The Life of Jesus Christ: the year of opposition by James Stalker
Very early they had formed their adverse judgment of Him, and they never changed it.
Even during His first year in Judaea they had pretty well decided against Him. When the news of His success in Galilee spread, it filled them with consternation, and they sent deputations from Jerusalem to act in concert with their local adherents in opposing Him. Even during His year of joy He clashed with them again and again. At first He treated them with consideration and appealed to their reason and heart. But He soon saw that this was hopeless and accepted their opposition as inevitable.
He exposed the hollowness of their pretensions to His audiences and warned His disciples against them. Meanwhile they did everything to poison the public mind against Him; and they succeeded only too well. When, at the year’s end, the tide of His popularity began to recede, they pressed their advantage, assailing Him more and more boldly.
They even succeeded thus early in arousing the cold minds of the Sadducees and Herodians against Him, no doubt by persuading them that He was fomenting a popular revolt, which would endanger the throne of their master Herod, who reigned over Galilee. That mean and characterless prince himself also became His persecutor. He had other reasons to dread Him besides those suggested by his courtiers.
About this very time he had murdered John the Baptist.
It was one of the meanest and foulest crimes recorded in history, an awful instance of the way in which sin leads to sin, and of the malicious perseverance with which a wicked woman will compass her revenge. Soon after it was committed, his courtiers came to tell him of the supposed political designs of Jesus. But, when he heard of the new prophet, an awful thought flashed through his guilty conscience. ‘It is John the Baptist,’ he cried, ‘whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead.’ Yet he desired to see Him, his curiosity getting the better of his terror. It was the desire of the lion to see the lamb.
Jesus never responded to his invitation.
But just on that account Herod may have been the more willing to listen to the suggestions of his courtiers, that he should arrest Him as a dangerous person. It was not long before he was seeking to kill Him. Jesus had to keep out of his way, and no doubt this helped, along with more important things, to change the character of His life in Galilee during the last six months of His stay there.
It had seemed for a time as if His hold on the mind and the heart of the common people might become so strong as to carry irresistibly a national recognition. Many a movement, frowned upon at first by authorities and dignitaries, has, by committing itself to the lower classes and securing their enthusiastic acknowledgment, risen to take possession of the upper classes and carry the centres of influence. There is a certain point of national consent at which any movement which reaches it becomes like a flood, which no amount of prejudice or official dislike can successfully oppose.
Jesus gave Himself to the common people in Galilee, and they gave Him in return their love and admiration.
Instead of hating Him like the Pharisees and scribes, and calling Him a glutton and a wine-bibber, they believed Him to be a prophet; they compared Him with the very greatest figures of the past, and many, according as they were more struck with the sublime or with the melting side of His teaching, said He was Isaiah or Jeremiah risen from the dead.
It was a common idea of the time that the coming of the Messiah was to be preceded by the rising again of some prophet. The one most commonly thought of was Elijah. Accordingly some took Jesus for Elijah. But it was only a precursor of the Messiah they supposed Him to be, not the Messiah Himself.
He was not at all like their conception of the coming Deliverer, which was of the most grossly material kind. Now and then, indeed, after He had wrought some unusually striking miracle, there might be raised a single voice or a few voices, suggesting, Is this not He?
But, wonderful as were His deeds and His words, yet the whole aspect of His life was so unlike their preconceptions, that the truth failed to suggest itself forcibly and universally to their minds.
To be continued…