9. Jesus Returns to Jerusalem
Matt. 11:20; Matt. 16:21-28; Matt. 17:22-23; Luke 13:22-35
This lesson has as its starting point an important decision made by Jesus toward the close of the period we have been considering in the past few lessons. This decision was briefly referred to in the closing section of Lesson Eight, and was of a twofold nature. Jesus decided (1) that the time had arrived when He must bring His Galilean ministry to a close; and (2) He must now return to Jerusalem, and make that city His headquarters. It will be noticed that this decision completely reversed an earlier procedure— for, in the early days of His ministry, Jesus "left Judea, and departed again into Galilee" (John 4:3). Ever since that time Jesus' activities had been centered in Galilee. However, Jesus now saw that He must go back to Jerusalem, and make His final appeal to the Jewish leaders; and the kingdom message must be presented once again in Jerusalem. When all this was accomplished, Jesus would be in a position to carry His ministry to its triumphant climax.
The Gospels show that the above-mentioned decision was closely followed by several outstanding events, all having important bearing upon Jesus' ministry. Let us, therefore, give these events careful consideration, recognizing their historical significance, and also what they mean to us.
Matt. 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21
Caesarea Philippi is usually regarded as an important milestone or turning point in Jesus' ministry. Therefore, it will be well to make a careful study of the happenings and statements recorded in the above Scripture passages. Several details call for special attention:
(I) Jesus' question:
Apparently, Jesus desired to make some sort of check on the effectiveness of His Galilean ministry. He therefore put a test question to His disciples: "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" The disciples replied that, while some of the people regarded Jesus as a great man (likening Him to some of the great prophets of the past), they were not yet ready to proclaim Him as Messiah. This must have been somewhat of a disappointment to Jesus. However, there is a possibility that the people did not speak of Jesus as Messiah because they feared the consequences. John's Gospel states that about this time "the Jews had agreed already, that if any man should confess him to be Christ [Messiah] he should be put out of the Synagogue" (John 9:22). Excommunication of this sort would be a serious matter! Jesus then put His question a second time, but on this occasion directing it to the disciples: "But who say ye that I am?" Peter gave immediate answer—totally disregarding the probable consequences: "Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God." In commending Peter for this reply, Jesus pointed out that the declaration was not made through a process of intellectual reasoning, but was a direct revelation from the Father.
(II) "Upon this rock I will build my church":
Several explanations have been put forward regarding this statement; therefore, it should be given careful consideration. The main problem here concerns the identity of the "rock," which is to be the foundation for the church. Note the following:
a. Some persons claim that the reference is to Peter, and that Jesus' words definitely designated Peter as the foundation of the church. But had this been Jesus' intention, surely He would have made the situation clear by actually naming Peter to the position. It would have been easier (and clearer) to say: "Upon you, Peter, I will build ..." Furthermore, subsequent events reveal Peter as very unstable foundation material! (See Matt. 16:23 and Matt. 26:69-75.) Later in the New Testament we read that James, brother of Jesus (not Peter), was recognized as the presiding elder of the first church council. (See Acts 15.)
b. The suggestion has been made that the foundation here referred to is faith—since Peter symbolically represents faith. This is an interesting suggestion and undoubtedly has certain merits. However, it should be remembered that the symbology that designates Peter as representing faith belongs to a much later period; therefore, the name of Peter would not have this significance at the time of the conversation at Caesarea Philippi.
c. A better interpretation is arrived at by first getting clearly in mind the facts regarding the conversation. What was Jesus actually referring to when He made the statement we are now discussing? Peter had just made the declaration, "Thou art the Christ [Messiah}," and it was to this declaration that Jesus was referring. Jesus was saying, in effect: "Peter, you have spoken well for this is indeed the truth. I am the Christ; and it is upon this realization that my church must be built." The following comments will make this clear:
"This reply ['Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'} affirms two great truths concerning Jesus—His divine Sonship and His Messiahship ... but the answer of Jesus, with the play on the word petros (rock), implies that He regarded this confession of His divine Sonship and Messiahship as the foundation upon which the new Israel of God was to be built" ("Abington Commentary," p. 980).
"This revealment of Truth ['Thou art the Christ'} direct from Spirit is the rock upon which the one and only church of Jesus Christ is built" (Talks on Truth 103).
"For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 3:11).
Applying the above metaphysically, we are led to see that if we would build a Christ consciousness, the first step (or foundation) must be the realization of the indwelling Christ. We should also recognize the close relationship between the word consciousness and the word church, as used in discussing this Scripture passage. The following quotation will prove helpful:
"Many have caught sight of the fact that the true church of Christ is a state of consciousness in man, but few have gone so far in the realization as to know that in the very body of each man and woman is a temple in which the Christ holds religious services at all times: 'Ye are a temple of God.' The appellation was not symbolical, but a statement of architectural truth. Under the direction of the Christ, a new body is constructed by the thinking faculty in man; the materials entering into this superior structure are the spiritualized organic substances, and the new creation is the temple or body of Spirit. It breathes an atmosphere and is thrilled with a life energy more real than that of the external form. When one who has come into the church of Christ feels the stirring within him of this body of the Spirit, he knows what Paul meant when he said, 'There is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body' " (Talks on Truth 105-6).
(III) "I will give thee the keys ..."
Note that the statement regarding the "keys" (as related to this conversation) appears only in Matthew. The accounts in Mark and Luke omit this section. However, it should be further noted that while this statement is reported as being addressed to Peter in the conversation at Caesarea Philippi, the same words were spoken to all the other disciples on other occasions. (Compare Matt. 16:19 with Matt. 18:18 and John 20:23.) These references clearly indicate that the "power of the keys" was not intended to be limited to Peter.
We may ask, then: What are these "keys"? The following quotation should prove helpful:
"The 'keys' to this 'kingdom of heaven' are in binding (affirmations) and loosing (denials). ... All affirmations and denials made by man from this plane of consciousness control the realm of free ideas or heavens ... This is especially true of bodily conditions. If you allow Peter to speak of erroneous states of consciousness as true conditions, you will be bound to them and you will suffer; but if you see to it that he pronounces them free from errors of sense, they will be 'loosed' " (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 516-7 entry for Peter).
In otber words, our attitude of mind today determines what will be the condition of our body and affairs tomorrow!
(IV) "Tell no man."
Many readers of the Gospels are puzzled in regard to this statement. Why should Jesus charge His disciples "that they should tell no man that be was the Christ"? Several possible reasons may be suggested:
a. Protection for the disciples. As mentioned above, open confession regarding the Messiahship of Jesus would result in excommunication; and this would work hardship on all persons concerned.
b. To openly proclaim Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah might lead to an uprising of the Jews against the Romans—something which Jesus, thus far, had sought to guard against.
c. Possibly tbe most important reason for the enjoined secrecy is to be found in the fact that the recognition of the Christ is an individual matter, and each person must make the discovery for himself. The difference between Peter and the other disciples, as shown in the story, is similar to the differences between people today. The individual revelation came to Peter; and this revelation from "the Father" must likewise come to us as individuals.
Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9: 28-36
2. The Transfiguration.
The story of Jesus' transfiguration is so well known that only brief comments are necessary. However, the Scripture passages given above should be carefully read and compared. The important point is to recognize that Jesus was facing a very serious situation; consequently, His actions should be regarded as containing some important lessons. It would be well at this point to refer back to Lesson Seven, and reread the comments regarding Jesus' teaching through actions. Note the following important details:
(I) Jesus ascended the mountain for the purpose of intensive prayer. Luke brings this out very clearly and also indicates some results of Jesus' prayer activities.
(II) Jesus took with Him three disciples—Peter, John, and James. Metaphysically, this indicates that prayer should have within it the qualities of faith, love, and wisdom.
(III) The Gospel writer states that "as he [Jesus] was praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered ..." This may remind us of the familiar statement, "Prayer changes things." However, we should amplify this statement, somewhat in this way: "Prayer changes things, because prayer first changes us." In other words, outer things or conditions are transformed, because there has first been a transformation within ourself.
(IV) The appearance of Moses and Elijah indicates that The Law and the Prophets" (Old Testament teaching) find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Several well-known Scripture passages throw additional light on this happening: "And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). "For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
(V) The message of divine approval: "This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him" (Luke 9:35). This is similar to the message given immediately following Jesus' baptism. (See Matt. 3:17.) It should be noted that in both instances Jesus had made an important decision, and His decision received confirmation and divine approval. Does not this inner voice also speak to us? "The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
(VI) Note the contrast between Peter's expressed desire to remain on the mountaintop, and Jesus' action in making immediate return to the valley. This may mean that moments of spiritual exaltation are intended, not as an end in themselves, but as a preparation for further spiritual activities. Mountaintop experiences are for illumination and inspiration, so that we may be filled with new strength and courage to take up the tasks that await us in the valley.
Something akin to Jesus Christ's transfiguration may occur in our life experience from time to time. Following an important decision that sends us onward and upward along the path of spiritual unfoldment, there may come to us a period of great uplift, or spiritual exaltation. We may feel that we are nearer to God than we have ever been before. We seem to reach the high point in spiritual experience, for with Jesus Christ we have ascended the Mount of Transfiguration.
Matt. 17:9-21; Mark 9:9-29; Luke 9:37-45
3. Healing the Demented Boy.
The Gospel writers place this healing miracle immediately following Jesus' transfiguration, and the connection is readily recognized. Peter expressed the desire to remain on the mountaintop, but Jesus was aware that important work awaited Him in the valley. The significance of this was discussed earlier in the lesson, but several other features also call for careful consideration.
(I) The appeal for help:
The Scripture passages given above explain how an unnamed man brought his son to Jesus for healing. Jesus had gone away to the mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, John, and James. Evidently, the man was deeply disappointed in not being able to contact Jesus. However, several of the disciples still remained at the camping point, and the man appealed to them for the needed help. But the appeal brought only further disappointment, for these disciples were unable to heal the demented boy.
(II) The failure of the disciples:
This failure is rather difficult to understand. At an earlier period Jesus had given His disciples instructions and had empowered them to do healing work. (See Matt. 10:1.) Furthermore, the Gospels indicate that the disciples actually accomplished healing work, even when Jesus was not present. (See Luke 10:17.) Why, then, should they fail on this occasion?
There are several possible explanations, some of which will be mentioned later. But there is also an important metaphysical lesson to be recognized here. Note that Peter, John, and James were not present —being away with Jesus on the mountain. It should also be remembered that these disciples symbolize faith, love, and wisdom. This section of the story, therefore, may be regarded as emphasizing the need of faith, love, and wisdom in all our healing work. Without faith, love, and wisdom, all of our attempts to bring about healing are likely to fail.
(III) The attitude of Jesus:
Many New Testament readers find the conversation between Jesus and this unnamed man somewhat puzzling; and because of this, the really important point in this passage is frequently overlooked. Therefore, in order to make the situation clear, let us paraphrase the conversation using present-day language, in this way:
The Man: "Rabbi, I brought my son to you, hoping that you could cast out the evil spirit that threatens to destroy him; but you had gone away."
Jesus: "Yes, I had gone to yonder mountain, to pray."
The Man: "But some of your disciples were standing nearby, and I appealed to them for healing help. They spoke some words, and laid their hands on my son's head; but he was not healed."
Jesus: "I certainly regret that my disciples were unable to help you."
The Man: "But Rabbi, now that you are returned, if you are really able to do anything, will you heal my son?"
Jesus: "My friend, I want you to know that this word 'if, which you use so freely, does not apply to me, but to yourself! This is not a question of 'if I am able to do anything'; but, rather, 'if you are able to believe.' There can be no doubt about my power to heal—for this has been demonstrated again and again—but there does appear to be some doubt about your ability to believe. Surely you remember the saying: 'All things are possible to him that believeth.'
The Man: "Forgive me, Rabbi! I do believe in you — or, at least, I have been trying to believe. But I see now that there must be something lacking; so help me to believe as I ought! Help me to understand what belief really means."
A glance at the Scripture passage will show that immediately following this conversation Jesus spoke the healing word, and the boy was healed.
(IV) An important "postscript":
Further discussing the apparent failure of the disciples, the story tells how, later in the day, the disciples asked Jesus: "How is it that we could not cast it [the evil spirit] out?" And Jesus replied: "This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer [and fasting]." (See Mark 9:29, margin.) Two things should be noted in regard to this reply:
a. The disciples must have felt somewhat crestfallen at that time, on account of their failure. But Jesus did not upbraid them for their lack of faith, or any other contributing cause. Rather, His reply was calculated to "spare their feelings," as the saying goes. This is another indication of Jesus' regard for His disciples.
b. There is also an important lesson here: We have already seen that healing work calls for faith, love, and wisdom. However, further emphasis is now placed on the necessity for "prayer and fasting"— which may be interpreted in terms of affirmation and denial. We usually think of healing as being a restoration; but before such restoration can take place there must be a casting out of all negative influences, such as hinder the work of healing. Hence, the emphasis upon "prayer and fasting." In other words, the casting out is accomplished through denial and affirmation.
Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19; Luke 9:51-62
4. The Triumphal Entry.
Jesus' triumphal return to Jerusalem, on what we now term "Palm Sunday," is recorded in all four Gospels. This indicates that the Gospel writers regarded the event as being of great importance. Therefore, it will be well to read carefully all four accounts, noting the main points and also any variations.
After reading the story, as suggested, we may ask: What was the actual meaning and purpose of this triumphal entry? Why did Jesus return to Jerusalem in this manner?
We readily recognize that the recorded happenings represent something more than a spontaneous outburst of popular enthusiasm. A careful reading of the above Scripture passages reveals that Jesus had carefully planned certain happenings connected with this entry. Note how He had previously arranged with certain persons for the loan of a donkey, and the precautions taken to insure that these arrangements were properly carried out. (See Mark 11:2-7.) It should be noted further that this is the only New Testament reference to Jesus using this form of transportation. Apparently, on all other occasions Jesus and His disciples made their journeys on foot. Why, then, did Jesus make this special arrangement at this time?
It would seem that in this triumphal entry Jesus was making a final presentation of His teaching regarding the coming of the Messiah. Throughout His ministry Jesus sought to correct popular misunderstandings in this regard, and several references have been made to this in earlier lessons. But now Jesus saw that time was running out. He therefore decided to make what may be termed a "pictorial presentation," or to present an "acted parable," as a final effort to help the people to understand. What Jesus was seeking to do can be understood best by reading the following passage from the Old Testament:
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the nations: and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zech. 9:9-10).
Seeking to understand this Scripture passage, we should recall that when these words were first written, an enemy was invading the kingdom. The people cried out for a deliverer—a king who would be strong enough to overthrow the enemy and lead his people to victory, just as David did in ancient times. However, the prophet here presents a different type of deliverer. The new king would not be a military leader, riding upon a horse (symbol of war), but would come "lowly, and riding upon an ass." In other words, this king would recognize that force was not to be overthrown by more force, but by love; and that deliverance would come, not by the power of man, but by the power of God. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). And was not this the very picture that Jesus was seeking to present to the people in His triumphal entry? He was saying, in effect: "This is how the Messiah comes, just as the ancient prophet declared. So why not recognize that the Messiah and His Kingdom are now truly at hand? This is what I have been seeking to teach. Why not accept your good, now?"
However, the story of the triumphal entry has a tragic ending. Notwithstanding the popular acclaim, the Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, and they continued in their efforts to bring about His destruction. We see something of Jesus' reaction to this rejection in His sorrowful statement: "Thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:44).
Metaphysically interpreted, Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem may be seen as a symbol of the journey we also must undertake as we advance from sense consciousness (or mortal consciousness) to spiritual consciousness. Like Jesus, we first make the great decision (as at Caesarea Philippi); and this may be followed by an experience of spiritual exaltation and illumination (as at the Transfiguration). Then we proceed toward our Jerusalem—representing the realization that we live, and move, and have our being in God, and the experience of His abiding peace. If we make a careful analysis of Jesus' journey, we shall readily see how several outstanding features also apply to our journey. Note the following:
(I) At the start—a set purpose:
At this point it will be well to reread Luke 9: 51-62, as mentioned above. (It should be noted that this passage really has reference to Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but for some reason it has been placed a little earlier in Luke's Gospel.) However, the important point in this passage is the emphasis placed on Jesus' unwavering determination to carry through His plan of going to Jerusalem: "He stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." Note also Jesus' words to those who would follow Him on His journey. There must be no misunderstanding, no wavering, no turning back! "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
Surely all this applies to our projected journey. Having once started, we must press steadily forward, resisting everything that would turn us aside, and keeping our face set toward our Jerusalem. "Forgetting the things which are behind ... I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14).
(II) On the way—a symbolic action:
The Gospel account states that Jesus came riding on an ass "whereon no man ever yet sat" (Mark 11:2). Jesus therefore undertook to ride to Jerusalem using an unbroken and unsaddled donkey—truly a difficult task! Indeed, this performance might well be classified as a miracle, and bracketed with Jesus' earlier miracle of stilling the storm. Yet Jesus was in complete control and rode evenly and safely. Metaphysically, this indicates that if we are to undertake our spiritual journey, as suggested above, one of our early activities must be to bring our physical powers under control. We must say in regard to our entire being—spirit, soul, body—"Christ is in control!"
(III) Arrival—and a seeming setback:
At first reading, the story of the triumphal entry seems to end in a rather tragic way, as already indicated. Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem is depicted in the Gospels as somewhat of an anti-climax. The people along the wayside had been greeting Jesus with loud acclaim; but on His arrival at Jerusalem the Jewish leaders and city officials completely ignored Him. Apparently, then, Jesus' pictorial presentation had been in vain; for although loud cries of "Hosanna!" had been heard, Jesus was not publicly acknowledged as the Messiah. However, later events showed that this seeming setback was in reality the time for a fresh beginning. Jesus, having made this presentation, was then able to enter upon the final period of His ministry, with its triumphant conclusion.
All this has an important lesson for us: In our spiritual development we should always regard seeming setbacks as points of new beginning. What may appear to be failure is, in reality, only a breathing space, where we may gather fresh energy and enthusiasm to press forward to higher attainments. Moreover, in all our spiritual experiences we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ; and with Him we should regard our arrival at Jerusalem as a fresh starting point for the further experiences of Holy Week. It must have been a situation such as this that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind, when he wrote:
"Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2).
Questions for Lesson 9
- Toward the close of His Galilean ministry, Jesus made an important decision. Explain briefly the nature of this decision, and show how it affected the Galilean ministry.
- When Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi, He put a question to His disciples. What was this question? Also state and explain briefly the answers given by the disciples.
- Using your own words, tell briefly what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.
- Why did the unnamed man bring his son to Jesus? Were the disciples able to heal the boy? What action did Jesus take when He arrived on the scene? (Mark 9:14-29)
- What was Jesus' purpose in making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? What was the attitude of the Jewish leaders when Jesus arrived at Jerusalem?
- What does Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem represent in our consciousness? Should we regard Jerusalem as our final goal? Or is there something further to be attained?
- From a metaphysical standpoint, how would you explain Jesus' statement: "Upon this rock I will build my church"? (Matt. 16:18)
- List and explain briefly three important metaphysical lessons found in the story of Jesus' transfiguration.
- An important healing miracle is recorded in Mark 9:9-29. Explain briefly why Jesus' disciples were unable to bring about the desired healing. What does this mean to us?
- Several practical, present-day lessons are to be found in the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Mention and explain briefly three of these lessons, showing how they apply to us today.