During the time Jesus ministered in Galilee, Rome had a military presence in the region. Among the soldiers were men who retained their humanity and befriended the Jews. In Capernaum, one Roman centurion (a commander of 100 soldiers) came to be highly regarded among the elders of the city. He was a compassionate man who deeply cared about his ailing servant who appeared to be at the point of dying. (Luke 7:1, 2) Paralyzed, the servant suffered terribly. (Matthew 8:5, 6)
So, when Jesus was back in the city, this centurion, having heard about him, directed a request to Jewish elders of the city. Through them, he wanted to appeal to Jesus to cure his servant. (Luke 7:3)
The elders earnestly pleaded with Jesus, telling him that the centurion was deserving of having his request honored. “He loves our nation,” they said, “and built the synagogue for us.” (Luke 7:4, 5)
Jesus expressed his willingness to cure the servant and then left with them to go to the centurion’s home. As they approached, he sent friends to tell Jesus that he did not consider himself worthy of having him enter his house and that this was also the reason for his not having made his request personally. Believing that Jesus would not actually have to see his servant, the centurion had his friends convey the following message, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. And to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does [it.]” As far as the centurion was concerned, Jesus authoritative word would be sufficient to effect the cure. (Luke 7:6-8; compare Matthew 8:8, 9.)
Upon hearing these words expressive of a conviction supported by sound reasoning, Jesus marveled and said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, I have not found faith this great in Israel.” The centurion’s remarkable faith gave evidence that many non-Jews would respond in faith, whereas Jesus’ own people would miss out on being part of the royal realm where God is recognized as Sovereign, losing out on all the blessings associated therewith. Speaking prophetically, Jesus said, “Many will come from east and west and recline [as when partaking of a meal] with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast into the outer darkness. There the weeping and the gnashing of teeth will be.” (Matthew 8:10-12; Luke 7:9)
Jesus’ listeners would have understood Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to have been their illustrious ancestors to whom the divine promises were made. As their descendants, the Jews were in line for being sharers in the “kingdom of the heavens.” This, however, called for them to accept Jesus as the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God and the king by God’s appointment. Their failure to do so would result in great loss. From east and west, non-Jewish peoples would put faith in Jesus and come to share the benefits of being in the royal realm. Cast out for their rejection of God’s appointed king, the “sons of the kingdom,” heirs to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would weep and clench their teeth, trying vainly to hold back their bitter tears on account of their loss.
It appears that Jesus also expressed himself to the effect that the cure be accomplished according to the centurion’s faith. In that “hour,” the healing occurred. (Matthew 8:13) Upon their returning to the house, the ones whom the centurion had sent found the slave fully recovered. (Luke 7:10)
Matthew 8:5-13 reflects common usage, whereas Luke 7:1-10 provides the more specific details. Although conveyed through others, the words were those of the centurion, and the narrative in Matthew portrays the interchange as taking place between Jesus and the centurion. The account in Luke, however, relates how the centurion communicated with Jesus. Therefore, the words Jesus spoke to those who represented the centurion are referred to in Matthew 8:5-13 as having been directed to him.
The centurion must have known that Jews did not freely associate with non-Jews in their homes. (Compare Acts 10:28; 11:2, 3.) Possibly, therefore, thinking that entering the house of a non-Jewish stranger could be problematic for Jesus, the centurion may have humbly and considerately expressed his unworthiness to have him do so.
With his disciples, Jesus left Capernaum for other parts of Galilee. Besides his disciples, a large crowd followed. (Luke 7:11)
Near the city of Nain, Jesus performed an astounding miracle. When he and those accompanying him approached the city gate, they saw a funeral procession. The young dead man being carried out for burial was the only son of a widow. A sizable crowd accompanied the weeping mother. Moved with compassion for her, Jesus approached, telling her not to weep. He then touched the bier, and those carrying it stopped walking. In response to Jesus’ words, “Young man, I say to you, rise,” he sat up and began to speak, and Jesus presented him to his mother. (Luke 7:12-15)
All who witnessed this resurrection were filled with a reverential fear or awe and glorified or praised God. “A great prophet has been raised up among us!” they exclaimed. “God has shown concern for his people.” (Luke 7:16)
News about Jesus in connection with this miracle spread widely. The “word” or news reached “the whole of Judea” and “all the surrounding country.” In this case, “Judea” may be understood to refer to all the land in which the Jews resided and not just the region south of Samaria, and “all the surrounding country” would then mean areas beyond the region embraced by the designation “Judea.” (Luke 7:17)
This resurrection may well have reminded those witnessing it that the prophet Elijah had resurrected the only son of a widow in Zarephath and that Elisha had raised the only son of a hospitable woman at Shunem. (1 Kings 17:9, 13-23; 2 Kings 4:32-37) Understandably, inhabitants of Nain would have been moved spontaneously to acknowledge, “A great prophet has been raised up among us!”
Nain is commonly identified with a site located roughly twenty miles southwest of Capernaum.
While John the Baptist was in prison, his disciples told him about all that Jesus was doing. Prior to his confinement, John had called attention to the judgment role the one coming after him would fill and, therefore, would have expected to hear about works suggesting that Jesus had commenced preparing for its execution. He also may have wondered why he was not being freed from imprisonment. To John, reports about the miracles would not have suggested that his message about Jesus was being fulfilled. So he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come or are we to expect another?” (Matthew 3:12; 11:2, 3; Luke 3:7-9; 7:18, 19)
At the time John’s disciples arrived to make their inquiry, Jesus cured many people of their afflictions, liberated those suffering from demon possession, and restored sight to the blind. (Luke 7:21) Jesus did not provide a direct answer to John’s question but replied in a manner that would have enabled him to draw the right conclusion. “Tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind [now] see, the lame walk, lepers are being cleansed, and the deaf hear. The dead are being raised, the poor are having the glad tidings proclaimed [to them], and fortunate is whoever does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:22, 23; Matthew 11:4-6)
Jesus’ response somewhat echoes the prophetic words of Isaiah (61:1) and appears to reflect the then-existing expectations regarding the Messiah. A nonbiblical Dead Sea scroll (4Q521) contains the expression “his Messiah” (likely to be understood as meaning God’s Messiah). Then, in a messianic context, this scroll reads, “He will heal the sick, make the dead alive, and proclaim glad tidings to the poor.”
The words about not taking offense or stumbling relate to not allowing preconceived views or expectations to stand in the way of accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Those who let nothing or no one interfere with their response in faith are pronounced fortunate, because they came to enjoy the desirable state of well-being based on an approved relationship with the Most High.
After John’s two disciples departed, Jesus directed his comments about him to the crowd. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed being swayed by the wind? Then, what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold! Those in splendid apparel and living in luxury are in the palaces of kings. Then, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, even more than a prophet. Concerning him it is written, ‘Look! I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ [Amen, according to some manuscripts and also in Matthew] I say to you, Among those born of women, no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:24-28; Matthew 11:7-11.)
John proved to be a courageous prophet, not even holding back from reproving Herod Antipas for his incestuous relationship with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. (Matthew 14:3, 4) By no means could John be swayed from a firm stand for what is right and, therefore, could never be likened to a reed moving to and fro in the wind. He was dressed in austere attire and subsisted in the wilderness on locusts and honey. John did not possess anything that resembled the splendid apparel and luxurious surroundings of the servile flatterers or sycophants whose position depended on maintaining the favor of rulers. In his courageous bearing and words, he had nothing in common with such fawning men.
John was more than just another prophet God had raised up among his people. Centuries earlier, he had been promised to come as the messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. (Malachi 3:1) In this unique role, John was greater than all the prophets who had preceded him. Nevertheless, the least in the kingdom of God would be greater than he had been in his capacity as the foretold messenger.
Jesus explained that a new development in connection with the “kingdom of the heavens” had its start in the “days of John the Baptist.” The time had arrived and then continued for individuals to become part of the realm where God is Sovereign and to begin enjoying the blessings and benefits this would mean for those seizing the opportunity. In connection with the kingdom, Matthew 11:12 (also Luke 16:16) represents Jesus as having used a word (biázo) that in its basic sense means “to be violent” and in the passive voice “to experience violence.” This may mean that violent opposition is directed against God’s kingdom, and that violent opposers deprive those yielding to them the opportunity to become part of the royal realm. Another possibility is that, in this case, biázo has the sense of directing forceful effort to attain the kingdom and that those exerting themselves fervently would gain entrance. (See the Notes section for the ways in which Matthew 11:12 has been interpretively rendered.)
The law and the prophets prophesied until John came on the scene, pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah. John, however, filled the role of the foretold Elijah, preparing the way for the Messiah’s actual arrival. As Jesus said regarding John, “If you wish to accept it, he is [the] Elijah [foretold] to come.” The proper follow-through for those who were willing to accept that John was the promised Elijah would have been to recognize that the Messiah had arrived and that the marvelous works Jesus did undeniably established his identity as the Son of God. Jesus’ words to those with ears to listen served to admonish them to draw the correct conclusion and to respond in faith. (Matthew 11:13-15)
Luke’s account (7:29, 30) introduces a parenthetical expression that has been understood to refer to hearing what either Jesus or John had said. A number of translations have chosen to make this explicit in their renderings. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.” (NIV) “All the people, yes, even the tax collectors, when they heard John acknowledged God and were baptized by his baptism. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law frustrated God’s purpose for them, for they refused John’s baptism.” (J. B. Phillips) “Everyone had been listening to John. Even the tax collectors had obeyed God and had done what was right by letting John baptize them. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law of Moses refused to obey God and be baptized by John.” (CEV)
It would appear preferable to regard the “hearing” to relate to the message John proclaimed, for Jesus’ words specifically focused on John. Those who heeded John’s message, including the tax collectors, acknowledged that he was declaring God’s word when urging them to repent of their sins. By following through and submitting to baptism, they “justified” God or confessed that he was right when requiring them to repent. The Pharisees and men versed in the law who disregarded the “counsel of God” conveyed through John did not repent and get baptized.
In their response to him and John, Jesus likened the people to children in the marketplace who declined to share in any form of play other youngsters initiated. If one group of children played the flute, the others refused to dance. When the flute players chose to wail instead, the others did not join in and weep. Neither acting out a joyous event nor pretending to be present for a sad occasion was to the liking of those being invited to participate in playing. Nothing pleased them. Similarly, when John the Baptist did not partake of customary meals and drank no wine, people maligned him as having a demon. Jesus, “the Son of Man,” did eat the usual fare, even accepting invitations to banquets, and drank wine. Yet, those who condemned John also slandered Jesus, calling him a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. They implied that Jesus delighted in being associated with the basest elements of society and reveled in food and drink. (Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-34)
The detractors failed to see that the conduct of John and that of Jesus harmonized with their message and produced desirable fruitage. As Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) “Wisdom is justified by all its children.” (Luke 7:35) The austere life of John suited his message of repentance, and the joys and blessings opened up through the Son of God were appropriate for sharing in pleasant table fellowship, which provided opportunities for bringing spiritual benefits to responsive ones. The wisdom evident in the ministries of John and Jesus and their personal bearing was thus vindicated by its “works” (by its “children”) or the good results in the lives of all who heeded what they heard.
With minor variations, the wording of Matthew (11:4-11, 16-19) and Luke (7:22-28, 31-35) is basically the same. In Matthew 11:8, the less specific designation “soft things” appears twice, but Luke 7:25 uses the expressions “soft garments” or “soft robes” and “splendid apparel.” Only Luke’s account mentions the point about “living in luxury.” According to many later manuscript readings of Luke 7:28, John is identified as a prophet, and Matthew 11:11 refers to him as “John the Baptist.” Whereas Matthew 11:11 says “kingdom of the heavens,” Luke 7:28 reads “kingdom of God.”
The words of Matthew 11:12 have been variously translated, with some renderings being literal and others departing considerably from the Greek text. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (ESV) “From the time John preached his message until this very day the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violent attacks, and violent men try to seize it.” (GNT, Second Edition) “And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it.” (NLT) “Since the time John the Baptist came until now, the kingdom of heaven has been going forward in strength, and people have been trying to take it by force.” (NCV) “From the time of John the Baptist until now, violent people have been trying to take over the kingdom of heaven by force.” (CEV) Seit Johannes der Täufer da ist, richtet Gott seine Herrschaft auf, wenn auch Gewalttätige versuchen, es zu verhindern. (“Since John the Baptist has been here God has been establishing his rule, even though violent ones try to prevent it.” [The German Hoffnung für Alle]) Als der Täufer Johannes auftrat, hat Gott angefangen, seine Herrschaft aufzurichten; aber bis heute stellen sich ihre Feinde in den Weg. Sie hindern andere mit Gewalt daran, sich dieser Herrschaft zu unterstellen. (“When the baptizer John appeared, God began to establish his rule; but until today its enemies position themselves in the way. With violence, they hinder others from submitting to this rule.” [The German Gute Nachricht Bibel])
Jesus did most of the works demonstrating divine power in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, located near or on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Although having witnessed many miracles, most of the inhabitants of these cities refused to repent and change their ways, persisting in unbelief. This prompted Jesus to reproach them. (Matthew 11:20) On account of their great loss, his pronouncement of woe must have been accompanied by great sadness. (Compare Luke 13:34; 19:41, 42.)
If the people of Tyre and Sidon, the non-Israelite cities on the Phoenician coast, had witnessed the miracles Jesus performed, they would long previously have repented, expressing their sorrow by putting on sackcloth and seating themselves on ashes. The arrival of the day of judgment would, therefore, prove to be more bearable for the people of Tyre and Sidon than for the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida who saw Jesus’ mighty deeds. (Matthew 11:21, 22; Luke 10:13, 14)
As for Capernaum, it would not be exalted heaven high but would be brought down to the lowest level (Hades or the realm of the dead). (Compare the different subject matter but the similar contrast in Amos 9:2; see the Notes section on Matthew 11:23.) If the morally corrupt inhabitants of Sodom had been granted the opportunity to see the working of divine power like the people of Capernaum did, they would have repented, and the city would still have existed when Jesus was on earth. On the day of judgment, the situation would be more bearable for the former inhabitants of Sodom than for the unrepentant inhabitants of Capernaum. (Matthew 11:23, 24; Luke 10:15)
Jesus’ words suggest that the judgment destined to come upon the unbelieving inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum would be more severe than that on the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. He did not, however, reveal just how the judgment would be more tolerable or bearable. Later, in one of his parables, he did indicate that the kind of punitive judgment to be administered would depend on the degree of accountability. (Luke 12:47, 48) It was sufficient for unbelievers to be warned about the seriousness of the coming judgment without being provided with specifics. By reason of what they had seen and heard, the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were far more accountable for their actions than the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom.
The unresponsiveness of the majority did not embitter Jesus. With holy spirit operating upon him, he rejoiced about those who did come to repentance and put their faith in him. “I thank [exomologéo] you,” he prayed, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it came to be pleasing before you.” (Matthew 11:25, 26; Luke 10:21; see the Notes section for additional comments on Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21.)
For the most part, the prominent ones among the Jews, the wise and learned in their midst, were more concerned about maintaining their position and upholding tradition than they were in doing God’s will. Therefore, the matters relating to coming to enjoy an approved relationship with the Father through his Son remained hidden from them. The Father let them remain blind and thus kept them from seeing their need for repentance and putting faith in his Son. Yet, to the lowly, the ones whom others regarded as insignificant, mere babes, the Father had revealed what was necessary, and they responded in faith. Their disposition was such that they were receptive to the message and person of his Son, and the Father favored them with unobstructed hearing with attentive ears.
To his Son, the Father had committed “all things” pertaining to having his approval. As the intimate of his Father, Jesus alone truly knew him and was fully known by him. In a manner that no one else could, Jesus revealed his Father to anyone whom he chose. The ones chosen would thus also truly come to know the Father as those enjoying an approved relationship with him. Jesus’ choice, as evident from those who became his loyal disciples, were all persons who had repented of their sins and came to acknowledge him as the Christ, the Son of God. (Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22)
No one, however, was debarred from coming to him. To all who carried a heavy burden (suffering or oppression of any kind, the weight of compliance with traditions, or feelings of guilt and unworthiness), he extended the invitation to come to him, and he would grant them rest or refreshment. Instead of the oppressive yoke that weighed down on them and brought them pain and grief, he invited them to accept his yoke and to learn from him. He was no oppressive master, with an arrogant or superior bearing. Jesus was gentle and, in his heart or deep inner self, lowly. There was nothing about the Son of God that would make others feel inferior or worthless. He was tender and loving, displaying the spirit of a caring servant and not the harsh attitude of a superior. Therefore, the yoke of discipleship that he offered would be easy to carry, and the load would be light. It was not a life governed by a multitude of rules and regulations but a life of love stemming from an internal desire to be pleasing to him and his Father. (Matthew 11:28-30)
In Matthew 11:23 (and the parallel passage of Luke 10:15), a number of translations present the contrast by other than a literal rendering of “heaven” and “Hades.” “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.” (NIV) “And you Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the depths.” (NCV)
The word exomologéo, a form of which is found in Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21, signifies to confess or acknowledge openly. In the context of Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21, the term may either mean “thank” or “praise.”
See http://bibleplaces.com/bethsaida.htm for pictures of and comments about Bethsaida.
See http://holylandphotos.org/ for pictures of and comments about Chorazin and Tyre.Type either Korazin or Tyre in the Search box to obtain the specific information on each one.
See http://bibleplaces.com/capernaum.htm for pictures of and comments about Capernaum.
Jesus accepted an invitation to share a meal in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Possibly because of having heard or witnessed Jesus’ miracles, Simon’s curiosity about this “rabbi” of Galilee had been aroused and he wanted an opportunity to interact with him personally. As on other occasions, Jesus would primarily have been concerned about the spiritual well-being of those with whom he chose to associate. (Luke 7:36)
According to the arrangement for serving meals at that time, couches would have been positioned around three sides of a table, with the remaining side providing access for servants to bring in the food. While reclining on the couches, the host and the guests would not be wearing their sandals. Supporting themselves on the left arm, those eating would partake of the food with their right hand.
The account does not say whether those in Simon’s home were eating in the courtyard or in a room adjacent thereto. Uninvited persons would have had access to the courtyard, and it was customary for people to go to homes where rabbis had been invited in order to learn from them.
A woman in the city who had the reputation of being a sinner, possibly a prostitute, heard the news that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s home. She doubtless had heard Jesus speak and may even have witnessed his miracles. It appears that, based on what she had heard or seen, she had been moved to make changes in her life and came to appreciate and love Jesus for what he had done for her. Confident that he would not turn her away, she took an alabaster jar filled with myrrh or perfumed ointment and headed for Simon’s house. (Luke 7:37) As a woman with an unsavory reputation, she knew that she would not be a welcome sight, but her love for Jesus and her trust in him prompted her to go where she would not be wanted.
Upon arriving at the house, she stood behind Jesus, at his feet. Emotionally moved by his spirit of love and compassion, she began to weep, and her tears fell upon his feet. She then wiped his feet dry with her long hair, continued kissing them, and poured upon them the perfumed ointment she had brought along. (Luke 7:38) Observing this, Simon reasoned that Jesus could not be a prophet, for a prophet would have known the kind of sinful woman who was touching him. (Luke 7:39)
Discerning Simon’s reaction, Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” replied Simon, “speak.” Jesus then told about two debtors, one owing 500 denarii (the denarius being the usual daily wage for a worker) and the other 50 to the same creditor. Neither debtor was able to repay the amount owed, and the creditor kindly canceled their debts. Jesus then asked Simon, “Which one of them will love him more?” Simon concluded that it would be the one who had the greater debt. (Luke 7:40-43)
Jesus acknowledged, “Rightly you have judged.” Applying the point of his parable about the two debtors, Jesus turned toward the woman and directed his words to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, [and] you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, wet my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she, from the time I came, did not stop kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfumed ointment.” (Luke 7:43-46)
Simon had not extended to Jesus the customary gestures of hospitality, which included making provision for washing the guest’s feet, greeting him with a kiss, and applying olive oil to the exposed areas of his head. In expression of her love and appreciation, however, the woman had done everything Simon had neglected to do.
Because of the way she had responded to him, Jesus continued, “Her sins, though many, are forgiven because she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” To the woman, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those reclining at the table, however, reacted negatively, reasoning within themselves, “Who is this who can even forgive sins?” Jesus next words to her revealed why she gained forgiveness, reassuringly he said to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:47-50) The basis for forgiveness is faith or trust in Jesus, and the woman had demonstrated that she had genuine faith and love. Therefore, she could depart in peace, free from the burden of guilt for past sins.
With his twelve apostles, Jesus traveled to towns and villages in Galilee, proclaiming the glad tidings of God’s kingdom. His message revealed how individuals could become part of the realm where his Father is recognized as Sovereign. Many accompanied Jesus and his apostles, including some women whom he had cured of their ailments or liberated from demon possession. Among them were Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna. (Luke 8:1-3)
Jesus had expelled “seven demons” from Mary. This may not necessarily mean “seven” in a literal sense but may denote a very serious case of demon possession. Mary may have been called Magdalene because of coming from Magdala, a town on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee and about six miles southwest of Capernaum.
Joanna appears to have been a woman of considerable prominence. Her husband Chuza was in the service of Herod Antipas. He is identified as occupying the position of epítropos, (steward or manager). In extrabiblical sources, the term epítropos is even used for men who served in such high offices as governors and procurators. Nothing in the context is specific enough to determine just what Chuza’s official position entailed and whether he was still alive at the time Joanna began following Jesus.
The women seem to have had considerable means at their disposal and used their resources to assist Jesus and the apostles. They may have arranged to provide meals and other essential services. (Luke 8:3)
Large crowds began to gather around Jesus and even scribes from Jerusalem came down to the area in Galilee which was the focus of his activity. The constant presence of crowds did not permit Jesus and his apostles to have the needed time to eat. News about these developments, possibly including word about the hostility of the Pharisees, caused Mary and his brothers to become concerned. They concluded that Jesus had lost his senses and needed to be rescued from the situation that had come into existence. (Mark 3:20-22)
On one occasion, people brought a man whose blindness and inability to speak they believed to be caused by demon possession. Jesus cured the afflicted man, enabling him to speak and to see. Amazed, those witnessing the miracle wondered, “Might he not be the son of David [the promised Messiah]?” (Matthew 12:22, 23) Hearing this, the Pharisees (the scribes that had come from Jerusalem [according to Mark 3:22]) did not deny the miracle but concluded that Jesus performed it by the power of Beelzebul (Beelzebub) or the devil, the ruler of the demons. (Matthew 12:24)
Aware of the thinking of those who opposed him, Jesus exposed the folly of their reasoning. “Every kingdom divided against itself comes to ruin, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How, then, will his kingdom stand? And if I, by Beelzebul, cast out the demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they [your sons, probably meaning the disciples of the Pharisees] will be your judges.” (Matthew 12:25-27; Mark 3:23-26)
It would have been unreasonable for Satan to work against his own interests, creating loss in his realm. Furthermore, the Pharisees would never have contended that their “sons” or disciples engaged in expelling demons by satanic power. They would have attributed such exorcism to the power of God. So, their own “sons” or disciples exposed them as having come to totally inconsistent conclusions when claiming the very opposite about Jesus.
“If, however,” Jesus continued, “I cast out demons by God’s spirit, then God’s kingdom has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the house of a strong man and seize his belongings, unless he first binds the strong man?” Deprived of his ability to prevent the seizure of his goods, he would be vulnerable. It would then be possible to enter his house and rob him. (Matthew 12:28, 29; Mark 3:27) The expulsion of demons through the powerful working of God’s spirit identified Jesus as God’s anointed king and as exercising royal authority that even the demons had to obey.
All who did not take their stand for Jesus, demonstrating themselves to be “with him,” were “against” him. Those who did not “gather” with him, actively supporting his work, made themselves guilty of “scattering” or trying to interfere with his labors. (Matthew 12:30)
Jesus stressed the seriousness of attributing his good works to satanic power. People who, in ignorance, became guilty of blaspheming or reviling God’s Son or sinned seriously could be forgiven. (Compare 1 Timothy 1:13-16.) Blaspheming God’s spirit, persistently maintaining that the unmistakable evidence of the working of divine power for the accomplishment of good was satanic or demonic, would not be forgiven then or in the age to come. It would always be an unforgivable sin. (Matthew 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28-30)
To “make the tree good” would denote to consider the source of the fruit as good and, therefore, the fruit itself as good. When, however, the tree is “made rotten” or the source of the fruit is viewed as bad, the fruit is likewise regarded as bad. Those who opposed Jesus viewed him as evil, and so they called his good works (the “fruit”) the product of evil. The Son of God, however, set forth the trustworthy standard for judging, “A tree is known by its fruit.” His works were undeniably good, establishing that he, as the one through whom they occurred, was good. (Matthew 12:33)
Therefore, all who reviled his good works revealed themselves to be evil, “the offspring of vipers.” As wicked persons, how could they possibly “speak good things”? It is out of the “abundance of the heart” or from all that constitutes the inmost self that the “mouth speaks,” the unguarded words revealing the true identity of the individual. Out of the “good treasure [of his heart, according to some manuscripts],” the depository of his deep inner self or the real person, the good man bring forth good things. The evil or corrupt person brings forth evil things from his “evil treasure” or his inmost self, which identifies him as the person he truly is. (Matthew 12:34, 35)
In the future, everyone would have to render an account for their words and actions. The judgment to be executed upon those blaspheming or reviling God’s spirit (as the scribes and Pharisees had done when attributing Jesus’ good works to demonic power) would be very serious. As Jesus continued, “In the day of judgment,” people would have to give an account for every worthless saying they had uttered. By their words, they would be either justified (acquitted or vindicated) or condemned. (Matthew 12:36, 37)
Then, in response to what Jesus had said, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked for a “sign.” They were not satisfied with the many signs or miracles Jesus had performed and which provided clear evidence that he was the Messiah, God’s unique Son. The unbelieving scribes and Pharisees wanted a spectacular heavenly sign that, in their estimation, would be required to establish his identity as the Messiah who was promised to come. Jesus then referred to the existing generation of which they were a part as “wicked and adulterous” and revealed that their unbelief would not be accommodated. It was a “wicked” generation in its hatred of Jesus and its denial of the operation of divine power through him. By refusing to accept him as the one whom his Father had sent, that generation was guilty of unfaithfulness to his Father and disregarded the covenant that required submission to his will. This unfaithfulness constituted adultery. (Matthew 12:38, 39)
The kind of sign the wicked and adulterous generation wanted would never be granted. No sign other than the sign of the prophet Jonah would be given to that generation. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the large sea creature for “three days and three nights,” the Son of Man would be in the “heart of the earth” or in the tomb for “three days and three nights.” Accordingly, the definitive sign would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after parts of three days in the tomb. Even that sign, though, would not persuade those who had hardened themselves in unbelief. So, as Jesus said, the people of Nineveh would rise in the judgment and, because of their having repented upon hearing Jonah’s proclamation, would condemn the generation of unbelieving Jews who saw and heard someone far greater than Jonah. (Matthew 12:39-41; see also Jonah 1:17; 2:10; 3:4-10.)
Likewise, the “queen of the South” would rise in the judgment and condemn the unbelieving generation. Based on reports she had heard, the queen of Sheba (probably located in southwestern Arabia) traveled many miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The unbelieving generation, though, had someone in their midst who was far greater than Solomon but turned a deaf ear to him. The course of the queen of Sheba thus stood in marked contrast to that of the generation that persisted in unbelief. (Matthew 11:42; see also 1 Kings 10:1-10.)
Jesus emphasized the grave danger in which the faithless generation found itself. To illustrate this aspect, he drew on then-existing beliefs about unclean spirits. Upon coming out of a man, an unclean spirit passed through dry areas, searching for a resting place. Unable to locate such, this spirit decided to return to its former abode and found it unoccupied, swept clean, and orderly. It then went on its way and found seven other spirits even more evil than it was, and all of them made their home in its former residence. The final condition of the man then came to be worse than the former undesirable state. Jesus concluded with an application of this likeness, saying, “Thus also it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)
In the past, the “demon” that had taken hold on unfaithful Israel proved to be idolatry, particularly Baal worship. After the Babylonian exile, however, the former idolatry no longer posed a threat. Eventually, though, worse “demons” found a home. The legalism that developed, which came to be devoid of love, compassion, and justice, brought the generation existing during the time Jesus was on earth into a more ruinous state. The low level to which unbelief plunged them became more and more evident from their hatred of the unique Son of God and their wanting to bring about his death.
While Jesus continued talking, Mary and James, Joses (Joseph), Judas, and Simon arrived, wanting to speak to him and have him leave with them. The disturbing reports they had heard made them feel they needed to take control of the situation, for they had concluded that he had lost his senses. Unable to get near him because of the crowd around the house where he was, they got word to him through others. Told that his mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak to him, Jesus, by extending his hand in the direction of his disciples who were sitting around him, identified them as his mother and brothers. Then he added, “Whoever does the will of my Father in the heavens is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:21, 31-35; 6:3; Luke 8:19, 20) According to Luke 8:21, his mother and brothers would be those hearing God’s word and acting in harmony therewith.
Josephus, in his Antiquities ( VIII, ii, 5), provides evidence that exorcism was practiced in the first century. He attributed to Solomon the procedure for expelling demons. “And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man.”
A Dead Sea scroll (11QAprocryphal Psalms) dated from before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE contains four psalms used for exorcism, one of which is Psalm 91. The other three are not found in the book of Psalms. Of these three, one is ascribed to Solomon and indicates that YHWH would send a powerful angel against the demons and that they would be sent into the great abyss or the deepest Sheol.
It should be noted that Jesus did not use any special procedure or resort to a display for spectators. Possibly because the Pharisees had maligned him as being in league with the demons, Jesus chose to contrast his greatness with that of Solomon, whose name was commonly associated with exorcism. Those hearing Jesus, based on their beliefs about exorcism, should have been able to discern that his casting out of demons and performing other powerful works confirmed his being greater than Solomon.
While there are variations in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the basic thoughts are the same. Identical wording for quotations should not be expected, as the narratives were composed in Greek and not in the language Jesus or others originally spoke. Minor details preserved in one account but not repeated in another provide indirect proof that the writers produced them independently of one another, based on the information available to them.
The reference to “the house” in Matthew 13:1 suggests that a specific home is meant. Possibly it was the home of Peter and Andrew in Capernaum. After leaving the home, Jesus set out for the Sea of Galilee. Seeing him, many people began to gather around him. He then boarded a boat, seated himself, and began to speak to the crowd standing on the beach. (Matthew 13:2; Mark 4:1; )
Unlike the limited use he had made of parables or likenesses in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus now began to teach exclusively with parables. These parables portrayed scenes from daily life and served to convey spiritual truths. (Matthew 13:3; Mark 4:2; Luke 8:4)
See http://bibleplaces.com/capernaum.htm for pictures of and comments about Capernaum.
See http://bibleplaces.com/seagalilee.htm for pictures of and comments about the Sea of Galilee.
As a sower began to broadcast seed, some of it fell on the hard-packed soil alongside the path leading through the field. The birds flew down and ate it. Other seed fell on a thin layer of soil covering rock. The seed germinated quickly, but the thin layer of soil made it impossible for a good root system to develop. Subjected to the sun’s intense heat, the sprouted grain dried up. Still other seed fell among thorns, which deprived the sprouting grain of essential growing conditions, choking it. The seed that fell on good soil eventually yielded a harvest one hundred times, sixty times, or thirty times greater than the amount sown. (Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-8)
Jesus revealed that his words involved more than just telling a story about a sower and what happened to the seed he broadcast. He called upon those with ears to listen. Jesus wanted the people to listen attentively and to seek to understand the spiritual truths being conveyed. (Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8)
The disciples appear to have noted a change in Jesus’ manner of teaching. They later asked him privately why he taught the people with parables. He explained that the parables served to hide the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens from those who chose not to be his disciples. (Matthew 13:10, 11; Mark 4:10, 11; Luke 8:10)
“To you,” said Jesus, “it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it has not been given.” In the case of those who “had” or were in possession of the precious truths Jesus had imparted, more would be given them, and they would come to have an abundance. Persons who did “not have,” failing to recognize the inestimable value of Jesus’ teaching and acting on it, would lose even what they may have had. Their memory of Jesus’ words would not stimulate further reflection and so would convey no real significance to them. (Matthew 13:11, 12; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10)
Continuing, he explained that he spoke in parables to conceal spiritual truths from those who, in their hearts or their inmost selves, really did not want them. They “looked,” but not with the intent of seeing. They “heard,” but did not hear or listen responsively. They did not comprehend. In their case, the words of the prophet Isaiah found fulfillment or applied, “Hearing, you will hear and not comprehend. And looking, you will look and not perceive. For the heart [mind] of this people has become dull. And, with difficulty, their ears have heard, and they have shut their eyes so that they may never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and comprehend with their heart [mind] and turn around, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10)
These words of Isaiah (6:9, 10, LXX) indicate that the people deliberately shut their eyes and closed their ears, refusing to draw the correct conclusions from what they saw and heard. Instead of turning around, coming to repentance, they persisted in their unbelief or faithlessness and lost out on the healing available to them. Although hearing the parables Jesus related and seeing his works, they remained without understanding.
As for his disciples, he indicated that they were fortunate or in an enviable situation. Their eyes did see, and their ears did hear. “Amen (truly), I say to you,” Jesus continued, “Many prophets and righteous ones wanted to see what you are seeing and did not see [it], and to hear what you are hearing and did not hear [it].” Prophets and godly persons in the past looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the disciples enjoyed close association with him, hearing his teaching, witnessing his miracles, and experiencing his compassion and love. (Matthew 13:16, 17)
Unlike the unbelieving people, the disciples wanted to understand Jesus’ words. Discerning that his disciples would not comprehend other parables without his telling them the meaning of the one about the results from the sower’s work, Jesus gave them the explanation. (Mark 4:13)
The “seed” is the “word of the kingdom” or the “word of God” (the message that related to God’s royal realm and his appointed king, Jesus Christ, his unique Son). People who heard the message but whose “heart” or inmost self remained unaffected would lose all benefits. In their case, the circumstances would be comparable to seed falling on hard-packed soil alongside the path and which seed birds swooped down to eat. Although having heard the message, the individuals involved would never really think about it and then respond positively. Distracted by the traffic running through their lives or by constant activity, they would remain impervious to God’s word or message. Their heart or inner self would prove to be like the trampled-upon path and soil on both sides of it. The wicked one, Satan, or the devil would snatch the word from their heart, preventing them from believing the message that had been lost to them. Consequently, they would not be saved from divine wrath and would not gain the real life of a never-ending relationship with the Father, which relationship was only available through the Son. (Matthew 13:18, 19; Mark 4:14, 15; Luke 8:11, 12)
There are those whose response to the word is comparable to the sprouting of seed from a thin layer of soil covering rock. They accept the message with joy or an initial burst of great enthusiasm, but they do not truly give it serious consideration or appreciatively reflect on its inestimable value. The message does not become part of their deep inner self, merely proving to be like sprouting grain without essential roots. Theirs is an emotional surface acceptance of the word. Then, when faced with distress or persecution because of having believed the message, they are stumbled or give up, no longer letting it influence any aspect of their lives. (Matthew 13:20, 21; Mark 4:16, 17; Luke 8:13)
In its impact on individuals who give in to worries or daily anxieties about making a living, who desire to become rich, or who become preoccupied with pleasures, the message is like sprouting seed that the thorns choke. They may believe the word for a time and be positively affected by it. Eventually, though, the anxieties of life, the desire for riches, or pleasure seeking crowd out the desire to live a life of faith as loyal disciples of God’s Son. The end result is no fruit in the form of words and deeds based on acceptance of the word. (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18, 19; Luke 8:14)
All who accept the word and for whom it comes to be a precious deposit in their inmost selves are like good soil where the seed can sprout, grow, flourish, and produce fruit. Even for good soil, however, productivity may vary, with yields of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times the amount sown. Numerous factors beyond one’s control can affect what one may be able to do in advancing the cause of Christ. Nevertheless, the evidence of being a genuine disciple of God’s Son should be discernible from the expressions being made and the kind of life being lived. (Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15)
In another parable, Jesus likened a feature of the “kingdom of the heavens” to a “man who sowed good seed in his field,” which an enemy later oversowed with seeds from weeds. During the night, while people were asleep, this enemy sowed among the wheat and then left. When the wheat sprouted and the ears developed, the weeds also appeared. This puzzled the servants of the owner of the field. “Master,” they asked, “did you not sow good seed in your field? From where, then, did the weeds come?” He explained that an enemy had oversown the field. Concerned, the servants asked him whether they should get rid of the weeds. He, however, did not grant them permission to do so, telling them that, when pulling up the weeds, they could also uproot the wheat. Both weeds and wheat should be allowed to grow together until the time of the harvest. At that time, the reapers would first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, whereas the wheat would be harvested and stored. (Matthew 13:24-30)
Later, after he had dismissed the crowd, Jesus returned to the house (likely Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum) with his disciples. They then approached him with the request that he tell them the meaning of the parable about the weeds in the field. (Matthew 13:36)
He explained the “sower of the good seed” to be the “Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37) By proclaiming the glad tidings of the kingdom, the message revealing how individuals could become part of God’s royal realm, Jesus had gathered disciples, individuals who sincerely desired his Father as their Sovereign and wanted to do his will.
The “field is the world,” the world of mankind in which, on account of Jesus’ activity (“sowing”), the “good seed,” “sons of the kingdom,” those belonging to God’s royal realm, or genuine believers could be found. Seizing the opportunity to introduce a ruinous element, the enemy or the devil did his nefarious sowing while people were sleeping (doing so secretly, as under the cover of darkness). So, in the world, the “sons of the kingdom” (good seed or wheat) and the “sons of the wicked one” (weeds) who belonged to the devil’s realm came to be intertwined and, initially, could not even be distinguished. (Matthew 13:38, 39)
“The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” This present age is destined to culminate in the execution of divine judgment. At that time, there will be a development comparable to pulling up weeds and burning them. Jesus himself, the “Son of Man,” will send forth his angels to collect out of his kingdom all those causing offense and practicing lawlessness and then toss them, like bundled weeds, into a fiery furnace. The condemnatory judgment the fiery furnace represents would occasion weeping and gnashing of teeth. This “weeping” would be on account of the pain of loss. In a vain effort to stifle tears of bitter grief, the condemned would gnash or clench their teeth. (Matthew 13:39-42)
For the upright ones, the outcome at the “end of the age” would be very different. They would “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Theirs would be the splendor of those whom God approves, sharing in all the benefits and blessings to be enjoyed by those in his realm. Again, stressing the need for attentive listening and appropriate action, Jesus added, “Let the one having ears listen.” (Matthew 13:43)
This parable reveals that no humanly devised standard (such as a list of doctrines) can be used to differentiate “weeds” from “wheat.” Humans have not been authorized to root out those whom they perceive to be weeds based on their particular view of “doctrinal purity.” As history has repeatedly demonstrated, human efforts to eliminate “weeds” have brought about untold suffering, with the self-appointed weed pullers repeatedly making themselves guilty of heinous crimes against humanity. The sectarian spirit prevalent in many movements continues to cause harm, as individuals imagine themselves to be serving Christ’s interests while abusing those who may not accept their unique doctrines. With the angels acting under the direction of God’s Son, no mistakes will be made, but the judgment will be just in every respect.
The Greek word translated “weed” (zizánion) is thought to refer to “bearded darnel,” which looks much like wheat until the ear appears. The alleged poisonous properties of darnel are commonly attributed to a fungus. When eaten inadvertently, darnel has reportedly caused dizziness and diarrhea.
Placing a lighted oil lamp under a container or a bed would be contrary to its purpose. To give light to those in a house or those entering it, the lamp is placed on a stand. (Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16) Accordingly, those who embraced Jesus’ teaching should serve as lighted lamps, sharing it with others and living in harmony therewith. The teaching Jesus imparted privately to his disciples was not meant to be kept secret. This appears to be the sense of his words indicating that the ultimate objective of hiding or concealing is disclosure. (Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17)
Jesus admonished those hearing his teaching to pay attention to how they listened, the purpose being that they would do so attentively and put themselves in a position to recall his words. The measure of attention they would give would determine the measure of the benefit they would receive. Those who paid attention, making Jesus’ teaching their own or coming to have it in their possession would receive even more, continuing to increase in their understanding of his teaching. Those who failed to focus on what he said, never really thinking about it, would lose even what they thought or imagined they had. (Mark 4:23-25; Luke 8:18)
Another feature of the “kingdom of God” is its being like seed that grows without the planter’s contributing toward the growth or knowing just how it comes to sprout and flourish. Day after day, while the man who planted the seed sleeps and then rises in the morning to engage in the day’s activity, the ground of itself (or without his intervention) produces the stalk and then the ear. Once the grain is ripe, he harvests it with his sickle. (Mark 4:26-29)
As the message about the opportunity to become part of God’s realm spread through the activity of Jesus and later of his disciples, observable results were produced. An increasing number of responsive ones entered the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign, and significant changes occurred in their lives. The manner in which these positive results came about, like the sprouting and growing of a plant from a seed, remained hidden from human view. God makes growth possible, and this explains why, with the passage of time, genuine believers come to be more and more like Jesus Christ and his Father. (Compare 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.) At the time of the “harvest,” all who are genuine believers will be revealed as approved and desirable from God’s standpoint, just like mature grain is identified as suitable for humans.
Jesus likened the “kingdom of the heavens” or the “kingdom of God” to a mustard seed that grows to become a “tree.” Of the seeds that his listeners planted, the mustard seed would have been one of the smallest. Its potential for growth, however, was far greater than that of larger seeds. The commonly cultivated black mustard (Brassica nigra) may attain a height of fifteen feet. In the autumn, when the branches have hardened, small birds such as finches perch on them and feed on the seeds. It appears that the reference to the “nesting” of birds “in the shade” of the mature mustard plant is to be understood of their alighting and remaining on the branches to feed (as if they had made their nest or home there). (Matthew 13:31, 32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, 19)
The basic point of the parable appears to be that an insignificant start may result in astonishing growth. Historically, the message about God’s kingdom, with its focus on Jesus Christ, reached the distant parts of the then-known world in less than three decades. (Compare Colossians 1:23.) As a consequence, many thousands began to identify themselves as belonging to God’s realm and as having ceased to be a part of the world alienated from him. This development would have been difficult to imagine when Jesus’ activity first began.
In another parable, Jesus compared the “kingdom of the heavens” or the “kingdom of God” to leaven that a woman added to three seahs of dough. Once added or “hidden,” the leaven would not be visible but would start the fermenting process. It was common for women to use leaven, and there is no reason to think that any of Jesus’ listeners would have imagined that he was portraying something sinister when referring to the woman as “hiding” it in the dough. Three seahs would have been a large quantity, amounting to about 20 dry quarts. Although the amount of leaven or fermented dough was relatively small, it served to ferment the entire batch into which it was mixed. (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20, 21)
The parable suggests a quiet and imperceptible working of a seemingly insignificant nature and which produces remarkable observable results. This fits how the message about God’s kingdom spread far and wide and led to dramatic changes in the lives of those who responded to it in faith, becoming part of God’s realm.
Once Jesus began to make exclusive use of parables in his teaching, he appears to have continued doing so when speaking to the crowds. Observing the extent of which they were “able” or willing to listen, he would determine when to stop speaking to them. (Matthew 13:34; Mark 4:33) To his disciples, however, he would explain everything they needed to know. (Mark 4:34) According to Matthew 13:35, his use of parables “fulfilled” the words “spoken through the prophet,” which are then quoted, “I will open my mouth in parables. I will utter things hidden from the founding [of the world (according to many manuscripts)].” (See the Notes section for additional comments.)
After Jesus left the crowd and explained the parable of the weed and the wheat privately to his disciples, he related other parables to them. (Matthew 13:36-43)
The superscription of Psalm 78 links the composition to Asaph. According to 1 Chronciles 25:2, the Levite musician, a contemporary of David, did prophesying. Therefore, in Matthew 13:35, the quotation from Psalm 78:2 is rightly attributed to a prophet.
The extant Septuagint text of Psalm 78:2(77:2) does not match the Greek of Matthew 13:35. Although starting with the words, “I will open my mouth in parables,” the Septuagint continues, “I will utter riddles from the beginning.” The Masoretic Text reads likewise. “Riddles” or enigmatic sayings could be spoken of as “hidden” or “concealed” things. Considerable mental effort is required to uncover their meaning. The expression “founding” or “founding of the world” denotes “from the beginning” or “from of old.” So, although the words of Matthew 13:35 differ from the Septuagint reading and a more literal rendering of the extant Hebrew text, the meaning being conveyed is basically the same.
Anciently, in times of war, people commonly hid valuables in the ground. If the individual doing so was killed or taken prisoner, knowledge about the hidden “treasure” would be lost. Years later, while plowing a field, a plowman might discover the hidden “treasure.” Recognizing the value of his find, he would do whatever he could to obtain the field and thereby acquire the treasure.
Jesus likened the “kingdom of the heavens” or the “kingdom of God” to a “treasure” a man found in a field and his subsequent sale of all his possessions to be able to buy this field. (Matthew 13:44) In the parable, the man did not begin his work in the field in order to look for a treasure. It was an unexpected find. Similarly, individuals may not necessarily have been searching for something that would add inestimable value to the life they were living. Then, when they hear the message about God’s kingdom and what it can mean for them to be part of his realm, they recognize its value and do whatever is required of them to have God as the Sovereign of their lives.
Unlike the man who stumbled upon a treasure in a field, the merchant of Jesus’ next parable actively searched for pearls of exceptional value. Upon finding one especially precious pearl, he sold everything he had to buy it. (Matthew 13:45, 46) In relation to the “kingdom of the heavens” or the “kingdom of God,” this indicates that there are persons who seek and long for a right relationship with the Most High. Upon hearing the message about Jesus Christ, they recognize that they have found the object of their search and sacrifice everything that may be necessary in order to be in the realm where his Father is the Sovereign.
Jesus likened the “kingdom of the heavens” to a dragnet cast into the sea and by means of which fish of all kinds are caught. When the net is full, the fishermen pull the net ashore and, after seating themselves, select all the fish suitable for food. According to the Mosaic law, only fish with fins and scales could be eaten, and these would be put into containers. The rest of the catch would be discarded. (Matthew 13:47, 48)
Commenting on the parable, Jesus repeated points he had made when explaining to his disciples the parable about the weeds and the wheat. At the “end of the age,” which would be the time for the execution of divine judgment, the angels would separate the wicked from the upright. The dreadful judgment to befall the wicked is compared to their being tossed into a “fiery furnace.” The realization of their great loss would cause them to weep and to gnash their teeth in an attempt to hold back their tears of bitter grief. (Matthew 13:49, 50)
The parable indicates that the means or the instrument through which individuals may come to know about the “kingdom of the heavens” would, like a dragnet, gather both true and false believers. Not all professing to believe in the Son would prove to be his disciples, persons who had ceased to be part of the world alienated from his Father and who were doing his will. At the “end of the age,” the angels would be used to identify those who truly belonged to God’s realm and who would then share in all the blessings associated with being found divinely approved.
When Jesus questioned his disciples whether they had understood his parables, they replied, “Yes.” He then continued, “Every scribe, having been taught about the kingdom of the heavens, is like a man, [the] master of the house, who brings out new and old things from his [stored] treasure.” (Matthew 13:51, 52)
A scribe or learned person came to be such upon first being instructed, preparing him to teach others. Jesus’ disciples, having been taught by him about the kingdom of the heavens, came into possession of a precious treasure. Like the master of a house, they could bring both new and old things out of this depository. The new things would have related to Jesus and his teaching, whereas the old things would be the law, the psalms, proverbs or wise sayings, and the words of the ancient Hebrew prophets contained in the accepted collection of sacred writings. In their teaching, the disciples would make use of the “holy writings” and the words of Jesus.
In the evening of the day he had taught the people with parables, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go to the other side of the lake [the Sea of Galilee].” (Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22) As on a later occasion, he may have felt the need for all of them to be away from the crowds in order to get some rest in an isolated area. (Mark 6:31)
Earlier, Jesus had arranged for the disciples to have a boat at his disposal, making it possible for him to speak to the people from the boat without being crowded by them. (Mark 3:9) This likely was Peter’s boat and the one that Jesus, on this occasion, boarded with his disciples. (Matthew 8:23) Mark 4:36 says that there were “other boats” with Jesus, but no specifics are included nor is any later mention made of these boats.
During the crossing, Jesus, in the stern of the boat, rested his head on a cushion (proskephálaion) and fell asleep. Suddenly, a tremendous storm whipped up high waves, which violently tossed the boat and began filling it with water. As the boat was being swamped, the disciples feared that they would drown. They woke Jesus, saying to him, “Teacher, does it not matter to you that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:37, 38; Matthew 8:24, 25; Luke 8:23, 24)
Jesus got up and called upon the wind, waves, and water to be still, and immediately all became calm. He also asked the disciples why they were afraid. (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24) According to Matthew 8:26, he referred to them as having little faith, and in Mark and Luke his words to them are presented as a question. “Do you still not have faith?” (Mark 4:40) “Where [is] your faith?” (Luke 8:25)
From a human standpoint, the probability of drowning was very real. The disciples, however, had the Son of God with them, which should have assured them that the heavenly Father would never let them perish with his Son. The miracles they had witnessed should have given them a strong basis for faith in deliverance from perilous circumstances.
Upon witnessing what happened after Jesus calmed the wind and the lake, the disciples were filled with great fear and astonishment. They said to one another, “Who really is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25) Their reaction and words suggest that they did not yet fully comprehend the greatness of God’s Son, a greatness that transcended that of the person whom they had expected the foretold Messiah to be.
At its widest point from east to west, the Sea of Galilee measures about seven and a half miles and its longest length is approximately thirteen miles. (See http://bibleplaces.com/seagalilee.htm for additional information and pictures.) Luke’s account refers to this body of water as a “lake,” whereas Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts speak of it as a “sea.”
The Sea of Galilee lies about 700 feet below seal level and approximately 40 miles southwest of Mount Hermon, with an altitude of more than 9,200 feet above sea level. Hills and mountains surround the lake on the east and the west, where the air temperature is lower than at the level of the water. Therefore, it is not uncommon for winds to rush down from the higher elevations, creating a choppy lake that poses a danger for small boats and their occupants.
In Matthew 8:24, the severe storm is called seismós mégas, which commonly designates a “great earthquake,” and here appears to describe the storm from the standpoint of the extreme effect it produced, with the boat being shaken as are buildings during an earthquake.
In Mark 4:38, the Greek word proskephálaion designates an object on which one can rest the head.
The accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke vary in the wording of Jesus’ fearful disciples. “Lord, save [us]. We are perishing.” (Matthew 8:25) “Teacher, does it not matter to you that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) “Master, Master, we are perishing.” (Luke 8:24) The differences are understandable when one considers that a number of the disciples probably spoke up and that their expressions were conveyed in a language other than the one in which they were originally made. All three accounts represent the disciples as saying, “we are perishing,” suggesting that the peril was so great that they felt certain about their doom.
While there are also other differences in the accounts, the basic message is the same. One should not expect precise correspondency, as the writers chose their own wording and presented the sequence of events as suited their particular purpose.
It is of note that a partially preserved nonbiblical Dead Sea scroll (4Q521) indicates that the “heavens and the earth” would obey God’s Messiah. There is a possibility that a missing portion of the next line in this scroll originally included the “sea” as also obeying. If this was a common view, the disciples would have had additional reason for not giving in to fear during the storm.
There is no indication in Matthew, Mark, or Luke when Jesus and his disciples arrived on the other side of the lake. Furthermore, manuscript readings vary when referring to the specific region where they disembarked. One area that would appear to fit the description in the accounts lies approximately at the midway point of the lake’s eastern shore. Caves and rock-cut tombs are in the vicinity, and steep hills rise from the shoreline. All that can be said with certainty, however, is that the accounts identify the territory as situated on the east side of the Sea of Galilee or opposite Galilee. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26; see the Notes section for additional information.)
When Jesus and his disciples started walking on the shore, two men (demoniacs) saw them and came running toward them. These men were in an extremely disturbed mental state and behaved much like savage beasts. Out of fear, people did not travel by the area where they had their haunt, for the two men were extremely fierce. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:6)
The accounts of Mark and Luke provide details about one of the men, making no mention of the second man. Perhaps this was because he alone later expressed the desire to accompany Jesus.
This man is described as under the control of an “unclean spirit” or of “demons.” He had lost soundness of mind and his identity as a human with family ties. For a long time, he had worn no clothes, had stopped living in a house, and (with the other man) found shelter from the elements either in burial caves or rock-cut tombs. People had made attempts to control him, guarding him and repeatedly binding him with chains and fetters, but he would break free and run away. No one had the strength to subdue him. Day and night his screams could be heard among the tombs or from the hillside. With rocks, he would inflict wounds upon himself. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:2-5; Luke 8:27, 29)
Upon arriving at the place where Jesus and his disciples were, both men likely prostrated themselves before him. In response to his directive for the men to be liberated from their derangement, they appear to have screamed individually, “What to me and to you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:6-8; Luke 8:28) In Matthew 5:29, the question is found in the plural (“us”), as both men are represented as shouting. The idiomatic expression (“What to me and to you?”) implies that the parties had nothing in common, and it constituted an objection. (For additional comments, see the Notes section.) Modern translations commonly render the words in one of two ways. “What do you want with me?” (CEV, NCV, NIV, NJB, REB) “What have you to do with me?” (NAB, NRSV)
Jesus responded with the question, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” came back the reply. A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 men and so the designation served to indicate control under many unclean spirits. (Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The reply suggests that the man had no recollection of his own name or identity.
This reply was followed by the request not to be sent into the “abyss” (Luke 8:31) or “out of the country” (Mark 5:10). Such a future judgment appears to be referred to in Isaiah 24:21 and 22 (Tanakh): “In that day, the LORD [YHWH] will punish the host of heaven in heaven and the kings of the earth on earth. They shall be gathered in a dungeon as captives are gathered; and shall be locked up in a prison. But after many days they shall be remembered.”
In the distance, many pigs were feeding, and the demons pleaded for permission to enter the animals. (Matthew 8:30, 31; Mark 5:11, 12; Luke 8:32) According to Matthew 8:32, Jesus said “Go!” Immediately, the men were freed from their pathetic mental state. When the demonic power took control of the pigs, they became crazed. The entire herd, numbering about 2,000, panicked, began to run and then plummeted into the lake, where they perished. The herders fled, entered the town, and there (and in the surrounding area) related what had happened. (Matthew 8:33; Mark 5:13, 14; Luke 8:33, 34)
Upon hearing the report of the herders, the populace went to the location where the events had occurred. When they arrived they saw the formerly deranged man whom neither fetters nor chains could control sitting at Jesus’ feet. The man was clothed and in full possession of his mental faculties. (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35)
Neither Mark nor Luke make any mention about how the man obtained clothing. The most likely explanation is that Jesus’ disciples were in position to provide him with the needed attire. They were familiar with the teaching of John the Baptist that the one with two garments should share the extra garment with the one who had none, and Jesus had reemphasized this teaching about responding compassionately to the needs of others by his own words and actions. (Luke 3:11) The disciples had a common fund on which they could draw in order to help the poor, and there appear to have been occasions when they took along an extra garment when traveling. (Matthew 10:9, 10; John 13:29)
To the people of the region, the man’s restoration and the development involving the pigs (as eyewitnesses related the incident to them) would have been clear evidence of the working of a power far greater than the ordinary. They were filled with fear, but it was not the kind that produced a reverential regard for the Most High whom Jesus represented and whose love and compassion he had revealed. Instead, the populace asked Jesus to leave the region. (Matthew 8:34; Mark 5:15-17; Luke 8:35-37)
As Jesus was about depart with his disciples, the healed man pleaded to be able to accompany him. Jesus, however, did not grant the request. He instructed him to return to his home and his family and to tell them all that God had done for him and the mercy he had been shown. (Mark 5:18, 19; Luke 8:37-39) This directive differed from Jesus’ usual command not to make his miracles known. In this case, however, he had been asked to leave the region, and so he left a personal witness behind. The cured man’s favorable testimony could set straight any distortion about his benefactor and the death of the pigs. (See the Notes section for additional comments.)
As Jesus had requested, the cured man did depart for his home. In the town and the surrounding region of the Decapolis, he made known what Jesus had done for him. His testimony resulted in wonderment among the people who heard it. (Mark 5:20; Luke 8:39; for information about the Decapolis, see Notes section.)
In Matthew 8:28, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a number of later manuscripts refer to the “country of the Gadarenes,” which area has been associated with Gadara (a city located about six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee). The original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus is “country of the Gazarenes.” A corrected reading, however, is “country of the Gergesenes,” which is also what many later manuscripts say. Another manuscript reading is “country of the Gerasenes.”
According to fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus (original reading), Mark 5:1 reads “country of the Gerasenes,” which is also what a number of later manuscripts say. Other manuscripts read “country of the Gadarenes,” “country of the Gergystenes,” and “country of the Gergesenes.”
In Luke 8:26, a third century papyrus manuscript (P75), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a number of later manuscripts say “country of the Gerasenes,” which region has been linked to Gerasa (a city located nearly 35 miles south and east of the Sea of Galilee). Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus reads “country of the Gergesenes,” which is also what a number of later manuscripts say. Numerous other manuscripts contain the reading “country of the Gadarenes.”
The “country of the Gergesenes” has been identified with Gergesa, which site lies approximately at the midway point of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Based on the biblical accounts, this location would seem to fit best. In view of the variations in the manuscript readings, however, any definitive conclusions are impossible. Whether the area mentioned in Matthew 8:28 is part of a larger territory referred to in Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 can likewise not be determined with any degree of certainty.
Like Mark 5:7 and Luke 8:28, Matthew 8:29 refers to torment but adds an additional thought. “Have you come here to torment us before [the] time?” This question suggests that the demons recognized they would face a future judgment but that it was then not the appointed time for that judgment to be executed.
While there are differences in the wording of Matthew 8:29, Mark 5:7, and Luke 8:28, the basic thought is the same in all three passages. One of the differences in Luke 8:28 is that the request not be tormented is preceded by “I beg you.” In Mark 5:7, the request is introduced with the words, “I adjure you by God.”
Mark 5:9 and Luke 8:30, though conveying the same thought, represent it somewhat differently. In Mark 5:9, the words “there are many of us” are part of the reply, whereas Luke 8:30 only mentions the designation “Legion” as the reply and then adds the explanation, “for many demons had entered into him.”
Jesus liberated two men from a pitiable state of extreme suffering, and the developments in connection with the pigs serve to provide evidence respecting the horrific mental affliction that plagued the men. Their value as humans restored to soundness of mind should be regarded as having been of greater value than that of many pigs, which were unclean to the Jews. The animals were being raised for slaughter as food for non-Jews. By present-day standards, the method or methods by which these pigs were to be killed would not have been considered humane.
The Son of God did not cause the pigs to behave in a crazed manner and to plunge into the Sea of Galilee. He did not choose to perform a miracle to prevent financial loss to the owners and preserve the life of the pigs for a death that could have been worse than drowning. The writers of the accounts did not feel impelled to provide explanations for what Jesus did or did not do, and there really is no reason for attempting to do so at a time when only an abbreviated version about the incident exists. What should stand out is that Jesus deeply cared about people and reached out compassionately to those whom others had tried cruelly to control with confining chains and fetters and avoided out of fear of being harmed. The people in that region did not value what Jesus had done for the afflicted men, but entreated him to leave the area.
The Decapolis was a region of ten predominantly Greek cities, which appear to have formed a league sometime during the first century BCE. Of these cities, only Scythopolis was located west of the Jordan. Damascus occupied the most distant northeastern location, and the eight other cities were situated east of the Jordan.
In his Natural History (V, 16 [English translation edited by John Bostock and H. T. Riley]), the first-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote the following regarding the Decapolis: “On the side of Syria, joining up to Judaea, is the region of Decapolis, so called from the number of its cities; as to which all writers are not agreed. Most of them, however, agree in speaking of Damascus as one, a place fertilized by the river Chrysorroös, which is drawn off into its meadows and eagerly imbibed; Philadelphia, and Rhaphana, all which cities fall back towards Arabia; Scythopolis (formerly called Nysa by Father Liber, from his nurse having been buried there), its present name being derived from a Scythian colony which was established there; Gadara, before which the river Hieromix flows; Hippo [Hippos], which has been previously mentioned; Dion, Pella, rich with its waters; Galasa [Gerasa], and Canatha.”
See http://bibleplaces.com/gerasa.htm regarding Gerasa, one of the cities of the Decapolis.
After Jesus and his disciples arrived on the western shore of the Seal of Galilee, probably in the vicinity of Capernaum, a large crowd gathered around him. His still being by the lake when people came to him suggests that, while the boat was yet a distance away from the shore, he had been recognized and the word had spread that he was coming. (Mark 5:21) According to Luke 8:40, the crowd was waiting for Jesus and welcomed him.
The Plea of Jairus
One of the men who came to Jesus was Jairus, a leader of a synagogue. In his official capacity, he would have been primarily responsible for the maintenance and the physical arrangements associated with the meeting place for worship. Jairus dropped to his knees before Jesus and prostrated himself. He repeatedly begged him to come to his home and then to lay his hands on his seriously ill daughter to restore her to health, for she was about to die. The twelve-year-old girl was his only child. Accompanied by his disciples, Jesus departed with Jairus, and the crowd followed and pressed in on him. (Matthew 9:18, 19; Mark 5:22-24; Luke 8:41, 42)
A Woman With Hemorrhage
Among the people was an afflicted woman. During the course of the twelve years she had suffered from hemorrhages, she had gone to many physicians and eventually had exhausted all her resources. Their would-be cures proved to be very painful and did not benefit her. The condition worsened progressively, and no one was able to help her. Having heard about Jesus’ activity, the woman concluded that, if she could only touch his garment, she would be restored to health. (Matthew 9:20, 21; Mark 5:25-28; Luke 8:43)
Though greatly weakened from her loss of blood, she summoned all the strength she could to get near enough to Jesus to touch the fringe of his garment. Upon having done so from behind him, the woman immediately sensed that she had been healed. (Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:27-29; Luke 8:43, 44)
Aware that power had gone out of him, Jesus turned around and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) All those around him denied having done so, and Peter was quick to point out that Jesus was being crowded and the people were pressing in on him. (Luke 8:45) According to Mark 5:31, Peter was not the only disciple who expressed himself to this effect. Other disciples were also puzzled by Jesus’ question about having been touched.
Knowing full well that power had gone out of him, Jesus insisted that he had been touched in a manner that differed from inadvertent contact. He then looked around to see who had done so. (Mark 5:32; Luke 8:46)
Fearful and trembling, the woman, realizing that she had been cured and could not remain unnoticed, fell down before Jesus. In the hearing of all present, she explained why she had touched him and how she had immediately thereupon been healed. (Mark 5:33; Luke 8:47)
Jesus allayed her apprehension, initially assuring her, “Take courage” (a form of the Greek word tharséo) or do not be afraid. (See the Notes section for additional comments.) Lovingly, he addressed her as “daughter,” an expression of endearment, and identified the reason for the cure as having been her faith in him and not the mere touching of his garment. “Your faith has saved you [made you well],” said Jesus. “Go in peace, and be healthy, [free] from your affliction.” From that very “hour” or time, the woman was well. (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48)
The Son of God showed great love and compassion for the woman when causing her to reveal what had happened to her. For twelve years she had been ceremonially unclean. This was a condition that could bring defilement to anyone who might inadvertently touch her or any object that she had touched. (Leviticus 15:25-27) Her state of uncleanness doubtless was public knowledge, and everyone who knew about it would have avoided getting close to her. They would not have wanted to be inconvenienced by having to wash their clothes, bathe, and personally remain ceremonially unclean until the evening. This meant that she had to deal with her affliction in isolation, without experiencing any comforting touch or embrace. The news about her cure would have spread quickly among all those who knew her, making it possible for her once again to enjoy normal contact with everyone. Furthermore, Jesus used the opportunity to help her spiritually, making it clear to her that her faith or her trust in him had led to her being cured.
Resurrection of Jairus’s Daughter
At the time Jesus was still speaking to the woman, Jairus received the sad news that his daughter had died. His worst fear had become reality. Those who brought the message advised that he no longer trouble Jesus (the “teacher”). Overhearing the conversation with Jairus, Jesus spoke reassuringly to him, “Fear not; only believe, and she will be saved.” (Mark 5:35, 36; Luke 8:49, 50) These comforting words must have had a calming effect on Jairus, especially since he had just witnessed the cure of the afflicted woman.
Jesus then appears to have dismissed the crowd and permitted only Peter, James, and his brother John to accompany him. (Mark 5:37) At the home of Jairus, many people, doubtless including professional mourners, created much commotion, with weeping and loud wailing being intermingled with flute playing. Jesus asked all of them to leave, telling them to stop their weeping and that the girl had not died but was sleeping. At that, likely primarily the professional mourners gave way to scornful laughter, for they knew that the girl had died. The only ones Jesus permitted to be in the home with him were the girl’s parents and Peter, James, and John. (Matthew 9:23, 24; Mark 5:38-40; Luke 8:51-53; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
With everyone else outside, Jesus entered where the girl was lying. He took hold of her hand, saying Talitha koum (“Maiden, I say to you, Rise!”) With her “spirit” or life force having returned, she began to breathe, got up, and then began to walk. Her parents were overcome with joy and amazement. Repeatedly, Jesus ordered them not to let anyone know what had happened and instructed them to give their daughter something to eat. (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:40-42; Luke 8:54-56)
To the extent possible, Jesus wanted to prevent needless publicity and the spread of sensational reports that attracted crowds for reasons other than faith in him as the promised Messiah. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, and others would learn soon enough that the twelve-year-old girl was alive and well. For Jairus and his wife, the appropriate action was to attend to their daughter’s needs and to reflect appreciatively on what God had done for them by means of his Son. Understandably, though, as it became known that the daughter was alive, the news did spread extensively. (Matthew 9:26)
Two Blind Men
When Jesus left the home of Jairus, two blind men began to follow him. They cried out, “Pity us, Son of David.” Their words acknowledged Jesus as the promised Messiah, the descendant of King David. (See the Notes section for additional comments about the designation “Son of David.”) The biblical record does not reveal why he did not immediately respond to their cry to be shown mercy by curing their blindness. Undeterred, the blind men continued to follow him, entering the house where he was staying. (Matthew 9:27, 28) If the home of Jairus was in Capernaum, the most likely place for Jesus to stay would have been the home of Peter and Andrew. (Compare Mark 1:21, 29; 2:1.)
In the privacy of the home, Jesus asked the men whether they believed that he could cure their blindness. They answered, “Yes, Lord.” Touching their eyes, he said, “Let it happen to you according to your faith.” They were then able to see. Though Jesus ordered them not to let others know about this, they, like others whom he had healed, failed to heed their benefactor’s charge to them and spread the news everywhere. (Matthew 9:28-31)
A Mute Man
After the two men had left, people arrived with a man whose inability to speak they attributed to demon possession. Upon hearing the mute man speak in response to Jesus’ exercise of divine power, those who witnessed this exclaimed, “Never has the like been seen in Israel!” Certain Pharisees, however, blasphemously spoke of the good work that had benefited the afflicted man as having been accomplished by the power of the ruler of the demons. While they could not deny the miracle, they found justification for their hatred of God’s Son and their persistence in unbelief by slandering the source of the powerful work they had witnessed. (Matthew 9:32-34)
The Scriptures do not explain the metaphysical factors involved in effecting the cures. Jesus’ being able to sense a change in his body suggests that the healings drew on his physical strength.
The Greek word tharséo, found in Matthew 9:22, means “be courageous” and conveys the thought of being resolute or unafraid.
The words of Jesus regarding the girl’s sleeping (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52) are evidently to be viewed from the standpoint of the final outcome. Though she had indeed died, her death was but a temporary sleep.
The collection of psalms known as the “Psalms of Solomon” and believed to date from the first century BCE refer to the messianic king as the “Son of David.” In that collection, Psalm 17:21 reads, “See, O Lord, and raise up for them their king, [the] Son of David, in the time that you chose, O God, to reign over Israel your servant.” The chief priests and scribes objected when Jesus was called the “Son of David,” indicating that the expression was commonly understood to designate the Messiah. (Matthew 21:15, 16)
Upon returning to Nazareth with his disciples, Jesus, as was his custom on the Sabbath, went to the synagogue. Those assembled there knew him to be an exemplary person, were acquainted with his close relatives, and had heard about his miraculous works. Hearing him teach on this occasion, they responded with amazement but could not bring themselves to believe that he was the promised Messiah. (Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:1, 2)
All they did was to question how it could be that Jesus had been endowed with such outstanding wisdom as reflected in his teaching and had been empowered to perform miracles. In their estimation, he was just the carpenter of Nazareth and a carpenter’s son. His mother was Mary, his brothers were James, Joseph (Joses), Judas, and Simon, and his sisters were still living in the town. To the townspeople there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about the family. Their view of him as a man of Nazareth and whose family they knew proved to be the obstacle that prevented them from responding to him in faith. They “stumbled at him.” In view of their lack of faith, Jesus was moved to call attention to the fact that a prophet is without honor in his home area, among his relatives, and in his own house. (Matthew 13:54-57; Mark 6:2-4)
Even among the afflicted people of Nazareth, few came to him to be healed. Therefore, upon only an insignificant number of sickly ones did he lay his hands and cure them. If it had not been for their lack of faith, Jesus would have been able to bring relief from suffering to many more. For Jesus, their unbelief, despite what they knew and had observed and heard, was a cause for wonderment. He left the town with his disciples and spent time teaching in various towns and villages of Galilee. (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5, 6)
Traveling from one town or village to another with his disciples, Jesus taught in the synagogues, declared the glad tidings about the kingdom, and cured the afflicted. His message focused on how responsive ones could become part of the realm where his Father is recognized as Sovereign and share in all the promises and blessings this signified. Observing the sad plight in which the people found themselves, the Son of God was moved with deep compassion for them. He perceived them to be like abused and helpless sheep without the compassionate concern and dependable guidance of a caring shepherd. (Regarding the Greek terms describing the sheep in Matthew 9:36, see the Notes section.) In view of the needy condition of the people, Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, petition the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
As in the case of a field of grain ready to be harvested, the potential existed for many to become part of the realm where God is Sovereign. At the time, there were few laborers who could point out the way for others to gain a divinely approved standing. Consequently, Jesus called upon the disciples to pray to the heavenly Father, the “Lord of the harvest,” for an increase in the number of workers.
During the course of his public activity, Jesus summoned the twelve disciples who were most closely associated with him. He empowered them to free people from the control of “unclean spirits” and to cure the sick and infirm. The twelve came to be known as “apostles” (“ones sent out”), for Jesus sent them out to do the good works for which he had granted them the authority and to proclaim the message about the “kingdom of God.” (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1, 2; for additional details about the apostles, see the section “Choosing the Twelve” under the heading “Back in Galilee.” )
He sent them forth by twos (Mark 6:7), possibly according to the way in which they are listed in Matthew 10:2-4 (Peter and Andrew; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot).
The instructions Jesus gave to the apostles included both specifics relating to that particular mission and admonition that would apply in the future. At this time, they were not to go among the non-Jewish peoples nor to any Samaritan town. They were to limit their activity to fellow Jews, giving exclusive attention to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” These “lost sheep” would be persons who recognized their helpless state and would respond favorably to the message the apostles proclaimed. (Matthew 10:5, 6)
Jesus told the apostles, “As you go, proclaim, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:7, 8) In the person of the promised Messiah (the “king of Israel”), the “kingdom of God” had indeed drawn near. (Compare John 1:49.) While the apostles did not then specifically proclaim Jesus to be the king, they did impart the knowledge needed for others to put faith in him (which included the admonition to repent of their transgressions), demonstrating that they wanted to be in the royal realm where he is the king by his Father’s appointment. (Compare Mark 6:12.) Jesus had not asked for any payment for empowering the apostles to perform miracles that would demonstrate to others that they had divine backing for their proclamation about the kingdom. Therefore, the relief that they would bring to the afflicted was likewise to be made available without cost.
As workers of good, the apostles, however, did have the right to receive food and lodging from responsive fellow Israelites. With full trust in God’s providential care and the hospitality of favorably disposed individuals, they were not to equip themselves in a manner typical of travelers. According to Jesus’ instructions, they would not take along any gold, silver, or copper coins for making purchases, any bread, and any bag with supplies. They would only wear the essential attire and their sandals. (Matthew 10:9, 10; Mark 6:8, 9; Luke 9:3; see the Notes section regarding the differences in the instructions.)
Upon entering a town or village, the apostles were to search for “deserving” or “worthy” ones, persons who would appreciatively accept them and their message. These individuals would reveal themselves to be worthy of the precious spiritual benefits the apostles were able to impart. In the homes of these worthy ones, the apostles were to stay until such time as they would leave for another place. (Matthew 10:11; Mark 6:10; Luke 9:4) Their remaining in one house in the town or village would have made it easier for other inhabitants to find them if they wanted to benefit from their ministry. It would also have reflected proper regard for those who initially extended hospitality, as the apostles would neither seek nor accept what might have appeared to be better accommodations.
When first entering the house where the owner extended hospitality, they were to greet the household. (Matthew 10:12) This would have been with the customary “shalom” (“peace,” a wish of well-being resulting from God’s blessing). In the case of those who proved themselves to be worthy, the apostle’s wish for peace would come upon the household. If, however, the residents of the house later revealed themselves undeserving, rejecting the message the apostles proclaimed, the expression of peace was to return to them. (Matthew 10:13) This suggests that they were not to allow unresponsiveness to rob them of their peace, the tranquility they enjoyed as persons having divine approval.
Whenever the apostles came to a place where they and their message were rejected, they were to shake the dust off their feet upon leaving that particular house, town, or village. This gesture would serve as a testimony against the unresponsive ones. In the day of judgment, the very dust would testify against them as having been persons who rejected the message the apostles proclaimed, did not repent of their transgressions, and refused to accept the marvelous opportunity of coming to be part of the realm where God is acknowledged as Sovereign. As individuals who possessed knowledge about the Most High and witnessed miracles that verified the dependability of the message the apostles declared, their accountability was greater than that of the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham and Lot. Therefore, as Jesus stated with a solemn “amen” (“truly”), it would be more bearable for the “land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment” than for the inhabitants of a town or village who refused to listen to the apostles. This indicates that, on account of the greater accountability, the judgment would be more severe. (Matthew 10:14, 15; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5)
According to ancient Jewish sources, dust from outside the land of Israel defiled by one’s carrying or touching it. Therefore, the apostles, when shaking the dust off their feet, could also have been indicating that the rejection of the message revealed the people to be impure and as having no relationship with God. They were leaving the unbelieving people behind as persons with whom they would have no further contact, taking nothing of theirs with them, not even the dust on their sandals.
Jesus alerted the apostles to the fact that they would be encountering enemies who would seek to harm them. He likened his followers to defenseless sheep being sent out among wolves. This called for them to become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) In pursuing their prey, serpents are cunning. They conceal themselves and quickly slither away from any threat. So, the apostles would wisely remain alert, not exposing themselves to danger but acting swiftly to avoid it. Possibly because deceit is associated with the serpent in Eden, they were reminded to maintain their innocence, not resorting to anything of an underhanded nature that would be associated with the characteristic of serpents. The harmless, inoffensive nature of doves would be more in keeping with their activity, which would never injure anyone but would always result in the greatest good possible for those who responded favorably to their proclamation about the kingdom.
Jesus then prepared the apostles for what they, in the future, could expect from men who would violently oppose their activity. He admonished them to be on guard. Opposers would hand them over to be tried by Jewish courts, and they would be scourged in the synagogues, being regarded as enemies of their own countrymen and meriting severe beating. For the sake of Christ or because of representing him, they would be dragged before governors and kings. Their appearance before these non-Jewish rulers would serve as an opportunity to testify to them about him. Besides being presented to the kings and governors, the testimony would also be heard by others, resulting in a witness to non-Jewish peoples. (Matthew 10:17, 18)
While in the process of being taken before rulers, the disciples were not to give way to worry as to how to present their case. Jesus assured them that, in that “hour” or at that time, what they needed to say would be given to them. The spirit of the heavenly Father would be speaking through them, enabling them to bear witness in an effective manner. (Matthew 10:19, 20)
In the case of Christ’s disciples, unbelieving family members would turn against them. Close relatives who formerly loved them would become hatefully hostile. A brother would betray his own brother, handing him over to ruling authorities to be executed. A father would deliver up his own child to be put to death, and children would take a stand against their parents and have them killed. On account of Christ’s name or being identified as belonging to him as his disciples, believers would come to be hated by all, evidently meaning all who persisted in unbelief. Jesus then added, “The one, however, who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21, 22)
In view of the portrayal of intense persecution with death as a possible outcome, the “end” may signify the end of a person’s life. Salvation is assured for all who endure faithfully, loyally remaining true to the Lord Jesus Christ and not denying him when faced with bitter opposition.
When encountering persecution in a particular city, Christ’s disciples were to flee to another city, not needlessly endangering their lives by remaining in a place where opposers were intent on killing them. In the time intervening between the commencement of the work for which the Son of God had commissioned the apostles until his coming again, Christ’s followers would not run out of places to reach with the message about the kingdom. Introducing his statement with a solemn “amen” (“truly”), Jesus told the apostles that they would not “finish [their activity in] the cities of Israel.” (Matthew 10:23)
The Son of God had not yet revealed to them that their preaching and that of other disciples would extend far beyond the land of Israel. Therefore, it seems that Jesus framed his statement in keeping with what the apostles knew and would have understood. This suggests that the cities of Israel are only representative of the places to be reached with the glad tidings that focused on Jesus as the king by God’s appointment. From the standpoint of Christ’s disciples, there would never be a time prior to his return that their work would be completed. Consequently, it does not appear to be necessary to identify the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman forces as an expression of the coming of the Son of Man for judgment. His followers did not stop telling others about him after that event. Therefore, the reference could be to Christ’s coming in glory.
Disciples of Christ should not be surprised about future mistreatment. A disciple, pupil, or learner is not above the teacher, and a slave or servant is not above his lord or master. In keeping therewith, it is altogether enough or fitting that a disciple come to be like his teacher and a slave like his lord, being recipients of the same kind of treatment. The Son of God is both the Teacher and the Lord of believers. Since the householder or master of the house (which is the position of Jesus in his relationship to the household of believers) was called Beelzebul (a designation that was applied to the devil), how much more so would the members of his household be slanderously thus labeled! (Matthew 10:24, 25)
The disciples were not to be afraid of those who would seek to mistreat them. In harmony with the admonition Jesus had previously given, they would exercise due caution and not foolishly place themselves in a dangerous situation. Nevertheless, they were not to give in to fear and become silent, failing to make known the good news about Christ. Whatever is covered should be uncovered, and whatever is secret should become known. As Jesus added, “What I tell you in the darkness, relate in the light, and what you hear [whispered] into the ear proclaim from the roofs” (which were flat and accessible by means of ladders or outside stairs). (Matthew 10:26, 27)
Jesus had taught the apostles privately. What he imparted to them had been covered and hidden from others, but he did not intend for his teaching to remain covered (as if hidden in darkness) and secret. Instead, the apostles were to make it known in the “light” or openly for others to learn, and the truths they had heard from him privately they were to proclaim publicly like announcements that would be made from roofs so that all could hear. Their courageous proclamation would expose them to danger from those who would not respond favorably. Therefore, Jesus again emphasized the importance of not becoming fearful. “Fear not those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28)
Humans can render the body lifeless, but they cannot destroy the “soul” or the person as a whole and in possession of the God-given right to live in fellowship with him. The killing of the body has no effect on the future life to be enjoyed in keeping with God’s purpose and promise. Therefore, the one who should rightly be feared is the heavenly Father. He can destroy both the body and the soul or the entire person, permanently cutting off the individual from the real life of fellowship with him. That terrifying judgment is destruction “in Gehenna” and, according to Isaiah 66:24, is comparable to one’s being cast into a garbage dump where fires burn continually and maggots feed on whatever the flames do not reach.
Whereas the judgment is severe, Jesus did reveal that his Father’s will is to aid believers to maintain faithfulness because they are precious to him. The Son of God reminded the disciples that two sparrows cost but one assarion (16 of such coins being the equivalent of a daily wage). Although considered as a low-cost food item, these birds did not fall to the ground as undeserving of his Father’s notice. They had value in his sight. Indicative of his Father’s care and concern for the disciples, Jesus told them that the hairs of their head were all numbered, suggesting that everything about them was precious to his Father. They were worth more than many sparrows, and so should not give in to fear regardless of what they might yet face. (Matthew 10:29-31)
Everyone who would confess or acknowledge having a relationship with him before men, Jesus would acknowledge before his Father as being at one with him. As for the person who would disown him before men, Jesus would disown that one before his Father. (Matthew 10:32, 33)
Jesus did not want his disciples to think that he had come to bring peace upon the earth. Instead of peace, he had brought a sword. This was because of the manner in which individuals would respond to him and his message, with the opposite reactions of belief and unbelief creating serious rifts. The hostility of unbelievers would end what may formerly have been a peaceful relationship and replace it with the hostility a sword represented. Jesus, in terms similar to those found in Micah 7:6, spoke about the serious divisions that would develop on his account. A man would be against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies would be members of his own household.
Anyone who deemed family loyalty to be of greater importance than love for Christ would lose out on everything that would result from being at one with him. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his beam (staurós) and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)
To accord parents or children greater affection than to Christ would lead to pleasing them when their wishes and aims conflicted with loyalty to him. This failure to love God’s Son by heeding his words would make one unworthy of belonging to him as his approved disciple.
In lands under the dominion of Rome, crucifixion was the worst form of punishment. The condemned man would carry the beam (to which he would later be tied or nailed) to the place of execution, where he would be exposed to mockery and die a slow, excruciating death. Therefore, to take up one’s beam suggests to commence a course of reproach and suffering in order to follow Christ. An unwillingness to endure affliction and possibly even death for the sake of God’s Son would make one unworthy of having his recognition.
To “find” one’s soul would denote to secure one’s life through disloyalty to Christ. Losing one’s soul for the sake of God’s Son would signify losing one’s life because of being his disciple. The preservation of one’s present life through any means that dishonored Christ would lead to losing out on the real life in eternity. To lose one’s soul or life for his sake would assure one’s having the eternal life of a never-ending relationship with him and his Father.
Jesus would consider whoever “received” or welcomed his disciples as welcoming him and, to accept him, meant to receive his Father who had sent him. To receive a prophet “in the name of a prophet” would signify to welcome him because of recognizing him to be a prophet. Whoever did so would receive a prophet’s reward or a repayment like that of one who faithfully carried out his commission as a proclaimer of God’s word or message. The individual who received a righteous man “in the name of a righteous man” or because of recognizing the man to be godly or upright would receive a righteous man’s reward or come to be a recipient of the repayment the upright one deserved. (Matthew 10:40, 41)
Even what might appear to be a small gesture of hospitality extended toward a lowly disciple (“one of these little ones” or, according to other manuscripts, “least ones”) would be rewarded. The person who gave just a “cup of cold water” (a welcome refreshment on a hot day to one who is thirsty) “in the name of a disciple” or because of recognizing the person to be Christ’s disciple would in no way lose his reward or the repayment for having done so. Jesus introduced this assurance with a solemn “amen” (“truly”). (Matthew 10:42)
After receiving Jesus’ instructions, the apostles began their activity, traveling from place to place, proclaiming the glad tidings about God’s kingdom, admonishing people to repent, freeing the afflicted from demon possession, and curing the sick. (Mark 6:12, 13; Luke 9:6) According to Mark 6:13, the apostles anointed the ailing ones “with [olive] oil.” Doubtless they did this in the name of Jesus, and the use of the oil may have served to show that the healing was accomplished through them. (Compare Acts 3:6; James 5:14.)
In Matthew 9:36, the earliest extant manuscripts contain forms of the Greek words skyllo and rhípto when describing the people as being like sheep. The term skyllo originally meant to “skin,” but, in other contexts (as here) denotes to “harass,” “weary,” or “trouble.” According to another manuscript reading, the word (instead of skyllo) is a form of eklyo, meaning to be “exhausted,” “wearied,” “faint,” “deprived of strength,” “dispirited,” or “discouraged.” The expression rhípto conveys the sense of being thrown or tossed with a forceful motion. As applying to the state of the people, this suggests a helpless or dejected state.
According to Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3, Jesus told the apostles not to take a staff along, but Mark 6:8 indicates that they could do so. This difference may be understood to mean that they were not to procure a staff but could use one if that was their customary practice. In Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3, the reference to “two tunics” (chitón, the Greek term designating a garment worn next to the skin) probably means one tunic in addition to the one that would usually be worn. Mark 6:9 is more specific when mentioning that they were not to wear two tunics, implying that one would be enough. Similarly, the point about wearing sandals (Mark 6:9) and not obtaining sandals (Matthew 10:10) would relate to wearing their sandals but not taking along an extra pair for the trip.
During the time the apostles carried out their commission, Jesus continued teaching and preaching in various towns. (Matthew 11:1) The biblical record does not disclose just when, in relation to the commissioning of the twelve disciples, Herod Antipas the tetrarch first heard about Jesus’ miracles. (Regarding the designation “tetrarch,” see the Notes section.)
This ruler had earlier arrested John the Baptist for repeatedly censuring him regarding his marriage to Herodias and about other wrongs. (Luke 3:19, 20) To marry Herod Antipas, she had divorced her husband (Herod Philip), and he also divorced his first wife (the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian king whose dominion included Damascus) to marry her. This union was an incestuous relationship according to Jewish law, to which he was subject as a nominal Jew (whose Edomite ancestors John Hyrcanus I forced to be circumcised in the second century BCE). His fear of incurring the hostility of his subjects, who considered John to be a prophet, contributed to restraining Herod Antipas from executing him. Moreover, he knew John to be upright and holy, and this also made him apprehensive about imposing the death sentence. Herod Antipas even found a measure of delight in hearing what John said about other matters, and so he found himself in a quandary as to what he should do. (Matthew 14:3-5; Mark 6:17-20)
Herodias, however, harbored great resentment and wanted John killed. She was determined that her remaining married to Herod Antipas would never be in jeopardy. (See the Notes section for other evidence about the closeness of the attachment of Herodias to Herod Antipas.) Her opportunity to achieve her objective came when Herod Antipas celebrated the anniversary of his birth. For the occasion, he arranged a banquet to which he invited his prominent men, chiliarchs (commanders of 1,000 soldiers), and influential men of Galilee. Probably while he and his invitees were under the influence of wine, Herodias urged her daughter Salome (probably her only child by Philip) to perform a sensuous dance in their presence. Herodias must have known how her husband was likely to respond to her daughter’s dancing. (Mark 6:19, 21, 22)
Herod Antipas and his guests were delighted with the spectacle. Completely captivated by her performance, he made an oath-bound promise to give her anything she might request, “up to half of [his] kingdom.” (Matthew 14:6, 7; Mark 6:22, 23) Upon consulting with her mother, Salome asked that she immediately be given the head of John the Baptist on a platter. It would seem that Herodias wanted to be sure not to risk the possibility that her husband would change his mind and so had her daughter request immediate action. (Matthew 14:8; Mark 6:24, 25)
Although it greatly troubled him, Herod Antipas, on account of his oaths and in order not to lose face before his guests, gave the order for John to be beheaded. Upon being presented with his head, Salome took it to her mother. (Matthew 14:9-11; Mark 6:26-28)
When news about this development reached the disciples of John, they arranged to get the body and placed it in a tomb. Thereafter they informed Jesus about what had happened. (Matthew 14:12; Mark 6:29)
It seems that his having ordered the execution of John left Herod Antipas with a troubled conscience. Reports about Jesus’ miracles caused him superstitiously to reason that John had been raised from the dead and had come into possession of extraordinary powers. (Matthew 14:1, 2; Mark 6:16) Also among the people, certain ones expressed themselves to the effect that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead and, therefore, was performing miracles. Others, though, concluded that Jesus was Elijah or a prophet like one of the prophets of old. All this talk added to Herod’s perplexity. (Mark 6:14, 15; Luke 9:7-9; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
The term “tetrarch” denotes a ruler over a fourth part of a province. This designation applied to rulers of lesser rank than kings. Among the general populace, though, Herod Antipas may have been spoken of as a king, and this may explain why the terms “king” and “kingdom” are linked to him in the Scriptures. His tetrarchy embraced Galilee and Perea, a region on the east side of the Jordan River.
A later development reveals just how strongly attached Herodias was to Herod Antipas. At the time Emperor Caligula (Gaius Caesar) exiled Herod Antipas on the suspicion of treachery (based on letters from Agrippa I, the brother of Herodias), she could have enjoyed better circumstances without him. According to Josephus, she turned down Caligula’s offer to spare her, saying, “The kindness which I have for my husband hinders me from partaking of the favor of your gift, for it is not right that I, who have been made a partner in his prosperity, should forsake him in his misfortunes.” (Antiquities, XVIII, vii, 1, 2 [Whiston’s translation with minor edits])
If he had known about Jesus’ activity and miracles prior to his having John executed, Herod Antipas could not have drawn his erroneous conclusion. The existence of ignorance about the overlapping of the activity of Jesus and John in the very land where they carried out their respective ministries indicates that one should not expect to find specifics about Jesus’ work and miracles in the writings of first-century Roman historians. Not until there were believers in principal cities throughout the Roman empire would information about Jesus have become more widely known.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus commented on Herod’s political concerns as the reason for John’s imprisonment and execution. With crowds coming to John, Herod Antipas “feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion.” “Out of Herod’s suspicious temper,” John was sent as a prisoner “to Macherus” (Machaerus in Perea, situated east of the Dead Sea) and “was there put to death.” (Antiquities, XVIII, v, 2)
There is no reason to doubt that political considerations were involved. The messianic expectations aroused through the preaching of John the Baptist would have been troubling to Herod Antipas, just as his father Herod the Great regarded news about Jesus’ birth as a threat to the continuance of rule in his line and thereafter responded with violent action in an attempt to eliminate this threat. What appears to have finally prompted Herod to have John arrested and imprisoned was his being repeatedly reproved by him for his unlawful marriage to Herodias.
When commenting on the view of some Jews about the defeat of Herod’s army by the army of Aretas, whose daughter Herod Antipas had divorced to marry Herodias, Josephus wrote, “Now, some of he Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism.” (Antiquities, XVIII, v, 2)
Jesus probably had made arrangements to meet the apostles in Capernaum after they had completed the mission on which he had sent them. (See the Notes section for additional comments.) Upon their return, they related to Jesus what they had done and taught. Possibly at this time, they first heard about the death of John. This would have greatly saddened them and appears to have been part of the reason for Jesus’ recommendation to depart for an isolated area to get some rest. Once it had become known that they had returned to the area, Jesus and his apostles had little privacy. They were unable even to eat a meal without interruption, because of the many people who were coming and going. (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30, 31)
The number of people probably was greater than at other times, as the Passover was near. (John 6:4) Many families in Galilee would have started to travel to the major routes leading to Jerusalem and been staying in towns and villages along the way. This would have contributed to increased talk about Jesus activity, and more people would have witnessed his curing of the sick. (John 6:2)
Jesus’ departure with his apostles did not go unnoticed. Those who saw them leave by boat quickly spread the news. A large crowd of men, women, and children from different towns then hurried to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to meet them. The walking distance may have been less than five miles, as the isolated area was near Bethsaida. (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32, 33; Luke 9:10; John 6:1, 2) A distance of a little over three miles separates what are believed to have been the locations of ancient Capernaum and Bethsaida. From the shore, the people would have been able to see the progress of the boat in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee.
Capernaum would have been the logical place for Jesus and the apostles to meet. Peter and Andrew had their home there, and most of the other apostles appear to have lived in the general vicinity. The availability of a boat also points to Capernaum as the probable location. An indication that Jesus and his apostles left from there by boat is their coming to the plain of Gennesaret (south of Capernaum) upon their return to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53)
The time for the return of the apostles from their mission was also appropriate. With the Passover being near, Jesus and his apostles needed to make the journey to Jerusalem. Like Peter, most, if not all, of the other apostles would have been married and likely had children. Families customarily made the trip together, and there is no reason to conclude that the apostles would not have done so. (Compare Mark 1:29, 30; Luke 2:41, 42; John 2:12, 13; 7:3, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 9:5)
When Jesus and his apostles went ashore on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, a large crowd was already waiting for them. Although their presence interfered with his plan for the apostles to get some rest in an isolated area, Jesus was moved with compassion for the people. He considered them to be like helpless sheep without the concern and guidance of a caring shepherd. He then began to teach them about the kingdom of God and healed the sick among them. (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11)
The biblical accounts do not contain specifics about what Jesus taught on this occasion and whether he spoke to the multitude or taught groups of people as they came to him and raised questions. According to John 6:3, Jesus and his disciples ascended a mountainside and there seated themselves in a grassy area. (John 6:10) Just as he and his disciples found a suitable location, the thousands who had come to the area would have done likewise. Men would have started talking with other men, and women with other women. Children would have engaged in play. Likely, at various times, groups of people would have approached Jesus and then left as others came. His teaching must have prompted many conversations.
Although considerable time passed, the crowd continued to remain in the isolated location. This prompted the disciples to suggest that Jesus dismiss the people so that they could buy food for themselves in the nearby villages. (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35, 36; Luke 9:12)
Perhaps at this point, Jesus saw a large crowd coming to where he and his disciples had seated themselves. Knowing what he purposed to do, he tested Philip with the question, “Where are we going to buy bread for them to eat?” Being from Bethsaida (probably the closest town), Philip would have known where bread could be purchased. (John 1:44) His response reveals that he knew about how much money the disciples had in their common fund and thought that the amount would be insufficient. He replied that 200 denarii (a denarius being a day’s wage) would not buy enough bread to provide even a small amount for everyone. (See the Notes section for additional information.) Commenting on how little food he knew to be available, Peter’s brother Andrew remarked, “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fishes. But what do these [amount to] among so many?” (John 6:5-9; see the Notes section for additional comments.) In response to Jesus’ telling them to provide food for the multitude, the apostles questioned whether they should leave to purchase what they could for 200 denarii. (Matthew 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13)
The abundant grass in the location made it convenient for the people to recline in order to eat. Jesus told the apostles to have the people do so in groups of a hundred and of fifty. He then took the five loaves and the two fishes, which had been brought to him, looked up to heaven, and said a blessing. After breaking the loaves, Jesus gave the bread to the disciples for distribution to the people. He did the same with the two fishes. The miraculous provision of bread and fish was sufficient for about 5,000 men, besides women and children. To prevent any waste, Jesus instructed the apostles to gather the leftovers in baskets. They filled twelve baskets, which seems to indicate that each of the apostles had taken a travel basket along. The Greek term for one of these baskets is kóphinos and appears to have been the designation for a basket smaller than the sphyrís. (Matthew 14:17-21; Mark 6:38-44; Luke 9:14-17; John 6:10-13)
When the people saw the signs Jesus performed, especially the providing of food for the multitude, they concluded that he must surely be the prophet who was destined to come into the world. This prompted them to want to forcibly make Jesus their king. Becoming aware of their intent, he took steps to be alone, recognizing that their objective was contrary to his Father’s purpose and did not reflect genuine faith in him as the promised Messiah. (John 6:14, 15) Jesus directed his disciples to board the boat, then dismissed the crowd, and headed up the mountainside. Alone on the height, he had the needed privacy to pray to his Father. (Matthew 14:22, 23; Mark 6:45, 46; see the Notes section for comments on Mark 6:45.)
The question directed to Philip seems to have served to test his faith in Jesus’ ability to provide for the people. Although perceiving that the available resources were insufficient, Philip did not appear to make the connection that Jesus would be able to provide enough for everyone, just as centuries earlier the prophet Elisha had fed 100 men to satisfaction with a limited amount of bread. (2 Kings 4:42-44)
In John 6:9, the Greek term for “boy” is paidárion. Being a diminutive form of pais, paidárion (“boy”) is often translated “little boy.” This, however, is not necessarily the significance of the designation. In the Septuagint, the term is applied to 17-year-old Joseph (Genesis 37:30) and to his younger brother Benjamin when he was already a young man. (Genesis 43:8)
Andrew’s knowledge about the youth may be an indication that he was the son of one of the disciples. With their focus being on Jesus, the biblical accounts reveal very little about the apostles and their families. That family members accompanied them on various occasions is likely. Their not being mentioned does not preclude this possibility, especially since only Matthew’s account mentions women and children in connection with this incident.
If the youth was the son of one of the apostles, he may have been entrusted with their food supply. The fish probably were dried and salted.
According to Matthew 14:17 and Luke 9:13, the apostles referred to the five loaves and the two fishes as being all they had to give to the people, with no mention being made of the youth. This would seem to lend support to the conclusion that the youngster was a son of one of the apostles. Moreover, John’s account portrays him as already being with Jesus and the apostles when the crowd approached. (John 6:5, 9)
In Matthew 14:22 and Mark 6:45, Jesus’ directing his disciples to board the boat is expressed with a form of the Greek word anankázo, meaning “force,” “compel,” or “strongly urge.” This suggests that there may have been reluctance on their part to leave. Jesus may have insisted on their leaving because of knowing how easily they could have been drawn into supporting the aim to make him king.
Mark 6:45 includes Jesus instructions for “his disciples to go on ahead to the other side, toward Bethsaida.” This may be understood to mean that the disciples were to go north toward Bethsaida and then navigate along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the western shore.
According to John 6:17, Jesus had not yet come to the disciples even though it had already become dark. This could mean that he had prearranged to meet them before they would start crossing the Sea of Galilee for Capernaum. Perhaps the reference in Mark 6:45 to Bethsaida provides a possible clue about the place where Jesus planned to rejoin them. If this was the case, the disciples would have waited for a long time. When, however, it appeared that he was not coming, they decided to head for Capernaum according to the instructions he had given them.
Late at night Jesus finished praying and looked down on the Sea of Galilee. A considerable distance from the shore, he saw the boat in which the disciples were. With a strong, unfavorable wind creating a rough sea, the boat made little progress. (Matthew 14:23, 24; Mark 6:46-48; John 6:18) Jesus descended from the mountainside and began to walk on the water.
During the fourth night watch (between three and six in the morning), the boat was about three or three and a half miles from the shore, and the disciples were struggling to row it against the wind. Fright seized them when they saw someone walking on the water in their direction and about to pass them by. Thinking that they were beholding a phantom, they cried out in fear. Then they heard Jesus’ reassuring words, “Take courage. [It is] I. Fear not.” (Matthew 14:25-27; Mark 6:48-50; John 6:19, 20; see the Notes section for comments on John 6:19.)
“Lord, if it is you,” Peter spoke up, “tell me to come to you upon the waters.” “Come!” said Jesus, and Peter stepped out upon the sea. When, however, his attention shifted from Jesus to the wind and its effect on the water, he became fearful, began to sink, and then shouted, “Lord, save me!” Jesus at once reached out with his hand, took hold of him, and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
After Jesus and Peter entered the boat, the storm ended. Amazed and deeply moved by what they had witnessed, the disciples fell to their knees, prostrated themselves before Jesus, and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.” From then onward, they no longer struggled with the oars while making little progress. (Matthew 16:32, 33; Mark 6:51) In no time, they reached the western shore. (John 6:21; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Mark 6:52 indicates that the disciples had not comprehended the significance of the miracle involving the loaves. Their “heart” or mental perception remained dull. It appears that the apostles saw each miracle as a separate event and did not draw conclusions about other areas in which Jesus would be able to manifest divine power. Although they had witnessed the miraculous feeding of thousands with just five loaves and two fishes, it did not occur to them that the sea could not prevent Jesus from joining them. Therefore, for them to see Jesus walking on water should not have been something completely unimaginable.
According to John 6:19, the boat was about “twenty-five or thirty stadia” from the shore. A stadium is a linear measure of about 607 feet, and so the distance would have been between approximately three and three and a half miles.
Peter’s experience reveals that faith is maintained by keeping focused on Jesus, fully trusting him. Whenever troubling external factors begin to divert one’s attention, fear can take over and displace faith. Still, as in Peter’s case, the Son of God will not abandon us when we cry out in our distress.
A weak faith can easily be supplanted by fear and superstition. Whenever Jesus passes by (as when the truth about him comes to one’s attention) and there is no positive response to his voice, something that could strengthen faith may be perceived as unpleasant, troubling, or even terrifying. If, however, individuals hear his voice and then recognize and welcome him, they are freed from fear, superstition, and misapprehension. Like the apostles, they are moved to acknowledge, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
According to John 6:21, the boat “immediately” arrived at the land or the western shore. Because of viewing the term “immediately” in a very literal sense, numerous commentators have concluded that this was yet another miracle. It is more likely, however, that the term describes the progress of the trip in relation to the situation before Jesus joined the apostles.
When Jesus and his apostles disembarked on the plain of Gennesaret not far from Capernaum, those who recognized them spread the word about his arrival. The news quickly reached beyond the immediate area, and people came from surrounding towns and villages, bringing the sick on mats. The afflicted pleaded just to be able to touch the fringe of his garment and, upon doing so, were cured. (Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-55)
Later, in whatever town or village Jesus entered, people would put the sick in the marketplaces for him to heal them. The ailing would then beg him for permission to touch the fringe of his garment. All who did this became well. (Mark 6:56)
The people who had stayed for the night on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee looked for Jesus in the morning. They knew that only one boat had been at the location and that he had not left with his disciples. Unable to find Jesus or any of his disciples, they decided to head back to Capernaum. To make the trip, the people boarded some boats that had come from Tiberias (a city on the western shore of the sea). Upon later finding Jesus, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (John 6:22-25)
He did not answer their question but pointed to the real reason for their effort to find him. Introducing his words with the repetition of a solemn “amen” (“truly”), Jesus said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” His words revealed that the miracle did not engender genuine faith in them. Their earlier attempt to make him king was based on a carnal view and not spiritual perception. Therefore, Jesus urged them to work for the food that endures for eternal life, ceasing to make their prime concern the food that perishes upon being consumed and that cannot sustain life indefinitely. Speaking of himself as the “Son of Man,” he revealed that he could give them the essential food for eternal life (the real life of a permanent relationship with him and his Father). There should have been no question about Jesus’ ability to do so, for his Father had “sealed” him. The miracles the Father had empowered him to perform by means of his spirit, like an authenticating seal, undeniably established his identity as the unique Son of God. (John 6:26, 27)
In response to the people’s question about what they needed to do to carry out the “works of God,” Jesus told them to believe or have faith in the one whom God had sent. Although they had personally benefited from the miraculous provision of food, they were not satisfied with this sign, which should have led them to put faith in Jesus. They did not see in him the Messiah they wanted, for he had not cooperated with them in their attempt to forcibly make him their king. This appears to have been a factor in their seeking a heavenly sign that would have been more in line with their messianic expectations. The people challenged Jesus. “What sign are you performing, so that we might see [it] and believe you? What are you doing? In the wilderness, our ancestors ate the manna, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:28-31)
“Amen, amen” (“Truly, truly”), Jesus replied, “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” This “bread of God,” as Jesus explained, “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The people, however, did not understand that Jesus himself was the bread that had come down from heaven and that through him members of the world of mankind would be granted life (the eternal life of an enduring relationship with his Father and with him). Concluding that the bread to which he had referred was comparable to manna, they replied, “Lord, always give us this bread.” (John 6:32-34)
Possibly at this point or either earlier or later, Jesus finished speaking to the people. He later resumed his discussion about “bread” while in the synagogue at Capernaum. (John 6:59)
Knowing that the people had not identified him as being the “bread of God,” Jesus expressed the point in a more direct manner, saying, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never hunger, and the one who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) Whereas food and drink are needed to sustain physical life, the real life or the eternal life depends upon coming to Jesus and putting faith in him as the Son of God. From him and him alone does the spiritual life derive the essential sustenance, never leaving the believer in a hungry or thirsty state.
Those who heard Jesus words had seen him and witnessed deeds revealing extraordinary divine power. Yet, as he said, they did not believe. The visible evidence did not move them to put faith or unqualified trust in him. They were not among those whom the Father had given to his Son. (John 6:36, 37)
What distinguished those who had been given to Jesus was their coming to him in faith. They recognized him as God’s Son and their Lord, and he acknowledged them as belonging to him. To his Father, they were precious and beloved, for he had given them to his Son. Jesus likewise valued and loved them and so would never reject them or drive them away. He would treat them in harmony with his Father’s will, for he had come from heaven to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father, who had sent him. (John 6:37, 38)
God’s will respecting those whom he had given to his Son was that none of them would be lost but would enjoy a permanent relationship with him. This would necessitate their being raised from the dead “on the last day.” All of them would be persons who put faith in the Son. As Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life.” This life is more than never-ending existence. It is life associated with all the joys and blessings of an eternal relationship with the Father and his Son. (Compare John 17:3.) The “last day” designates the future time when Jesus would raise believers from the dead, to begin enjoying the real life in the sinless state. (John 6:39, 40; see the Notes section for additional comments about the “last day.”)
Jesus’ words left no question in the minds of the hearers about the identity of the “bread from heaven,” and they objected. As far as they were concerned, he had no basis for claiming that he was the bread that had come down from heaven. They knew him to be the son of Joseph, and they knew his mother. In their view, he was the natural son of Joseph and Mary and so could not possibly be the “bread from heaven.” Becoming aware of their faultfinding talk among themselves, Jesus told them to quit murmuring and then added, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And all will be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard from the Father and learned [from him] comes to me.” (John 6:41-45)
Through the life and activity of Jesus, the Father revealed himself. All who longed to have his favor were drawn to the Father’s self-disclosure and came to Jesus, recognizing him as the one whom the Father had sent. In the writings of the Hebrew prophets the proof could be found that the Father would draw individuals through his teaching. In Isaiah 54:13, it is written, “And all your sons [will be] taught by God.” (LXX, but “YHWH” in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and the Masoretic Text) The prophetic word and the miracles the Father had empowered his Son to perform served as teaching, revealing Jesus’ true identity as being more than a member of the family of Joseph and Mary. Therefore, all who heard this teaching with understanding and learned it, making it their own, came to Jesus.
Calling attention to the fact that the Father’s teaching had been made available through him, Jesus added that he alone, as the one from God, had seen the Father. “Amen, amen” (“Truly, truly”), Jesus continued in a solemn manner, “I say to you, Whoever believes has eternal life.” The response in faith resulted in an approved relationship with the Father and his Son, and the enduring nature of this relationship constitutes eternal life. Therefore, Jesus could speak of this life as coming into the possession of believers, although they would not enjoy it to the full until being granted their glorified sinless state. (John 6:46, 47)
Emphasizing that eternal life could only be attained through him, Jesus repeated, “I am the bread of life.” Although it came from a heavenly source, the manna did not indefinitely sustain the life of the Israelites in the wilderness. As Jesus said, “They died.” The individual eating of the bread that had come down from heaven in the person of the Son, however, would not die. By putting faith in the Son and all that his life and ministry embraced, believers would become sharers in Christ and come to have eternal life. The relationship inherent in this life would not end at death but would continue upon the believer’s being resurrected in glory. Because death does not bring an end to eternal life, all who through faith share in Christ (the way persons can share a meal) do not die. (John 6:48-50)
Again Jesus made the unmistakable identification, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He then expanded on this vital truth. “If anyone eats from this bread, he will live eternally, and my flesh is the bread that I give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Jesus thereby indicated that he would die sacrificially for the world of mankind and that all who would accept his sacrifice for them would be granted eternal life.
Jesus’ words gave rise to controversy among his Jewish hearers. They objected, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” He then replied in terms that were even more graphic. “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you, If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who consumes my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever consumes my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, I also live because of the Father, and whoever consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like [the manna your] ancestors ate and died. The one who consumes this bread will live eternally.” (John 6:52-58; the bracketed words are found in numerous later manuscripts but are missing in the oldest extant manuscripts.)
Eternal life is only attainable by partaking of the benefits made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death (the surrender of his flesh and the pouring out of his blood). Apart from Jesus’ flesh and blood, individuals may exist but they do not have the real life as divinely approved persons. The eternal life that believers come to possess through their faith in the Son guarantees their resurrection. Jesus’ flesh and blood are true food and drink in that they have a direct bearing on eternal life, just as food and drink do on one’s physical life.
In the quotation of Jesus’ words, the Greek term for “consume” is trógo and appears in ancient writings as a term used when speaking of animals as biting or chewing their food. Perhaps the thought conveyed is that of the kind of eating characteristic of hungry animals and, therefore, could suggest the eager response to Jesus as the one who surrendered his flesh for the life of the world.
To abide in Jesus would signify to be at one with him, and Jesus would be united to the individual in continued fellowship. The Father lives and is the possessor of life-giving power. Therefore, Jesus described himself as living because of his Father, to whom he was united in an eternal relationship. Likewise, the one who would share in communion with Jesus through faith (as one would participate in fellowship when partaking of a meal) would live on account of him. Unlike the manna that could not keep the ancestors of the Israelites alive indefinitely, all who become sharers in Christ, “the bread that came down from heaven,” will live eternally.
Even among those who had followed Jesus as his “disciples” or learners, many found this “word” or teaching “hard,” troublesome, or intolerable. They responded, “Who can listen to it?” The teaching proved to be unacceptable and offensive to them. (John 6:60)
Sensing that these disciples were murmuring about his teaching, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What, then, if you were to behold the Son of Man ascending to where he had been formerly?” (John 6:61, 62) Jesus’ question about the ascension served to show that they had no valid reason for being offended. If they were to see him ascending to the location he had been previously, this would prove that he had indeed come down from heaven.
Clarifying that he had not been speaking in literal terms, Jesus continued, “The spirit is what makes alive; the flesh is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63) In the case of the fleshly organism, the “spirit” gives life to the body of flesh, animating it. Without the life force, the flesh is useless. Jesus’ words were of a spiritual nature. Responding to them in faith by accepting him as the “bread of life” would have led to coming into possession of the real life. His words had animating and life-giving power.
Fully aware of the lack of faith among certain ones who had followed him, Jesus said, “Among you are some who do not believe.” The account then continues with an explanatory comment. From the “beginning,” Jesus knew those who did not believe and the one who would betray him. This indicates that Jesus discerned from the start when outward expressions did not reflect genuine faith in him. Real faith is an inward response to the Father—to his drawing of individuals through his self-disclosure. This is why Jesus said, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father has granted it to him.” (John 6:64, 65)
At this point, many who had followed Jesus stopped doing so and returned to their former routine of life. This prompted Jesus to ask the twelve apostles, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom are we to go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and known that you are the Holy One of God.” Even among the apostles, however, not all shared this unqualified trust in and attachment to God’s beloved Son. Although he had chosen the twelve, Jesus identified one of them as a “devil” or “slanderer.” This was Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, who would later betray him. (John 6:66-71; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
The expression “eternal life” primarily relates to its quality or nature rather than to its duration. According to John 17:3, eternal life is “knowing” the true God and the one whom he sent. This “knowing” means having a relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. It is a family relationship, with those having faith in Jesus being recognized by the heavenly Father as his approved children. Once that relationship comes into being, children of God have “eternal life,” but its full enjoyment is yet future. Death does not sever the permanent family relationship and, therefore, does not mean the loss of the real life that came into the possession of believers. For all children of God who have died, resurrection is a certainty and will mean their continuing to enjoy the real life in the glorified state of their sinless resurrection bodies. The heavenly Father is eternal, and the life of all with whom he has a relationship is therefore also eternal.
Jesus referred to the resurrection as taking place on the “last day.” This is the climactic point in history, which the Scriptures associate with Jesus’ return in glory to render judgment upon the world of mankind. At that time, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the dead in Christ will rise. It is likely that Jesus’ hearers associated the resurrection on the “last day” with the promise to Daniel (12:12, Tanakh), “You shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of the days.”
Peter’s confession reveals that being a disciple of God’s Son means being devoted to him and a willingness to follow his example and teaching even when that may appear to be difficult. Christian discipleship is not a matter of membership in a “church” or movement that claims to be in possession of the “truth.” This discipleship is not linked to a particular place, and Christian fellowship is based on the family relationship that Jesus Christ has made possible. It is a fellowship among those who recognize others as fellow children of God by reason of their faith in his Son.
The later betrayal of Judas did not come as a surprise to Jesus. As God’s unique Son, he knew what none of the disciples could have known. The other apostles had no idea that Judas would betray their Lord, but Jesus discerned from the outset when Judas’ devotion to him was not what it should have been. Therefore, on this occasion, Jesus referred to him as a “devil” or “slanderer.” The other apostles, however, did not know whom he meant.
For the time of the Passover and the seven-day festival of unleavened bread, the biblical accounts provide no information about Jesus’ activity. The next narrated event involved a confrontation with scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem. They appear to have come to Galilee to spy on him.
Having observed that some of his disciples ate without first ceremonially washing their hands, they objected, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” The scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem considered it offensive for him to allow his disciples to eat bread with defiled or ceremonially unclean hands. (Matthew 15:1, 2; Mark 7:1, 2, 5; regarding Mark 7:3, 4, see the Notes section.) Jesus countered with his own question, “Why do you transgress the command of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3)
God’s law required children to honor their parents, and that included the duty of grown children to help them in time of need. Gross disrespect for parents constituted a serious sin. A son or daughter who cursed or reviled either father or mother committed a capital offense. (Exodus 20:12; 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10)
A traditional regulation about property devoted to God, however, came to take precedence over the obligation to aid needy parents. According to the “tradition of the elders,” whatever a person might declare to be “corban” or an offering for God could not be given to parents to relieve their plight. Even if grown children had rashly set apart all their property to God, they (according to ancient Jewish sources) could not give any part of it to a needy father or mother. The children, though, retained control over the property throughout their life. Accordingly, as Jesus pointed out, the scribes and Pharisees, on the basis of tradition, had nullified the divine command for children to honor their parents. For the sake of their traditions, they did many other things like this. While they claimed to honor God, their adherence to traditions dishonored him. This made them hypocrites, for they represented themselves as honoring God when, in fact, they failed to do so by disregarding his commands. Their course proved to be described in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors me with [their] lips, but their heart is far away from me. And they revere me in vain, teaching the commands of men as doctrines.” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:5-9; Mark 7:11-13; for comments on the Isaiah passage, see the Notes section.)
In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, they attached greater weight to the “tradition of the elders” than to the commands of God. With their lips, they honored the Most High. On account of their traditions, however, this honor did not involve their “heart” or inmost self. Their concern for scrupulous observance of tradition distanced them from God, negating his commands and interfering with their showing proper love and regard for him. Love for the Most High is demonstrated by loyal obedience to his commands. As a consequence, the professed reverence of God was vain, empty, or hollow. The teachings of the Pharisees were derived, not from divine revelation, but from men, and set aside the clearly expressed word and will of God.
Jesus next directed his attention to the crowd that had earlier gathered about him and had heard his response to the scribes and Pharisees. Admonishing all of the people to listen to him and to get the sense of his words, he told them that defilement has its source in what comes out of the mouth and not from what enters the mouth. (Matthew 15:10, 11; Mark 7:14, 15 [which passage refers to the defilement as not originating from “outside of the man”])
After leaving the crowd, Jesus entered a house with his disciples. In the privacy of the home, they expressed their concern about the reaction of the Pharisees, saying to Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees who heard [your] words took offense?” His reply indicated that this should not trouble them, for his Father had not “planted” these unbelieving Pharisees. “Every plant” that his heavenly Father had not planted would be uprooted. “Let them go [their way],” Jesus continued. “They are blind guides [of the blind, according to numerous manuscripts]. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Accordingly, the disciples had no reason to be disturbed by what the unbelieving Pharisees thought, for their guidance would prove to be ruinous to those who followed it. (Matthew 15:12-14; Mark 7:17 [which text speaks of Jesus having entered the house after leaving the crowd])
Peter then asked Jesus to explain what he had meant by his parable about the source of defilement. (Matthew 15:15; see the Notes section for additional comments.) Indicating that the disciples should have understood his words, he replied, “Are you also still lacking in comprehension? Do you not understand that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him, for it does not enter into the heart but into the belly and goes out into the sewer.” Food does not affect the individual’s inmost self, altering his moral character. (Matthew 15:16; Mark 7:18, 19; compare Matthew 15:17, where “mouth” appears instead of “man.”)
The language Jesus used about what a person might eat allowed for a broad application. Commenting on his words, Mark added that Jesus had pronounced all foods clean, as the bodily processes subsequent to eating are the same for all foods. (Mark 7:19; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
The expressions of the mouth come from the heart or the inmost self of the individual, and can reveal internal corruption or defilement. As Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false testimony, and blasphemy. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with [ceremonially] unwashed hands does not defile a man.” The impulses to act in a corrupt manner originate with the individual and reveal his moral condition. A failure to comply with a humanly devised precept about ceremonial cleanness, however, did not make the food unclean and the eater a corrupt person. (Matthew 15:18-20; Mark 7:20-23 [which passage also mentions greed, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, a wicked eye (one that looks with evil or corrupt intent), arrogance, and folly]; both in Matthew and Mark the wrongs mentioned are plural in the Greek text.)
Ancient Jewish sources set forth various requirements for the ceremonial washing of hands. The water had to be poured from a utensil not consisting of prohibited material. A quarter of a log was the stipulated amount of water to be used. This would have been roughly one-third of a cup, the log measure being about two-thirds of a pint. If poured water ran back over any part of the hand over which it had flowed, the hand was regarded as unclean. The poured water had to reach up to but not beyond the wrist. (Tosefta, Yadayim, 1:1, 1:6, 1:7, 1:8, 2:2, 2:4, 2:5) Failure to observe the ceremonial washing of hands came to be regarded as a serious offense, comparable to having relations with a prostitute. (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 4b)
According to a literal reading of the majority of extant Greek manuscripts of Mark 7:3, the hands were washed “to the fist” (pygmé). Perhaps, based on the background Jewish sources provide, “fist” (if this is the original reading) means to the limits of the fist or up to the wrist.
Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Freer Gospels read pykná (“often”), and the Vulgate says crebro (“repeatedly”). The passage is not preserved in any of the earlier extant papyrus manuscripts, and the limited manuscript support for the reading pykná makes it questionable that it is the original one.
Modern translations commonly paraphrase the words of Mark 7:3 and do not include the word “fist.” “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing.” (NIV) “They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating.” (CEV) “For Pharisees and Jews in general never eat without washing their hands.” (REB) “The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way.” (Phillips) “The Pharisees and all the Jews never eat before washing their hands in a special way according to their unwritten laws.” (NCV)
Mark 7:4 sets forth additional clarifying information for the benefit of non-Jewish believers. When returning from the market, the Pharisees and other Jews would sprinkle themselves with water, thereby cleansing themselves ceremonially from any uncleanness with which they may inadvertently have come in contact. They also observed many other traditions. These included procedures for immersing cups, pots, and bronze vessels to cleanse them ceremonially.
In the time Isaiah prophesied, the Israelites worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. Their worship, however, was but an outward expression and not a reflection of the heart or the deep inner self. With their mouth, they had approached YHWH. At the temple, they made expressions of praise and thanksgiving and thus glorified him with their lips. Lacking genuine affection for YHWH, the people approached him without their heart or inmost self being involved. They had a kind of fear, awe, or reverence for God, but it did not spring from a proper appreciation of him and his ways. The source of their fear was the commandment of men.
King Hezekiah, for example, undertook an extensive campaign against idolatry and instituted sweeping reforms respecting worship. The reforms, though, did not appear to have brought about lasting changes in the spiritual state of the majority. After the death of Hezekiah, a period of rampant idolatry followed. This suggests that what the people did during Hezekiah’s reign did not stem from internal conviction respecting the rightness of honoring YHWH but was the result of complying with royal decree. (2 Kings 18:1-6; 21:1-9)
In Matthew 15:15, Peter is represented as requesting Jesus to explain the parable, but the parallel account (Mark 7:17) says that the disciples were the ones who asked for an explanation. It appears that Peter spoke representatively for the other disciples, as his words “explain to us” indicate. Jesus response was directed to all of them. The pronoun “you” in the next verse is plural, not singular.
At the time the disciples heard Jesus’ words about food, they would not have understood them to mean that the dietary requirements contained in the law no longer applied. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Jewish believers did not eat food that the law designated as unclean. In response to a vision directing him to slaughter unclean animals and to eat the meat, Peter protested, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled or unclean.” (Acts 10:14; 21:20, 21) Consequently, the comment (in Mark 7:19) that Jesus indicated all foods to be clean reflected the circumstance of a community of believers composed of Jews and non-Jews. His words reveal that he did not authorize imposing dietary restrictions on those who would become his disciples.
Although Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23 relate to the same incident, there are differences in the wording and in the order in which the conversations are narrated. The basic thoughts, however, are the same. As in other cases, the quoted conversations convey the meaning but do not preserve the exact words, which were not spoken in the Greek language. With the exception of minor differences, the quotations from Exodus 20:12; 21:17, and Isaiah 29:13 follow the wording of the extant Septuagint text.
The oldest extant manuscripts do not include, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” These words of Mark 7:16, however, do appear in many later manuscripts.
With his disciples, Jesus left Galilee and came to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Although he did not want it to become known that he was in the area, the news spread about his arrival and the house where he was staying. A woman who believed her daughter to be suffering because of an “unclean spirit” heard about Jesus and immediately came to him. Seeing Jesus and his disciples, she began crying out, “Take pity on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is badly demonized.” (Matthew 15:21, 22; Mark 7:24, 25)
This woman was not Jewish but Greek (either meaning of Greek or of Gentile descent). The reference to her Syrophoenician or Canaanite origin may be understood to denote that she was born in Phoenicia of Syria (the Roman province) or in the land also known as Canaan. (Matthew 15:22; Mark 7:26)
When Jesus did not respond to her pleas, the disciples asked him to send her away, as she persisted in calling out after them. He, however, did not dismiss her but said, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She fell to her knees before him and prostrated herself at his feet, pleading for him to cast out the demon from her daughter. “Lord, help me,” she begged. (Matthew 15:23-25; Mark 7:25)
Jesus then told her that the children would have to be fed first and that it would not be right to take bread away from them and to toss it to little dogs. Whereas the Jews regarded non-Jewish peoples like unclean dogs, Jesus, in the biblical accounts, is not represented as using such harsh language. In this case, the Greek word for “dog” is kynárion (a little dog or one kept in the house) and not kyon (a fierce scavenger dog roaming the streets). Still, the words would have tested the genuineness of the woman’s faith—whether she really believed Jesus to be the “Son of David” or the Messiah who could bring relief to her daughter. With full trust that Jesus could cure her daughter, she used the opening his words provided as a basis for having her request granted. The woman replied, “Yes, Lord, but the little dogs also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” (Matthew 15:26, 27; Mark 7:27) Or, according to Mark 7:28, these little dogs would be under the table of their owner and eat of the crumbs the children would drop.
Her reply gave evidence of an unqualified trust in Jesus’ ability to heal her daughter. Therefore, he acknowledged her great faith and added, “Let it happen to you as you desire.” He assured her that, because of having expressed herself as she did, her daughter had been freed from the demon that plagued her. When the woman returned to her home, she found her child lying on the bed and liberated from the demon. (Matthew 15:28; Mark 7:29, 30)
This non-Jewish woman’s faith contrasted sharply with the unbelief of many Jews. She persisted in appealing to Jesus for help, whereas many Jews, especially in Nazareth and the immediate vicinity, did not even come to him to be healed. (Compare Mark 6:1-6.)
Jesus left the area of Tyre and Sidon and, with his disciples, headed eastward for the Decapolis region. (Matthew 15:29; Mark 7:31) As soon as they were seen near the Sea of Galilee, the word must have spread that Jesus was back in the area. The later mention of a boat (Matthew 15:39) suggests that he and his disciples first came to Capernaum, the home of Peter and Andrew. Then they probably obtained provisions for a short stay in the Decapolis region and used Peter’s boat to cross the sea. (Compare Matthew 15:34; Mark 8:5.)
Upon learning about Jesus’ whereabouts, many people went to the location. While he was seated on a mountainside, they arrived, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, and the mute. The people placed the afflicted at Jesus’ feet, and he cured all of them. (Matthew 15:29, 30)
Those who saw the lame walking, the blind seeing, the crippled being made whole, and the mute speaking were filled with amazement and “glorified the God of Israel.” (Matthew 15:31) Convinced of the operation of divine power, they praised the Most High.
Among the afflicted who were brought to Jesus was a deaf man with a speech impediment. Those concerned about the plight of this man begged Jesus to lay his hands on him. (Mark 7:32)
Jesus led him away from the crowd, put his fingers in the man’s ears, spat, and, with the spittle on his hand, touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven, indicative of his making an appeal to his Father, sighed, and said, “Ephphatha” (“Be opened”). The man’s hearing was restored immediately, and he was also able to speak clearly. (Mark 7:33-35)
After having lived in a world of complete silence, the man could have been overwhelmed by the noise from the crowd. So it was truly an act of kindness and consideration for Jesus to perform the miracle away from the multitude. By means of physical touch, he made it clear to the man that the restoration of hearing and the ability to speak clearly came through him. Jesus’ looking up to heaven would have enabled the man to discern that the miracle had a divine source. The sigh, although not audible to the man, may have been accompanied by facial expressions that reflected deep compassion. It would appear that the sigh revealed the depth of Jesus’ feeling for human suffering and the sadness it caused.
Although Jesus instructed that his miracles should not be made known, people would, to an even greater extent, talk about them. All who witnessed Jesus’ miracles were greatly astonished and acknowledged that he had done everything well, enabling the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. (Mark 7:36, 37)
With the passage of time, Jesus became concerned about the physical needs of the thousands who had remained in the area to be near him. After a period of three days, he voiced his compassion for the people to his disciples. He did not want to send the crowds away without having eaten anything, as they might become faint on the way home. Jesus knew that some of the people would have to travel a considerable distance. (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:1-3)
Being in an isolated area, the disciples could not imagine how they would be able to supply food for the multitude. In response to Jesus’ question about how many loaves they had, the disciples said, “Seven, and a few fishes,” which were probably dried and salted. (Matthew 15:33, 34; Mark 8:4, 5)
He directed the people to recline on the ground. Taking the seven loaves and the fishes, he gave thanks and broke them into portions, which he then had his disciples distribute to about 4,000 men and many women and children. All had enough to eat, and the leftovers filled seven baskets. (Matthew 15:35-38; Mark 8:6-9) Based on the Greek term (sphyrís) for these baskets, they appear to have been large (big enough to hold a man [Acts 9:25]).
After dismissing the people, Jesus and his disciples boarded the boat and went to the region of Magadan (Magdala or Magedan, according to other ancient manuscripts). This region along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee probably embraced the town of Magdala and its vicinity and lay some six miles southwest of Capernaum. (Matthew 15:39) According to Mark 8:10, Jesus and his disciples came into the region of Dalmanutha. Possibly Dalmanutha was another name for Magadan. A few ancient manuscripts read Magdala, Mageda, Magedan, or Melegada, but these readings may have arisen from an attempt to make Mark 8:10 agree with Matthew 15:39.
To test Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a sign from him. This was a faithless demand for Jesus to provide a heavenly sign in keeping with their view of how the Messiah should identify himself. It may have been their intent to discredit him because of his inability to do so. (Matthew 16:1; Mark 8:11; see the Notes section for additional comments on Mark 8:11.)
Jesus, however, did not yield to their insincere request. According to the reading of numerous manuscripts, he exposed their unwillingness to accept the evidence that was available to them. Based on seeing a red evening sky, they concluded that it would be fair weather. If, though, the sky was red and overcast in the morning, they expected a stormy or wintery day. Their ability to draw conclusions about the weather based on the appearance of the sky indicated that they possessed evaluation powers. In the case of Jesus and his activity, including his many miracles, they refused to draw the right conclusion from the undeniable evidence and to respond in faith. They manifested themselves as unable to interpret the “signs of the times” as they related to the Messiah. (Matthew 16:2, 3; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
In his response, Jesus referred to these unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees as being part of a “wicked and adulterous generation.” They were wicked in rejecting the evidence of God’s power operating through Christ and attributing it to a demonic source. When persisting in unbelief, they proved themselves to be unfaithful to God, to whom the law covenant bound them like a wife to a husband. Their unfaithfulness constituted adultery. (Matthew 16:4)
The refusal of the unbelieving generation to accept the abundant evidence that could have led to their being divinely approved greatly grieved Jesus. In his “spirit” or within himself, he sighed deeply and then said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” As on an earlier occasion, Jesus solemnly declared that they would not be given the sign they were seeking. The only sign to be given them was that of Jonah. Just as Jonah came out of the belly of the great sea creature after three days and three nights, so Jesus would come forth from the tomb after parts of three days. With his disciples, he then left. (Matthew 12:38-40;16:4; Mark 8:12, 13)
Mark 8:11 does not mention the Sadducees, as does Matthew 16:1. This may be because the Pharisees were primarily responsible for demanding a sign, with the Sadducees joining them in challenging Jesus. Although the Pharisees and Sadducees differed greatly in their beliefs, they were united in their opposition to him.
According to the reading of the oldest extant manuscripts, Matthew 16:2 ends with the words, “but he said to them,” and the text of verse 3 is missing. For this reason, the Revised English Bible rendering follows the abbreviated text. “He answered: ‘It is a wicked, godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign that will be given it is the sign of Jonah.’ With that he left them and went away.”
Jesus and his disciples boarded the boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and headed for Bethsaida on the northeastern shore of the lake. During the crossing, he admonished them to be alert and watch out for the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (“leaven of Herod” [instead of Sadducees], according to numerous manuscripts of Mark 8:15). The disciples mistakenly took his words to be a subtle reminder about food. They had forgotten to take bread for the trip and had only one loaf in the boat. Among themselves, therefore, they talked about not having brought a supply of loaves, perhaps even trying to fix blame for the neglect. (Matthew 16:5-7; Mark 8:14-16)
Becoming aware of their wrong reasoning, Jesus spoke of them as having little faith and a “heart” or mind that was dull, hard, or impervious to proper understanding. After asking them whether they could not see with their eyes and hear with their ears, he reminded them about the provision he had made with five loaves for five thousand men and with seven loaves for four thousand men. Jesus also had them answer how many baskets of leftovers they had collected afterward. In view of all they had witnessed, “How,” as he continued, could they not have understood that he had not spoken to them about loaves? The disciples then comprehended that he had not referred to the “leaven of the loaves” but to the “teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:8-12; Mark 8:17-21)
Based on the miracles they had seen, the disciples should have been able to conclude that Jesus’ ability to look after their needs was not dependent on external factors. Seemingly, they had not reached the point where they drew conclusions solidly grounded on their faith in him as the Son of God. They often viewed matters according to what the external circumstances suggested, and the influence of the prevailing thinking of the time interfered with their comprehension of Jesus’ words.
The “leaven” or teaching to which Jesus referred affected the people generally. Its permeating influence was harmful, as it hindered many from accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God. In the case of the disciples, this “leaven” would have been detrimental to their spiritual well-being, and they needed to guard against it.
Although claiming to uphold God’s law, the Pharisees misrepresented its requirements, giving precedence to the tradition of the elders. Because Jesus did not share their exalted view of the ancient traditions and did not provide the “sign” they expected from the Messiah, the unbelieving Pharisees opposed and misrepresented him. The teaching of the Pharisees minimized the importance of love, justice, and mercy, which conflicted with Jesus’ teaching. (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42) To grow in being more like him as loving, just, and compassionate persons, the disciples needed to be on guard against the teaching of the Pharisees.
The Sadducees rejected much of what had been conveyed through the ancient prophets. (Acts 23:8) Therefore, their teaching likewise interfered with accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah and continuing to develop ever-greater faith in him.
Herod, specifically Herod Antipas of the Herodian dynasty and his supporters, had political objectives. With the emphasis on position and power, this “leaven” needed to be avoided. Repeatedly, Jesus had to make clear to his disciples that greatness in the realm where he was king did not mean occupying a prominent position for wielding authority over others but required laboring as a lowly servant. (Matthew 18:1-6; 23:11, 12; Mark 10:35-37; Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-27; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Both Matthew and Mark mentioned the “leaven of the Pharisees” first. This may indicate that their teaching posed the greatest danger for the disciples. The influence of the Sadducees does not appear to have been as great on the people generally. According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, XIII, x, 5), so great was the influence of the Pharisees “over the multitude” that, “when they say anything against the king or against the high priest, they are presently believed.”
There is a possibility that the reference to the “leaven of Herod” or the “leaven of the Herodians” (according to other manuscript readings of Mark 8:15, including third-century P45) may be a parallel designation for the “leaven of the Sadducees” mentioned in Matthew 16:6. If so, the “leaven of the Sadducees” would apply to the teaching or beliefs of Sadducees who supported the Herodian dynasty.
Jesus and his disciples disembarked from the boat at the village of Bethsaida. Their arrival did not go unnoticed. Soon some of he villagers brought a blind man, entreating Jesus to touch him to restore his sight. He, however, chose not to do so in their presence. Taking the blind man by the hand, he led him outside the village. (Mark 8:22, 23)
After spitting on the man’s eyes and placing his hands “on him,” Jesus asked whether he saw anything. Unable to see clearly when he looked up, the man answered that he saw men who looked like trees walking about. His mention of trees suggests that he had not been blind from birth and, therefore, could speak of people having the appearance of trees. After Jesus again put his hands on the man’s eyes, he could see clearly. Jesus then sent him to his home, telling him not to go into Bethsaida. (Mark 8:23-26)
Mark 8:25 says that Jesus “again” placed his hands on the man’s eyes. This suggests that Jesus’ initial laying of his hands upon the man (verse 23) referred to his doing so on his eyes.
The blind man did not live in Bethsaida. Possibly he had gone to the village to beg, and people who took pity on him decided to take him to Jesus and entreat him to restore his sight.
At the time, the man may not even have had faith in Jesus, as there is no reference in the account indicating that he spoke or acted of his own initiative. Perhaps the manner in which Jesus chose to restore his sight helped him to come to have faith and to grow in faith (comparable to the progressive recovery of his sight). The interaction with him would have revealed to the man that the miracle had been effected through Jesus.
The directive that the man not return to the village did not differ from Jesus’ usual instructions to those who were cured of their afflictions. To the extent possible, Jesus wanted to avoid the kind of publicity that caused large crowds to form but did not lead individuals to genuine faith in him.