a rocky wilderness of hills, where the woodbine luxuriantly trails around the plane trees. On the height there is a glorious view back to Lake Merom and the Jordan-valley; forward, to the snowy peaks of Hermon; east, to height on height, and west, to peaks now only crowned with ruins. We still continued along the height, then descended a steep slope, leaving, on our left, the ancient Abel Beth Maachah,7 the modern Abil. Another hour, and we are in a plain where all the springs of the Jordan unite. The view from here is splendid, and the soil most rich, the wheat crops being quite ripe in the beginning of May. Half an hour more, and we cross a bridge over the bright blue waters of the Jordan, or rather of the Hasbany, which, under a very wilderness of oleanders, honeysuckle, clematis, and wild rose, rush among huge boulders, between walls of basalt. We leave aside, at a distance of about half an hour to the east, the ancient Dan (the modern Tell-Kady), even more glorious in its beauty and richness than what we have passed. Dan lies on a hill above the plain. On the western side of it, under overhanging thickets of oleander and other trees, and amidst masses of basalt boulders, rise what are called 'the lower springs' of Jordan, issuing as a stream from a basin sixty paces wide, and from a smaller source close by. The 'lower springs' supply the largest proportion of what forms the Jordan. And from Dan olive-groves and oak-glades slope up to Banias, or Cæsarea Philippi.7. 2 Sam. 20:14.
The situation of the ancient Cæsarea Philippi (1,147 feet above the sea) is, indeed, magnificent. Nestling amid three valleys on a terrace in the angle of Hermon, it is almost shut out from view by cliffs and woods. 'Everywhere there is a wild medley of cascades, mulberry trees, fig-trees, dashing torrents, festoons of vines, bubbling fountains, reeds, and ruins, and the mingled music of birds and waters.'8 The vegetation and fertility all around are extraordinary. The modern village of Banias is within the walls of the old fortifications, and the ruins show that it must anciently have extended far southwards. But the most remarkable points remain to be described. The western side of a steep mountain, crowned by the ruins of an ancient castle, forms an abrupt rock-wall. Here, from out an immense cavern, bursts a river. These are 'the upper sources' of the Jordan. This cave, an ancient heathen sanctuary of Pan, gave its earliest name of Paneas to the town. Here Herod, when receiving the tetrarchy from Augustus, built a temple in his honour. On the rocky wall close by, votive niches may still be traced, one of them bearing the Greek inscription, 'Priest of Pan.' When Herod's son, Philip, received the tetrarchy, he enlarged and greatly beautified the ancient Paneas, and called it in honour of the Emperor, Cæsarea Philippi. The castle-mount (about 1,000 feet above Paneas), takes nearly an hour to ascend, and is separated by a deep valley from the flank of Mount Hermon. The castle itself (about two miles from Banias) is one of the best preserved ruins, its immense bevelled structure resembling the ancient forts of Jerusalem, and showing its age. It followed the irregularities of the mountain, and was about 1,000 feet long by 200 wide. The eastern and higher part formed, as in Machaerus, a citadel within the castle. In some parts the rock rises higher than the walls. The views, sheer down the precipitous sides of the mountain, into the valleys and far away, are magnificent.8. Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 586.
It seems worth while, even at such length, to describe the scenery along this journey, and the look and situation of Cæsarea, when we recall the importance of the events enacted there, or in the immediate neighbourhood. It was into this chiefly Gentile district, that the Lord now withdrew with His disciples after that last and decisive question of the Pharisees. It was here that, as His question, like Moses' rod, struck their hearts, there leaped from the lips of Peter the living, life-spreading waters of his confession. It may have been, that this rock-wall below the castle, from under which sprang Jordan, or the rock on which the castle stood, supplied the material suggestion for Christ's words: 'Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build My Church.'9 In Cæsarea, or its immediate neighbourhood,10 did the Lord spend, with His disciples, six days after this confession; and here, close by, on one of the heights of snowy Hermon, was the scene of the Transfiguration, the light of which shone for ever into the hearts of the disciples on their dark and tangled path;11 nay, far beyond that - beyond life and death - beyond the grave and the judgment, to the perfect brightness of the Resurrection-day.9. So Dean Stanley, with his usual charm of language, though topographically not quite correctly (Sinai and Palestine, p. 395).
10. Nothing in the above obliges us to infer, that the words of Peter's confession were spoken in Cæsarea itself. The place might have been in view or in the memory.
11. 2 Pet. 1:19.
As we think of it, there seems nothing strange in it, but all most wise and most gracious, that such events should have taken place far away from Galilee and Israel, in the lonely grandeur of the shadows of Hermon, and even amongst a chiefly Gentile population. Not in Judæa, nor even in Galilee - but far away from the Temple, the Synagogue, the Priests, Pharisees and Scribes, was the first confession of the Church made, and on this confession its first foundations laid. Even this spoke of near judgment and doom to what had once been God's chosen congregation. And all that happened, though Divinely shaped as regards the end, followed in a natural and orderly succession of events. Let us briefly recall the circumstances, which in the previous chapters have been described in detail.
It had been needful to leave Capernaum. The Galilean Ministry of the Christ was ended, and, alike the active persecutions of the Pharisees from Jerusalem, the inquiries of Herod, whose hands, stained with the blood of the Baptist, were tremblingly searching for his greater Successor, and the growing indecision and unfitness of the people - as well as the state of the disciples - pointed to the need for leaving Galilee. Then followed 'the Last Supper' to Israel on the eastern shore of Lake Gennesaret, when they would have made Him a King. He must now withdraw quite away, out of the boundaries of Israel. Then came that miraculous night-journey, the brief Sabbath-stay at Capernaum by the way, the journey through Tyrian and Sidonian territory, and round to the Decapolis, the teaching and healing there, the gathering of the multitude to Him, together with that 'Supper,' which closed His Ministry there, and, finally, the withdrawal to Tarichæa, where His Apostles, as fishermen of the Lake, may have had business-connections, since the place was the great central depot for selling and preparing the fish for export.
In that distant and obscure corner, on the boundary-line between Jew and Gentile, had that greatest crisis in the history of the world occurred, which sealed the doom of Israel, and in their place substituted the Gentiles as citizens of the Kingdom. And, in this respect also, it is most significant, that the confession of the Church likewise took place in territory chiefly inhabited by Gentiles, and the Transfiguration on Mount Hermon. That crisis had been the public challenge of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that Jesus should legitimate His claims to the Messiahship by a sign from heaven. It is not too much to assert, that neither His questioners, nor even His disciples, understood the answer of Jesus, nor yet perceived the meaning of His 'sign.' To the Pharisees Jesus would seem to have been defeated, and to stand self-convicted of having made Divine claims which, when challenged, He could not substantiate. He had hitherto elected(as they, who understood not His teaching, would judge) to prove Himself the Messiah by the miracles which He had wrought - and now, when met on His own ground, He had publicly declined, or at least evaded, the challenge. He had conspicuously - almost self-confessedly - failed! At least, so it would appear to those who could not understand His reply and 'sigh.' We note that a similar final challenge was addressed to Jesus by the High-Priest, when he adjured Him to say, whether He was what He claimed. His answer then was an assertion - not a proof; and, unsupported as it seemed, His questioners would only regard it as blasphemy.
But what of the disciples, who (as we have seen) would probably understand 'the sign' of Christ little better than the Pharisees? That what might seem Christ's failure, in not daring to meet the challenge of His questioners, must have left some impression on them, is not only natural, but appears even from Christ's warning of the leaven - that is, of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Indeed, that this unmet challenge and virtual defeat of Jesus did make lasting and deepest impression in His disfavour, is evident from the later challenge of His own relatives to go and meet the Pharisees at headquarters in Judæa, and to show openly, if He could, by His works, that He was the Messiah.12 All the more remarkable appears Christ's dealing with His disciples, His demand on, and training of their faith. It must be remembered, that His last 'hard' sayings at Capernaum had led to the defection of many, who till then had been His disciples.13 Undoubtedly this had already tried their faith, as appears from the question of Christ: 'Will ye also go away?'14 It was this wise and gracious dealing with them - this putting the one disappointment of doubt, engendered by what they could not understand, against their whole past experience in following Him, which enabled them to overcome. And it is this which also enables us to answer the doubt, perhaps engendered by inability to understand seemingly unintelligible, hard sayings of Christ, such as that to the disciples about giving them His Flesh to eat, or about His being the Living Bread from heaven. And, this alternative being put to them: would they, could they, after their experience of Him, go away from Him, they overcame, as we overcome, through what almost sounds like a cry of despair, yet is a shout of victory: 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.'12. St. John 7:1-5. 13. St. John 6:60-66; comp. St. Matt. 15:12.
14. St. John 6:67.
And all that followed only renewed and deepened the trial of faith, which had commenced at Capernaum. We shall, perhaps, best understand it when following the progress of this trial in him who, at last, made shipwreck of his faith: Judas Iscariot. Without attempting to gaze into the mysterious abyss of the Satanic element in his apostasy, we may trace his course in its psychological development. We must not regard Judas as a monster, but as one with passions like ourselves. True, there was one terrible master-passion in his soul - covetousness; but that was only the downward, lower aspect of what seems, and to many really is, that which leads to the higher and better - ambition. It had been thoughts of Israel's King which had first set his imagination on fire, and brought him to follow the Messiah. Gradually, increasingly, came the disenchantment. It was quite another Kingdom, that of Christ; quite another Kingship than what had set Judas aglow. This feeling was deepened as events proceeded. His confidence must have been terribly shaken when the Baptist was beheaded. What a contrast to the time when his voice had bent the thousands of Israel, as trees in the wind! So this had been nothing - and the Baptist must be written off, not as for, but as really against, Christ. Then came the next disappointment, when Jesus would not be made King. Why not - if He were King? And so on, step by step, till the final depth was reached, when Jesus would not, or could not - which was it? - meet the public challenge of the Pharisees. We take it, that it was then that the leaven pervaded and leavened Judas in heart and soul.
We repeat it, that what so, and permanently, penetrated Judas, could not (as Christ's warning shows) have left the others wholly unaffected. The very presence of Judas with them must have had its influence. And how did Christ deal with it? There was, first, the silent sail across the Lake, and then the warning which put them on their guard, lest the little leaven should corrupt the bread of the Sanctuary, on which they had learned to live. The littleness of their faith must be corrected; it must grow and become strong. And so we can understand what follows. It was after solitary prayer - no doubt for them15 - that, with reference to the challenge of the Pharisees, 'the leaven' that threatened them, He now gathered up all their experience of the past by putting to them the question, what men, the people who had watched His Works and heard His Words, regarded Him as being. Even on them some conviction had been wrought by their observance of Him. It marked Him out (as the disciples said) as different from all around, nay, from all ordinary men: like the Baptist, or Elijah, or as if He were one of the old prophets alive again. But, if even the multitude had gathered such knowledge of Him, what was their experience, who had always been with Him? Answered he, who most truly represented the Church, because he combined with the most advanced experience of the three most intimate disciples the utmost boldness of confession: 'Thou art the Christ!'15. St. Luke 9:18.
And so in part was this 'leaven' of the Pharisees purged! Yet not wholly. For then it was, that Christ spake to them of His sufferings and death, and that the resistance of Peter showed how deeply that leaven had penetrated. And then followed the grand contrast presented by Christ, between minding the things of men and those of God, with the warning which it implied. and the monition as to the necessity of bearing the cross of contempt, and the absolute call to do so, as addressed to those who would be His disciples. Here, then, the contest about 'the sign,' or rather the challenge about the Messiahship, was carried from the mental into the moral sphere, and so decided. Six days more of quiet waiting and growth of faith, and it was met, rewarded, crowned, and perfected by the sight on the Mount of Transfiguration; yet, even so, perceived only as through the heaviness of sleep.
Thus far for the general arrangement of these events. We shall now be prepared better to understand the details. It was certainly not for personal reasons, but to call attention to the impression made even on the popular mind, to correct its defects, and to raise the minds of the Apostles to far higher thoughts, that He asked them about the opinions of men concerning Himself. Their difference proved not only their incompetence to form a right view, but also how many-sided Christ's teaching must have been. We are probably correct in supposing, that popular opinion did not point to Christ as literally the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets who had long been dead. For, although the literal reappearance of Elijah, and probably also of Jeremiah,16 was expected, the Pharisees did not teach, nor the Jews believe in, a transmigration of souls. Besides, no one looked for the return of any of the other old prophets, nor could any one have seriously imagined, that Jesus was, literally, John the Baptist, since all knew them to have been contemporaries.17 Rather would it mean, that some saw in Him the continuation of the work of John, as heralding and preparing the way of the Messiah, or, if they did not believe in John, of that of Elijah; while to others He seemed a second Jeremiah, denouncing woe on Israel,18 and calling to tardy repentance; or else one of those old prophets, who had spoken either of the near judgment or of the coming glory. But, however men differed on these points, in this all agreed, that they regarded Him not as an ordinary man or teacher, but His Mission as straight from heaven; and, alas, in this also, that they did not view Him as the Messiah. Thus far, then, there was already retrogression in popular opinion, and thus far had the Pharisees already succeeded.16. I confess, however, to strong doubts on this point. Legends of the hiding of the tabernacle, ark, and altar of incense on Mount Nebo by Jeremiah, were, indeed, combined with an expectation that these precious possessions would be restored in Messianic times (2 Macc. ii. 1-7), but it is expressly added in ver. 8, that 'the Lord' Himself, and not the prophet, would show their place of concealment. Dean Plumptre's statement, that the Pharisees taught, and the Jews believed in, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls must have arisen from the misapprehension of what Josephus said, to which reference has already been made in the chapter on 'The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.' The first distinct mention of the reappearance of Jeremiah, along with Elijah, to restore the ark, &c., is in Josippon ben Gorion (lib. i. c. 21), but here also only in the Cod. Munster., not in that used by Breithaupt. The age of the work of Josippon is in dispute; probably we may date it from the tenth century of our era. The only other testimony about the reappearance of Jeremiah is in 4 Esd. (2 Esd.) ii. 18. But the book is post-Christian, and, in that section especially, evidently borrows from the Christian Scriptures.
17. On the vague fears of Herod, see vol. i. p. 675.
18. A vision of Jeremiah in a dream was supposed to betoken chastisements (Ber. 57 e, line 7 from top).
There is a significant emphasis in the words, with which Jesus turned from the opinion of 'the multitudes' to elicit the faith of the disciples: 'But you, whom do you say that I am?' It is the more marked, as the former question was equally emphasised by the use of the article (in the original): 'Who do the men say that I am?'19 In that moment it leaped, by the power of God, to the lips of Peter: 'Thou art the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the Living God.'20 St. Chrysostom has beautifully designated Peter as 'the mouth of the Apostles' - and we recall, in this connection, the words of St. Paul as casting light on the representative character of Peter's confession as that of the Church, and hence on the meaning of Christ's reply, and its equally representative application: 'With the mouth confession is made unto salvation.'21 The words of the confession are given somewhat differently by the three Evangelists. From our standpoint, the briefest form (that of St. Mark): 'Thou art the Christ,' means quite as much as the fullest (that of St. Matthew): 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.' We can thus understand, how the latter might be truthfully adopted, and, indeed, would be the most truthful, accurate, and suitable in a Gospel primarily written for the Jews. And here we notice, that the most exact form of the words seems that in the Gospel of St. Luke: 'The Christ of God.'19. St. Mark 8:27, 29. 20. St. Matt. 16:16. 21. Rom. 10:10.
In saying this, so far from weakening, we strengthen the import of this glorious confession. For first, we must keep in view, that the confession: 'Thou art the Messiah' is also that: 'Thou art the Son of the Living God.' If, according to the Gospels, we believe that Jesus was the true Messiah, promised to the fathers - 'the Messiah of God' - we cannot but believe that He is 'the Son of the Living God.' Scripture and reason equally point to this conclusion from the premisses. But, further, we must view such a confession, even though made in the power of God, in its historical connection. The words must have been such as Peter could have uttered, and the disciples acquiesced in, at the time. Moreover, they should mark a distinct connection with, and yet progress upon, the past. All these conditions are fulfilled by the view here taken. The full knowledge, in the sense of really understanding, that He was the Son of the Living God, came to the disciples only after the Resurrection.22 Previously to the confession of Peter, the ship's company, that had witnessed His walking on the water, had owned: 'Of a truth Thou art the Son of God,'23 but not in the sense in which a well-informed, believing Jew would hail Him as the Messiah, and 'the Son of the Living God,' designating both His Office and His Nature - and these two in their combination. Again, Peter himself had made a confession of Christ, when, after his discourse at Capernaum, so many of His disciples had forsaken Him. It had been: 'We have believed, and know that Thou art the Holy One of God.'24 25 The mere mention of these words shows both their internal connection with those of his last and crowning confession: 'Thou art the Christ of God,' and the immense progress made.22. Comp. Rom. 1:4. 23. St. Matt. 14:33. 24. St. John 6:69.
25. This is the correct reading.
The more closely we view it, the loftier appears the height of this confession. We think of it as an advance on Peter's past; we think of it in its remembered contrast to the late challenge of the Pharisees, and as so soon following on the felt danger of their leaven. And we think of it, also, in its almost immeasurable distance from the appreciative opinion of the better disposed among the people. In the words of this confession Peter has consciously reached the firm ground of Messianic acknowledgment. All else is implied in this, and would follow from it. It is the first real confession of the Church. We can understand, how it followed after solitary prayer by Christ26 - we can scarcely doubt, for that very revelation by the Father, which He afterwards joyously recognised in the words of Peter.26. St. Luke 9:18.
The reply of the Saviour is only recorded by St. Matthew. Its omission by St. Mark might be explained on the ground that St. Peter himself had furnished the information. But its absence there and in the Gospel of St. Luke27 proves (as Beza remarks), that it could never have been intended as the foundation of so important a doctrine as that of the permanent supremacy of St. Peter. But even if it were such, it would not follow that this supremacy devolved on the successors of St. Peter, nor yet that the Pope of Rome is the successor of St. Peter; nor is there even solid evidence that St. Peter ever was Bishop of Rome. The dogmatic inferences from a certain interpretation of the words of Christ to Peter being therefore utterly untenable, we can, with less fear of bias, examine their meaning. The whole form here is Hebraistic. The 'blessed art thou' is Jewish in spirit and form; the address, 'Simon bar Jona,' proves that the Lord spake in Aramaic. Indeed, a Jewish Messiah responding, in the hour of his Messianic acknowledgment, in Greek to His Jewish confessor, seems utterly incongruous. Lastly, the expression 'flesh and blood,' as contrasted with God, occurs not only in that Apocryphon of strictly Jewish authorship, the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach,28 and in the letters of St. Paul,29 but in almost innumerable passages in Jewish writings, as denoting man in opposition to God; while the revelation of such a truth by 'the Father Which is in Heaven,' represents not only both Old and New Testament Teaching, but is clothed in language familiar to Jewish ears (Myima#@$afb@a#e w@nybi)af ).27. There could have been no anti-Petrine tendency in this, since it is equally omitted in the Petrine Gospel of St. Mark.
28. Ecclus, xiv. 18; xvii. 31. 29. 1 Cor. 15:60; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 6:12.
Not less Jewish in form are the succeeding words of Christ, 'Thou art Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (Petra) will I build my Church.' We notice in the original the change from the masculine gender, 'Peter' (Petros), to the feminine, 'Petra' ('Rock'), which seems the more significant, that Petros is used in Greek for 'stone,' and also sometimes for 'rock,' while Petra always means a 'rock.' The change of gender must therefore have a definite object which will presently be more fully explained. Meantime we recall that, when Peter first came to Christ, the Lord had said unto him: 'Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, Peter [Petros, a Stone, or else a Rock]'30 - the Aramaic word Kepha ()pafyk@', or hpafyk@') meaning, like Peter, both 'stone' and 'rock.' But both the Greek Petros and Petra have (as already stated) passed into Rabbinic language. Thus, the name Peter, or rather Petros, is Jewish, and occurs, for example, as that of the father of a certain Rabbi (Jose bar Petros).31 When the Lord, therefore, prophetically gave the name Cephas, it may have been that by that term He gave only a prophetic interpretation to what had been his previous name Peter (sr+yyp). This seems the more likely, since, as we have previously seen, it was the practice in Galilee to have two names,32 especially when the strictly Jewish name, such as Simon, had no equivalent among the Gentiles.33 Again, the Greek word Petra - Rock - ('on this Petra [Rock] will I build my Church') was used in the same sense in Rabbinic language. It occurs twice in a passage, which so fully illustrates the Jewish use, not only of the word, but of the whole figure, that it deserves a place here. According to Jewish ideas, the world would not have been created, unless it had rested, as it were, on some solid foundation of piety and acceptance of God's Law - in other words, it required a moral, before it could receive a physical foundation. Rabbinism here contrasts the Gentile world with Israel. It is, so runs the comment, as if a king were going to build a city. One and another site is tried for a foundation, but in digging they always come upon water. At last they come upon a Rock (Petra, )r+p). So, when God was about to build his world, He could not rear it on the generation of Enos nor on that of the flood, who brought destruction on the world; but 'when He beheld that Abraham would arise in the future, He said: Behold I have found a Rock (Petra, )r+p) to build on it, and to found the world,' whence also Abraham is called a Rock (Tsur, ryc) as it is said:34 'Look unto the Rock whence ye are hewn.'35 36 The parallel between Abraham and Peter might be carried even further. If, from a misunderstanding of the Lord's promise to Peter, later Christian legend represented the Apostle as sitting at the gate of heaven, Jewish legend represents Abraham as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, so as to prevent all who had the seal of circumcision from falling into its abyss.37 38 To complete this sketch, in the curious Jewish legend about the Apostle Peter, which is outlined in an Appendix to this volume,39 Peter is always designated as Simon Kepha (spelt )pyq), there being, however, some reminiscence of the meaning attached to his name in the statement made, that, after his death, they built a church and tower, and called it Peter (r+yp) 'which is the name for stone, because he sat there upon a stone till his death' (Nb)h l( M# b#y#).4030. St. John 1:42.
31. Pesiqta, ed. Buber, p. 158 a, line 8 from bottom.
32. See the remarks on Matthew-Levi in vol. i. ch. 17 p. 514 of this Book.
33. Thus, for example, Andrew was both 'AndreaV and y)rad@:n:)a (Anderai) 'manly,' 'brave.' A family Anderai is mentioned Jer. Kethub. 33 a.
34. Is. 51:1.
35. Yalkut on Numb. xxiii. 9, vol. i. p.243, b, last 6 lines, and c, first 3 lines.
36. The same occurs in Shem. R. 15, only that there it is not only Abraham but 'the fathers' who are 'the Rocks' (the word used there is not Petra but Tsur) on whom the world is founded.
37. Erub.19 a, Ber. R. 48.
38. There was a strange idea about Jewish children who had died uncircumcised and the sinners in Israel exchanging their position in regard to circumcision. Could this, only spiritually understood and applied, have been present to the mind of St. Paul when he wrote Romans 2:25, 26, last clauses?
39. See Appendix XVIII.
40. The reader will have no difficulty in recognizing a reference to the See of Rome, perhaps 'the Chair of St. Peter,' mixed up with the meaning of the name of Peter.
But to return. Believing, that Jesus spoke to Peter in the Aramaic, we can now understand how the words Petros and Petra would be purposely used by Christ to mark the difference, which their choice would suggest. Perhaps it might be expressed in this somewhat clumsy paraphrase: 'Thou art Peter (Petros) - a Stone or Rock - and upon this Petra - the Rock, the Petrine - will I found My Church.' If, therefore, we would not certainly apply them to the words of Peter's confession, we would certainly apply them to that which was the Petrine in Peter: the heaven-given faith which manifested itself in his confession.41 And we can further understand how, just as Christ's contemporaries may have regarded the world as reared on the rock of faithful Abraham, so Christ promised, that He would build His Church on the Petrine in Peter - on his faith and confession. Nor would the term 'Church' sound strange in Jewish ears. The same Greek word (ekklhsia), as the equivalent of the Hebrew Qahal, 'convocation,' 'the called,'42 occurs in the LXX. rendering of the Old Testament, and in 'the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach'43 and was apparently in familiar use at the time.44 In Hebrew use it referred to Israel, not in their national but in their religious unity. As here employed, it would convey the prophecy, that His disciples would in the future be joined together in a religious unity; that this religious unity or 'Church' would be a building of which Christ was the Builder; that it would be founded on 'the Petrine' of heaven-taught faith and confession; and that this religious unity, this Church, was not only intended for a time, like a school of thought, but would last beyond death and the disembodied state: that, alike as regarded Christ and His Church - 'the gates of Hades'45 shall not prevail against it.41. The other views of the words are (a) that Christ pointed to Himself as the Rock, (b) or to Peter as a person, (c) or to Peter's confession.
42. The other word is Edah. Comp. Bible Hist. vol. ii. p. 177, note.
43. Ecclus. xxiv. 2.
44. Comp. Acts 7:38, and even St. Matt. 18:17.
45. It is important to notice that the word is Hades, and not Gehenna. Dean Plumptre calls attention to the wonderful character of such a prophecy at a time when all around seemed to foreshadow only failure.
Viewing 'the Church' as a building founded upon 'the Petrine,'46 it was not to vary, but to carry on the same metaphor, when Christ promised to give to him who had spoken as representative of the Apostles - 'the stewards of the mysteries of God' - 'the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.' For, as the religious unity of His disciples, or the Church, represented 'the royal rule of heaven,' so, figuratively, entrance into the gates of this building, submission to the rule of God - to that Kingdom of which Christ was the King. And we remember how, in a special sense, this promise was fulfilled to Peter. Even as he had been the first to utter the confession of the Church, so was he also privileged to be the first to open its hitherto closed gates to the Gentiles, when God made choice of him, that, through his mouth, the Gentiles should first hear the words of the Gospel,47 and at his bidding first be baptized.4846. Those who apply the words 'upon this Rock, &c.,' to Peter or to Christ must feel, that they introduce an abrupt and inelegant transition from one figure to another.
47. Acts 15:7. 48. Acts 10:48.
If hitherto it has appeared that what Christ said to Peter, though infinitely transcending Jewish ideas, was yet, in its expression and even cast of thought, such as to be quite intelligible to Jewish minds, nay, so familiar to them, that, as by well-marked steps, they might ascend to the higher Sanctuary, the difficult words with which our Lord closed must be read in the same light. For, assuredly, in interpreting such a saying of Christ to Peter, our first inquiry must be, what it would convey to the person to whom the promise was addressed. And here we recall, that no other terms were in more constant use in Rabbinic Canon-Law than those of 'binding' and 'loosing.' The words are the literal translation of the Hebrew equivalents Asar (rsa)af), which means 'to bind,' in the sense of prohibiting, and Hittir (ryt@ehi, from rtani) which means 'to loose,' in the sense of permitting. For the latter the term Shera or Sheri ()raf#@$:, or yri#@$:) is also used. But this expression is, both in Targumic and Talmudic diction, not merely the equivalent of permitting, but passes into that of remitting or pardoning. On the other hand, 'binding and loosing' referred simply to things or acts prohibiting or else permitting them, declaring them lawful or unlawful. This was one of the powers claimed by the Rabbis. As regards their laws (not decisions as to things or acts), it was a principle, that while in Scripture there were some that bound and some that loosed, all the laws of the Rabbis were in reference to 'binding.'49 If this then represented the legislative, another pretension of the Rabbis, that of declaring 'free' or else 'liable,' i.e., guilty (Patur or Chayyabh), expressed their claim to the judicial power. By the first of these they 'bound' or 'loosed' acts or things; by the second they 'remitted' or 'retained,' declared a person free from, or liable to punishment. to compensation, or to sacrifice. These two powers - the legislative and judicial - which belonged to the Rabbinic office, Christ now transferred, and that not in their pretension, but in their reality, to His Apostles: the first here to Peter as their Representative, the second after His Resurrection to the Church.5049. Jer. Ber. 3 b; Jer. Meg. 71 a; Jer. Sanh. 30 a. 50. St. John 20:23.
On the second of these powers we need not at present dwell. That of 'binding' and 'loosing' included all the legislative functions for the new Church. And it was a reality. In the view of the Rabbis heaven was like earth, and questions were discussed and settled by a heavenly Sanhedrin. Now, in regard to some of their earthly decrees, they were wont to say that 'the Sanhedrin above' confirmed what 'the Sanhedrin beneath' had done. But the words of Christ, as they avoided the foolish conceit of His contemporaries, left it not doubtful, but conveyed the assurance that, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, whatsoever they bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven.
But all this that had passed between them could not be matter of common talk - least of all, at that crisis in His History, and in that locality. Accordingly, all the three Evangelists record - each with distinctive emphasis51 - that the open confession of his Messiahship, which was virtually its proclamation, was not to be made public. Among the people it could only have led to results the opposite of those to be desired. How unprepared even that Apostle was, who had made proclamation of the Messiah, for what his confession implied, and how ignorant of the real meaning of Israel's Messiah, appeared only too soon. For, His proclamation as the Christ imposed on the Lord, so to speak, the necessity of setting forth the mode of His contest and victory - the Cross and the Crown. Such teaching was the needed sequence of Peter's confession - needed, not only for the correction of misunderstanding, but for direction. And yet significantly it is only said, that 'He began' to teach them these things - no doubt, as regarded the manner, as well as the time of this teaching. The Evangelists, indeed, write it down in plain language, as fully taught them by later experience, that He was to be rejected by the rulers of Israel, slain, and to rise again the third day. And there can be as little doubt, that Christ's language (as afterwards they looked back upon it) must have clearly implied all this, as that at the time they did not fully understand it.52 He was so constantly in the habit of using symbolic language, and had only lately reproved them for taking that about 'the leaven' in a literal, which He had meant in a figurative sense, that it was but natural, they should have regarded in the same light announcements which, in their strict literality, would seem to them well nigh incredible. They could well understand His rejection by the Scribes - a sort of figurative death, or violent suppression of His claims and doctrines, and then, after briefest period, their resurrection, as it were - but not these terrible details in their full literality.51. The word used by St. Matthew (diesteilato) means 'charged;' that by St. Mark (epetimhsen) implies rebuke; while the expression employed by St. Luke (epitimhsaV autoiV parhggeile) conveys both rebuke and command.
52. Otherwise they could not afterwards have been in such doubt about His Death and Resurrection.
But, even so, there was enough of terrible realism in the words of Jesus to alarm Peter. His very affection, intensely human, to the Human Personality of his Master would lead him astray. That He, Whom he verily believed to be the Messiah, Whom he loved with all the intenseness of such an intense nature - that he should pass through such an ordeal - No! Never! He put it in the very strongest language, although the Evangelist gives only a literal translation of the Rabbinic expression53 - God forbid it, 'God be merciful to Thee:'54 no, such never could, nor should be to the Christ! It was an appeal to the Human in Christ, just as Satan had, in the great Temptation after the forty days' fast, appealed to the purely Human in Jesus. Temptations these, with which we cannot reason, but which we must put behind us as behind, or else they will be a stumbling-block before us; temptations, which come to us often through the love and care of others, Satan transforming himself into an Angel of light; temptations, all the more dangerous, that they appeal to the purely human, not the sinful, element in us, but which arise from the circumstance, that they who so become our stumbling-block, so long as they are before us, are prompted by an affection which has regard to the purely human, and, in its one-sided human intenseness, minds the things of man, and not those of God.53. It is very remarkable that the expression ilewV soi literally 'have mercy on thee,' is the exact transcript of the Rabbinic Chas lecha (-l sx). See Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. vol. ii, p. 85. The commoner expression is Chas ve Shalom, 'mercy and peace,' viz. be to thee, and the meaning is, God forbid, or God avert, a thing or its continuance.
54. So the Greek literally.
Yet Peter's words were to be made useful, by affording to the Master the opportunity of correcting what was amiss in the hearts of all His disciples, and teaching them such general principles about His Kingdom, and about that implied in true discipleship, as would, if received in the heart, enable them in due time victoriously to bear those trials connected with that rejection and Death of the Christ, which at the time they could not understand. Not a Messianic Kingdom, with glory to its heralds and chieftains - but self-denial, and the voluntary bearing of that cross on which the powers of this world would nail the followers of Christ. They knew the torture which their masters - the power of the world - the Romans, were wont to inflict: such must they, and similar must we all, be prepared to bear,55 and, in so doing, begin by denying self. In such a contest, to lose life would be to gain it, to gain would be to lose life. And, if the issue lay between these two, who could hesitate what to choose, even if it were ours to gain or lose a whole world? For behind it all there was a reality - a Messianic triumph and Kingdom - not, indeed, such as they imagined, but far higher, holier: the Coming of the Son of Man in the glory of His Father, and with His Angels, and then eternal gain or loss, according to our deeds.5655. In those days the extreme suffering which a man might expect from the hostile power (the Romans) was the literal cross; in ours, it is suffering not less acute, the greatest which the present hostile power can inflict: really, through perhaps not literally, a cross.
56. St. Matt. 16:24-27.
But why speak of the future and distant? 'A sign' - a terrible sign of it 'from heaven,' a vindication of Christ's 'rejected' claims, a vindication of the Christ, Whom they had slain, invoking His Blood on their City and Nation, a vindication, such as alone these men could understand, of the reality of His Resurrection and Ascension, was in the near future. The flames of the City and Temple would be the light in that nation's darkness, by which to read the inscription on the Cross. All this not afar off. Some of those who stood there would not 'taste death,'57 till in those judgments they would see that the Son of Man had come in His Kingdom.5857. This is an exact translation of the phase htym M(+, which is of such very frequent occurrence in Rabbinic writings. See our remarks on St. John 8:52 in Book IV. ch. 8.
58. St. Matt. 16:28.
Then - only then - at the burning of the City! Why not now, visibly, and immediately on their terrible sin? Because God shows not 'signs from heaven' such as man seeks; because His long-suffering waiteth long; because, all unnoticed, the finger moves on the dial-plate of time till the hour strikes; because there is Divine grandeur and majesty in the slow, unheard, certain nigh-march of events under His direction. God is content to wait, because He reigneth; man must be content to wait, because he believeth.
Next Chapter Table of Contents