8. The Gathering Storm
This lesson is divided into three main sections, and these should be studied in the order given. At the outset it will be noted that these sections are not arranged in chronological sequence; the first section deals with the final rejection of Jesus, while the second and third sections deal with activities that led up to the rejection. In other words, we first take a good look at the "storm"—to use the language of the lesson title—and then we plunge into the underlying currents that were responsible for stirring up the storm. However, the student will discover that this procedure greatly helps when studying this section of the New Testament, and leads to a better grasp of all the factors involved in the rejection of Jesus. Furthermore, a careful study of this "gathering storm" in the way suggested will make the best possible preparation for the important lesson that is to follow.
Matt. 16:21-28; Matt. 21:33-46; Luke 13:22-35
1. The Rejection of Jesus.
In this study of the New Testament we have now reached the point where we are called upon to face the fact of the rejection of Jesus. Thus far we have seen how Jesus was engaged in presenting His kingdom teaching, performing miracles, and doing other good works; and for a while His activities were greeted with public acclaim. Indeed, people were asking, "Is not this the Messiah?" But then came a complete change. Popularity gave place to a gathering storm of opposition. Jesus' teachings, claims, and good works proved totally unacceptable. The Jewish leaders denounced Him as an impostor; while the common people, who aforetime had "heard him gladly," now joined in the ever-increasing clamor for His destruction. The gospel writer aptly sums up the situation by stating, "He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not" (John 1:11).
The question arises: Why was Jesus thus rejected? From our present-day viewpoint it would seem that Jesus fully demonstrated His divine Sonship, and that His messianic claims were well-founded. Even the centurion who officiated at the Crucifixion is reported as saying, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39). Why, then, was this divinity not generally recognized? Why was Jesus rejected?
This question calls for careful consideration.
First, it will be well to recall the traditional teaching that Jesus was rejected because He did not measure up to the messianic expectations of the people. Great things were expected of the coming Messiah; but as Jesus' ministry developed, people saw that their hopes were not being fulfilled. Jesus did not proclaim Himself to be the warrior-leader who would overthrow the Romans and set up the new kingdom of Israel. Nor did He claim to be the supernatural "Messenger," coming down from the heavens and bringing all the kingdoms of the world under His dominion. Jesus did not concern Himself with armed might and conquest; on the contrary, His teachings and actions were centered in love, peace, and good will. The people, therefore, were disappointed. Jesus did not measure up to the popular expectations, so He was rejected. This is the traditional explanation.
However, a careful reading of the Gospels leads to the realization that something needs to be added to what has been stated above. The Gospels indicate that the rejection of Jesus came about, not because He was something less than the Messiah the people expected, but because He proved Himself to be much more of a Messiah than the people actually wanted! People expected the Messiah to inaugurate a new kingdom; but Jesus declared: "The kingdom of God is [in the midst of you}." (See Luke 17:21, margin.) People expected the Messiah to change conditions in the land; but Jesus insisted that there must first be a change in the hearts of the people. The Messiah was expected to take up the sword against Rome; but Jesus said: "If any man would come after me, let him ... take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt. 16:24). Many other similar instances will come to mind, showing how Jesus went far beyond anything expected. But the people would not accept Jesus' teaching and leadership, and they cried: "Away with Him!" Thus it would seem that Jesus was rejected, not so much because He failed to measure up to expectations, but because His program was greater and more far-reaching than anything the people of His day were willing to accept.
From a present-day viewpoint, the rejection of Jesus has some very important implications. During Jesus' trial, Pontius Pilate asked, "What then shall I do unto Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:22). And this same question arises again in our experience today. In His teaching, Jesus presented what we now term the Christ way of life; and we can either reject or accept this teaching. If we are inclined toward rejection, we may seek to justify our action by claiming that the teaching is incorrect, fanciful, impractical, or even that it does not go far enough—just as the people did in the long ago. May it not be that the real reason for rejection lies in our inability, or unwillingness, to comprehend the nature and possibilities of Jesus' teaching? The teaching is good; but we may be unable, or unwilling, to see the good. However, there is always the better way—the way of acceptance—and the full acceptance of Jesus' teaching leads to a complete transformation of our life and affairs. James Russell Lowell emphasized the necessity for right decision in his challenging lines:
"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light."
Mark 7:1-23; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:12-59; John 10:1-42
2. The Charges Brought against Jesus.
Having considered the fact of Jesus' rejection, we should now give attention to the means used by His opponents to bring about this rejection. Of course, there was no open admission of the real reason for the rejection, such as was suggested above. Such an admission would be out of the question! Instead, a number of charges were formulated against Jesus, with the purpose of discrediting His teaching, and bringing His ministry to an end. Apparently, the thought was that if the teaching could be discredited, then it would be a comparatively easy matter to dispose of the Teacher. The scripture passages given above indicate how rapidly the opposition toward Jesus was developing.
However, in addition to many general charges of false teaching, blasphemy, and so forth, something of a more serious nature began to take shape. Jesus' opponents charged that He was seeking to destroy the sacred institutions of Judaism, and that His teachings constituted a constant threat to the well-being of the whole nation. Hence, it was argued, if total disaster was to be averted, means must be found to speedily dispose of Jesus. Three specific institutions were mentioned as being in danger:
(I) Jesus was charged with seeking to destroy the temple.
John 2:13-23 (then compare with the following); Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48
Jesus' activity in cleansing the Temple was discussed in Lesson Four, and at this time it will be well to reread the comments given there. However, we should now give special attention to some of Jesus' statements, as recorded in John's Gospel. Here, the gospel writer distinctly states that, "He [Jesus] spake of the temple of his body"; and the indications are that Jesus must have spoken at some length, in order to make this point clear to all persons present. The gospel account shows that John fully understood the meaning of Jesus' words, so there seems no reason for any misunderstanding on the part of other persons present. Nevertheless, Jesus' opponents immediately seized upon the word destroy, and placed upon it their own false interpretation. Quickly then they spread the message: "This man Jesus is seeking to destroy our beloved Temple!" How far this false charge spread, and how deep was the impression made upon the minds of the people, is clearly shown by two subsequent events: (1) During the trial of Jesus, certain witnesses came forward, stating, "We heard him say, I will destroy this temple" (Mark 14:58) and (2) when Jesus was crucified, people standing nearby cried out: "Thou that destroyest the temple ... save thyself" (Matt. 27:40).
At this point, the scripture passages given above should be carefully checked. It will be noticed that Mark and Luke indicate that the word destroy originated not with Jesus, but in the thoughts and activities of His opponents. We read: "And the chief priests and the scribes ... sought how they might destroy him [Jesus]" (Mark 11:18). Luke also uses the word destroy in a similar manner. May it not be, therefore, that John, in his account, was seeking to show how Jesus had picked up the thoughts and words of His opponents, and was plainly telling them that all their destructive efforts would be in vain? Jesus was saying, in effect: "You may seek to destroy my work, or even seek to destroy me; but what you thus destroy, I will surely raise up again! Just as this Temple has been rebuilt by Herod, so I will rebuild my body temple. Herod was forty-six years building this structure; but I will rebuild my temple in three days!" In this discussion Jesus was actually giving a restatement of an important message He had given on a previous occasion: "No one taketh it [my lifej away from me. ... I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:18).
If we now place the various happenings in the order suggested above, the entire situation becomes clear:
(A) Jesus "cleansed" the Temple—driving from the Temple courts the traders and money-changers doing business there.
(B) The priests and the traders resented Jesus' action, since it took from them a large (but unlawful) income; and they then vowed to destroy Him.
(C) Jesus responded to this threat against His life by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
(D) Jesus' opponents deliberately misinterpreted the word destroy, as used by Jesus, and circulated among the people the false charge that Jesus was seeking to destroy the Temple. This charge was calculated to arouse further opposition against Jesus, and bring His ministry to an end.
Two important metaphysical lessons arise out of these Temple activities:
Cleansing the Temple: This should be recognized as a symbol of cleansing our consciousness. Just as Jesus swept the traders and money-changers from the Temple courts, so must we sweep from our consciousness all thoughts and conditions that are not in harmony with the divine plan. Much of this cleansing work can be accomplished through the use of denials; and the student should make a careful study of this subject. (Refer to Lessons in Truth, chapter on "Denials"; also, Keep a True Lent, chapter nine, "The Philosophy of Denial.")
"I will raise it up" (John 2:19): In addition to the cleansing work mentioned above, there is also necessity for constructive activity. Mortal consciousness may seek to destroy our temple, but the work of the indwelling Christ is to raise it up. Hence there must be activity in raising, restoring, and rebuilding within our consciousness, until our body temple manifests perfection. (See Matt. 5:48.) Much of this rebuilding work can be accomplished through the use of affirmative prayer. Therefore, in addition to the study of denials, as mentioned above, the student should become familiar with the purpose and possibilities of affirmations. (See Lessons in Truth, lesson on "Affirmations"; also Keep a True Lent, chapter ten, "The Affirmative Word.")
(II) Jesus was charged with seeking to overthrow the system of laws and religious observances which had been given by Moses.
John 6:22-71; John 7:1-52;
Matt. 19:1-30; Matt. 22:23-46;
The second charge made against Jesus had reference to His day-by-day teaching. The Jewish leaders declared that Jesus, through His teaching, was seeking to overthrow the divinely ordained system of laws and religious observances which had been given to the people by Moses. This charge was brought against Jesus in many ways, and on many occasions; and the purpose of the charge was to discredit Jesus' teachings, and bring His ministry to an end. Again and again the cry was raised, "This Jesus is seeking to destroy the laws of Moses!" How effective and far-reaching this charge was is shown by the fact that it continued to circulate, even in the days of the Early Church. The Book of Acts relates that at the trial of Stephen, the first martyr, certain witnesses declared: "We have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us" (Acts 6:14).
The scripture passages given above (Sections One and Two) indicate how Jesus was called upon to carry on much of His ministry in an atmosphere of bitter controversy and violent personal attacks. True, there were times when "the common people heard him gladly" (Mark 12:37); but there were many other times when those same people violently disagreed with Jesus' teachings, and sought to bring His ministry to a sudden and tragic end. Much of this opposition can be traced to the charge that Jesus was seeking to change or destroy the laws given to the people by Moses.
We can see how this charge came to be formulated by carefully reading the selection from the Sermon on the Mount, as listed above (Matt. 5:21-48). When reading this selection, special attention should be given to the oft-repeated formula: "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time ... but I say unto you ..." Perhaps we have become so accustomed to reading these and other similar passages that we fail to recognize the effect such statements must have had upon the people at the time of Jesus. When Jesus declared, "It was said ..." the people around Him immediately recognized that He was referring to the law, given in ancient times through Moses. Moreover, this law was regarded by all persons as the sacred word, the final word. Therefore, any suggestion that the law should be changed or amended would be regarded by many of Jesus' hearers as outright blasphemy, and an attack upon the very foundations of Judaism.
Another scripture passage which should be read at this time is also listed above (John 8:1-11). This tells how an attempt was made to lead Jesus into a public declaration that the Mosaic law should be disobeyed. Such a declaration would bring upon Jesus the condemnation of all law-abiding citizens. It would also prove that Jesus was seeking to abolish the law—as was charged against Him. However, this carefully laid plot failed; and the persons who sought to discredit Jesus were themselves discredited!
As mentioned above, the charge brought against Jesus was absolutely false. Jesus stated: "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt. 5:17). A study of the Sermon on the Mount and other similar passages shows how Jesus sought to accomplish this work of fulfillment. Jesus put new life and meaning into the various statements of the law. He showed how they were practical, workable, and how they applied to every arising situation in life. Jesus recognized that it was not enough to preserve the statements of law, as though they were rare and valuable museum pieces; they must be brought out and put into everyday use. In order to accomplish this, many of the old statements of law needed amplifying, rephrasing, and practical application. Jesus did not attempt to change principles; but He put those principles into practical use. All this is summed up by the gospel writer: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
(III) Jesus was charged with violating the Sabbath law, and encouraging His followers to do likewise.
Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 4:14-30; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-18; John 9:1-41
The above scripture passages deal with Jesus' activities on various Sabbath days, and are for the most part self-explanatory. However, these passages should now be considered in connection with the charges made against Jesus. When reading these passages, the following points should be kept well in mind:
a. Jesus was not opposed to the keeping of the Sabbath. This is shown by His actions, as recorded in Luke 4:14-30. Note especially that Jesus attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day, "as his custom was" (Luke 4:16).
b. So far from any intention of destroying the Sabbath, Jesus' teaching helped toward its preservation. Note how Jesus clearly stated the purpose of the Sabbath, and the basic principle upon which it rests (Mark 2:27).
c. John 9:22 shows that a decision regarding Jesus and His teachings had been reached by the Jewish leaders, and that evidence was then being gathered in an effort to bring about His destruction. Apparently, the Jewish leaders felt that the way to preserve the Sabbath was to destroy Jesus!
In contrast with the attacks made upon Jesus because of His activities on the Sabbath, it will be well to consider briefly the metaphysical meaning of the Sabbath. The following quotation will prove helpful:
"The true Sabbath is the consciousness that we have fulfilled the divine law in both thought and act.
"The Sabbath is a very certain, definite thing. It is a state of mind that man enters or acquires when he goes into the silence, into the realm of Spirit. There he finds true rest and peace. The seventh day means the seventh or perfect stage of one's spiritual unfoldment. Man had become so lost in the darkness of sense consciousness that he could not save himself, so the Saviour came. When man lays hold of the indwelling Christ, the Saviour, he is raised out of the Adam consciousness into the Christ consciousness. He then enters the seventh stage of his unfoldment, where he finds sweet rest and peace." (Keep a True Lent 171)
John 11:47-57; Matt. 22:15-22; Luke 23:1-3
3. The Final Decision.
Having considered the threefold charges made against Jesus, we find an important question arising. Earlier in the lesson it was suggested that the underlying purpose of all these charges was to discredit the teachings of Jesus, and bring His ministry to an end. Therefore, we may now inquire: Were these charges really effective in accomplishing this purpose? Did they actually bring the activities of Jesus to an end? The answer is in the negative. Undoubtedly the charges aroused heated controversy and bitter opposition, but the fact remains that the people did not rise up, as was hoped, and put an end to the ministry of Jesus. Actually, the charges seemed to increase the interest shown in Jesus' activities, and the people took sides for and against Him. In other words, Jesus became the focal point of national interest; and the Jewish leaders were asking one another what else could be done to get rid of Him.
The reading from John's Gospel indicates that at this point the Jewish leaders decided to take matters into their own hands. No longer would they remain behind the scenes, hoping that they might arouse the people to take action against Jesus. The leaders themselves would now do something. Accordingly, we are told of a hurriedly called meeting at which the decision was reached that Jesus' activities must now be brought to a speedy end. "So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death" (John 11:53). The gospel writer calls attention to several important points:
(1) This was a combined effort made by the Sadducees and the Pharisees. As a general rule the two political parties were strongly opposed to each other; but now, what they regarded as a common danger brought them together. The Sadducee group consisted of the priests and other persons closely associated with the Temple. The High Priest was the presiding officer of the party, and the Temple was its headquarters. From what was discussed earlier in the lesson regarding Jesus' activities at the Temple, it is not difficult to understand why the Sadducees were so strongly opposed to Him. The Pharisees congregated around the synagogues, and they were chiefly concerned with the ramifications of the law. Hence, the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus because of His attitude regarding the law and the Sabbath, as discussed earlier in the lesson.
(2) The Jewish leaders openly expressed their fears that Jesus' teachings and activities would lead to an insurrection, and the people would take up arms against the Romans. Such an uprising, the leaders claimed, would lead to vigorous reprisals by the Romans, who would destroy the Temple, and virtually wipe out the Jewish nation. However, the gospel writer seems to indicate that both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were more concerned for themselves and their means of livelihood than for anything that might happen to the people!
(3) This passage also indicates that the Jewish leaders took a new approach to their self-appointed task of getting rid of Jesus. Their plan now was to regard the destruction of Jesus as a national sacrifice, having as its avowed purpose the salvation of the nation. They tried to rationalize their proceedings by claiming that getting rid of Jesus would avert a national catastrophe. Moreover, this plan would also absolve the Jewish leaders from all charges of personal animosity; and when Jesus was finally disposed of, the people would then regard them as true benefactors.
The reading from Matthew (Matt. 22:15-25) tells how an effort was made to put the above-mentioned plan into operation. In this instance the idea was to trick Jesus into making a public denouncement of Roman taxation, and having Him tell the people not to pay tribute to Caesar. This would be sufficient to bring about the arrest of Jesus, and His execution by the Roman authorities. However, the Scripture tells how the plan completely failed, and instead of entrapping Jesus, it brought forth a stern rebuke to Jesus' opponents. It should be noted, however, that this incident was used later against Jesus—in an altogether false way—when He was brought before Pontius Pilate just prior to the Crucifixion. (See Luke 23:1-3)
Perhaps at this point we may be inclined to ask: What was Jesus' reaction to all these false charges made against Him? What did He do in regard to the many attacks upon His life and ministry? Did He make a public statement, seeking to justify His teaching and activities? Or did He take some specific action, which would be recognized as a rebuttal of all that was charged against Him?
In the following lesson we shall see how Jesus dealt with this difficult situation by making a complete change in His activities. The actual steps taken by Jesus will be explained in detail. For the present, however, it will suffice to say that He decided to meet the "gathering storm" head-on! And this proved to be the masterstroke; for not only did it enable Him to make an all-comprehensive answer to His opponents, it also enabled Him later to give His followers the assuring statement, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Meanwhile, as we review the present lesson and reconsider the many controversial situations here discussed, we may be led to realize how Jesus was ever seeking to lead people into a better understanding of those old, old teachings, which had been treasured through the ages. Jesus' mission was not to "destroy" but to "fulfill." We also may attain this fulfillment as we press onward and upward with Him. We may make better progress if we keep in mind James Russell Lowell's well-known lines:
"New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth."
Questions for Lesson 8
- Explain briefly what brought about the rejection of Jesus. In your answer give (a) the traditional explanation, and (b) what appears to be the real reason for the rejection.
- Did Jesus say that He was planning to destroy the Temple buildings? (See John 2:19.) Briefly explain the situation, and bring out the real meaning of Jesus' statement.
- Why were the people disturbed when Jesus spoke about the laws of Moses? (Matt. 5) Explain 5. briefly how Jesus put new meaning into these laws.
- Why did the Pharisees complain about the actions of Jesus' disciples? (Mark 2:23-28) What important statement regarding the Sabbath did Jesus give on that occasion?
- What important decision was made by the Jewish leaders immediately following the raising of Lazarus? (John 11:47-57) What reasons did they give for their proposed course of action?
- At the trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate asked an important question. (Matt. 27:22) What does this question mean to us today?
- What does the cleansing of the Temple symbolize in the development of our consciousness? How is the cleansing of our temple accomplished?
- Jesus, speaking of His body temple, said: "I will raise it up." (John 2:19) How do we raise our consciousness?
- Give a brief explanation of Jesus' statement, "I came not to destroy, but to fulfill." (Matt. 5:17)
- How may we enter into the rest and peace of the true Sabbath?
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