The Training of the Twelve
Matt. 16:21-28; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 9:22-27.
Not till an advanced period in His public ministry--not, in fact, till it was drawing to a close--did Jesus speak in plain, unmistakable terms of His death. The solemn event was foreknown by Him from the first; and He betrayed His consciousness of what was awaiting Him by a variety of occasional allusions. These earlier utterances, however, were all couched in mystic language. They were of the nature of riddles, whose meaning became clear after the event, but which before, none could, or at least did, read. Jesus spake now of a temple, which, if destroyed, He should raise again in three days;[12.1 at another time of a lifting up of the Son of man, like unto that of the brazen serpent in the wilderness;[12.2 and on yet other occasions, of a sad separation of the bridegroom from the children of the bridechamber,[12.3 of the giving of His flesh for the life of the world,[12.4 and of a sign like that of the prophet Jonas, which should be given in His own person to an evil and adulterous generation.[12.5
At length, after the conversation in C sarea Philippi, Jesus changed His style of speaking on the subject of His sufferings, substituting for dark, hidden allusions, plain, literal, matter-of-fact statements.[12.6 This change was naturally adapted to the altered circumstances in which He was placed. The signs of the times were growing ominous; storm-clouds were gathering in the air; all things were beginning to point towards Calvary. His work in Galilee and the provinces was nearly done; it remained for Him to bear witness to the truth in and around the holy city; and from the present mood of the ecclesiastical authorities and the leaders of religious society, as manifested by captious question and unreasonable demand,[12.7 and a constant espionage on His movements, it was not difficult to foresee that it would not require many more offences, or much longer time, to ripen dislike and jealousy into murderous hatred. Such plain speaking, therefore, concerning what was soon to happen, was natural and seasonable. Jesus was now entering the valley of the shadow of death, and in so speaking He was but adapting His talk to the situation.
Plain-speaking regarding His death was now not only natural on Christ's part, but at once necessary and safe in reference to his disciples. It was necessary, in order that they might be prepared for the approaching event, as far as that was possible in the case of men who, to the last, persisted in hoping that the issue would be different from what their Master anticipated. It was safe; for now the subject might be spoken of plainly without serious risk to their faith. Before the disciples were established in the doctrine of Christ's person, the doctrine of the cross might have scared them away altogether. Premature preaching of a Christ to be crucified might have made them unbelievers in the fundamental truth that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. Therefore, in consideration of their weakness, Jesus maintained a certain reserve respecting His sufferings, till their faith in Him as the Christ should have become sufficiently rooted to stand the strain of the storm soon to be raised by a most unexpected, unwelcome, and incomprehensible announcement. Only after hearing Peter's confession was He satisfied that the strength necessary for enduring the trial had been attained.
Wherefore, "from that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day."
Every clause in this solemn announcement demands our reverent scrutiny.
Jesus showed unto His disciples--
I. "That He must go unto Jerusalem." Yes! there the tragedy must be enacted: that was the fitting scene for the stupendous events that were about to take place. It was dramatically proper that the Son of man should die in that "holy," unholy city, which had earned a most unenviable notoriety as the murderess of the prophets, the stoner of them whom God sent unto her. "It cannot be"--it were incongruous--"that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem."[12.8 It was due also to the dignity of Jesus, and to the design of His death, that He should suffer there. Not in an obscure corner or in an obscure way must He die, but in the most public place, and in a formal, judicial manner. He must be lifted up in view of the whole Jewish nation, so that all might see Him whom they had pierced, and by whose stripes also they might yet be healed. The "Lamb of God" must be slain in the place where all the legal sacrifices were offered.
2. "And suffer many things." Too many to enumerate, too painful to speak of in detail, and better passed over in silence for the present. The bare fact that their beloved Master was to be put to death, without any accompanying indignities, would be sufficiently dreadful to the disciples; and Jesus mercifully drew a veil over much that was present to His own thoughts. In a subsequent conversation on the same sad theme, when His passion was near at hand, He drew aside the veil a little, and showed them some of the "many things." But even then He was very sparing in His allusions, hinting only by a passing word that He should be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon.[12.9 He took no delight in expatiating on such harrowing scenes. He was willing to bear those indignities, but He cared not to speak of them more than was absolutely necessary.
3. "Of the elders and chief priests and scribes." Not of them alone, for Gentile rulers and the people of Israel were to have a hand in evil-entreating the Son of man as well as Jewish ecclesiastics. But the parties named were to be the prime movers and most guilty agents in the nefarious transaction. The men who ought to have taught the people to recognize in Jesus the Lord's Anointed, would hound them on to cry, "Crucify Him, crucify Him," and by importunities and threats urge heathen authorities to perpetrate a crime for which they had no heart. Gray-haired elders sitting in council would solemnly decide that He was worthy of death; high priests would utter oracles, that one man must die for the people, that the whole nation perish not; scribes learned in the law would use their legal knowledge to invent plausible grounds for an accusation involving capital punishment. Jesus had suffered many petty annoyances from such persons already; but the time was approaching when nothing would satisfy them but getting the object of their dislike cast forth out of the world. Alas for Israel, when her wise men, and her holy men, and her learned men, knew of no better use to make of the stone chosen of God, and precious, than thus contemptuously and wantonly to fling it away!
4. "And be killed." Yes, and for blessed ends pre-ordained of God. But of these Jesus speaks not now. He simply states, in general terms, the fact, in this first lesson on the doctrine of the cross.[12.10 Any thing more at this stage had been wasted words. To what purpose speak of the theology of the cross, of God's great design in the death which was to be brought about by man's guilty instrumentality, to disciples unwilling to receive even the matter of fact? The rude shock of an unwelcome announcement must first be over before any thing can be profitably said on these higher themes. Therefore not a syllable here of salvation by the death of the Son of man; of Christ crucified for man's guilt as well as by man's guilt. The hard bare fact alone is stated, theology being reserved for another season, when the hearers should be in a fitter frame of mind for receiving instruction.
5. Finally, Jesus told His disciples that He should "be raised again the third day." To some so explicit a reference to the resurrection at this early date has appeared improbable.[12.11 To us, on the contrary, it appears eminently seasonable. When was Jesus more likely to tell His disciples that He would rise again shortly after His death, than just on the occasion when He first told them plainly that He should die? He knew how harsh the one announcement would be to the feelings of His faithful ones, and it was natural that He should add the other, in the hope that when it was understood that His death was to be succeeded, after a brief interval of three days, by resurrection, the news would be much less hard to bear. Accordingly, after uttering the dismal words "be killed," He, with characteristic tenderness, hastened to say, "and be raised again the third day;" that, having torn, He might heal, and having smitten, He might bind up.[12.12
The grave communications made by Jesus were far from welcome to His disciples. Neither now nor at any subsequent time did they listen to the forebodings of their Lord with resignation even, not to speak of cheerful acquiescence or spiritual joy. They never heard Him speak of His death without pain; and their only comfort, in connection with such announcements as the present, seems to have been the hope that He had taken too gloomy a view of the situation, and that His apprehensions would turn out groundless. They, for their part, could see no grounds for such dark anticipations, and their Messianic ideas did not dispose them to be on the outlook for these. They had not the slightest conception that it behoved the Christ to suffer. On the contrary, a crucified Christ was a scandal and a contradiction to them, quite as much as it continued to be to the majority of the Jewish people after the Lord had ascended to glory. Hence the more firmly they believed that Jesus was the Christ, the more confounding it was to be told that He must be put to death. "How," they asked themselves, "can these things be? How can the Son of God be subject to such indignities? How can our Master be the Christ, as we firmly believe, come to set up the divine kingdom, and to be crowned its King with glory and honor, and yet at the same time be doomed to undergo the ignominious fate of a criminal execution?" These questions the twelve could not now, nor until after the Resurrection, answer; nor is this wonderful, for if flesh and blood could not reveal the doctrine of Christ's person, still less could it reveal the doctrine of His cross. Not without a very special illumination from heaven could they understand the merest elements of that doctrine, and see, e.g., that nothing was more worthy of the Son of God than to humble Himself and become subject unto death, even the death of the cross; that the glory of God consists not merely in being the highest, but in this, that being high, He stoops in lowly love to bear the burden of His own sinful creatures; that nothing could more directly and certainly conduce to the establishment of the divine kingdom than the gracious self-humiliation of the King; that only by ascending the cross could Messiah ascend the throne of His mediatorial glory; that only so could He subdue human hearts, and become Lord of men's affections as well as of their destinies. Many in the church do not understand these blessed truths, even at this late era: what wonder, then, if they were hid for a season from the eyes of the first disciples! Let us not reproach them for the veil that was on their faces; let us rather make sure that the same veil is not on our own.
On this occasion, as at C sarea Philippi, the twelve found a most eloquent and energetic interpreter of their sentiments in Simon Peter. The action and speech of that disciple at this time were characteristic in the highest degree. He took Jesus, we are told (laid hold of Him, we suppose, by His hand or His garment), and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Be it far from Thee, Lord;" or more literally, "God be merciful to Thee: God forbid! this shall not be unto Thee." What a strange compound of good and evil is this man! His language is dictated by the most intense affection: he cannot bear the thought of any harm befalling his Lord; yet how irreverent and disrespectful he is towards Him whom he has just acknowledged to be the Christ, the Son of the living God! How he overbears, and contradicts, and domineers, and, as it were, tries to bully his Master into putting away from His thoughts those gloomy forebodings of coming evil! Verily he has need of chastisement to teach him his own place, and to scourge out of his character the bad elements of forwardness, and undue familiarity, and presumptuous self-will.
Happily for Peter, he had a Master who, in His faithful love, spared not the rod when it was needful. Jesus judged that it was needed now, and therefore He administered a rebuke not less remarkable for severity than was the encomium at C sarea Philippi for warm, unqualified approbation, and curiously contrasting with that encomium in the terms in which it was expressed. He turned round on His offending disciple, and sternly said: "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." The same disciple who on the former occasion had spoken by inspiration of Heaven is here represented as speaking by inspiration of mere flesh and blood--of mere natural affection for his Lord, and of the animal instinct of self-preservation, thinking of self-interest merely, not of duty. He whom Christ had pronounced a man of rock, strong in faith, and fit to be a foundation-stone in the spiritual edifice, is here called an offence, a stumbling-stone lying in his Master's path. Peter, the noble confessor of that fundamental truth, by the faith of which the church would be able to defy the gates of hell, appears here in league with the powers of darkness, the unconscious mouth-piece of Satan the tempter. "Get thee behind me, Satan!" What a downcome for him who but yesterday got that promise of the power of the keys! How suddenly has the novice church dignitary, too probably lifted up with pride or vanity, fallen into the condemnation of the devil!
This memorable rebuke seems mercilessly severe, and yet on consideration we feel it was nothing more than what was called for. Christ's language on this occasion needs no apology, such as might be drawn from supposed excitement of feeling, or from a consciousness on the speaker's part that the infirmity of His own sentient nature was whispering the same suggestion as that which came from Peter's lips. Even the hard word Satan, which is the sting of the speech, is in its proper place. It describes exactly the character of the advice given by Simon. That advice was substantially this: "Save thyself at any rate; sacrifice duty to self-interest, the cause of God to personal convenience." An advice truly Satanic in principle and tendency! For the whole aim of Satanic policy is to get self-interest recognized as the chief end of man. Satan's temptations aim at nothing worse than this. Satan is called the Prince of this world, because self-interest rules the world; he is called the accuser of the brethren, because he does not believe that even the sons of God have any higher motive. He is a sceptic; and his scepticism consists in determined, scornful unbelief in the reality of any chief end other than that of personal advantage. "Doth Job, or even Jesus, serve God for naught? Self-sacrifice, suffering for righteousness' sake, fidelity to truth even unto death:--it is all romance and youthful sentimentalism, or hypocrisy and hollow cant. There is absolutely no such thing as a surrender of the lower life for the higher; all men are selfish at heart, and have their price: some may hold out longer than others, but in the last extremity every man will prefer his own things to the things of God. All that a man hath will he give for his life, his moral integrity and his piety not excepted." Such is Satan's creed.
The suggestion made by Peter, as the unconscious tool of the spirit of evil, is identical in principle with that made by Satan himself to Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness. The tempter said then in effect: "If Thou be the Son of God, use Thy power for Thine own behoof; Thou art hungry, e.g., make bread for Thyself out of the stones. If Thou be the Son of God, presume on Thy privilege as the favorite of Heaven; cast Thyself down from this elevation, securely counting on protection from harm, even where other men would be allowed to suffer the consequences of their foolhardiness. What better use canst Thou make of Thy divine powers and privileges than to promote Thine own advantage and glory?" Peter's feeling at the present time seems to have been much the same: "If Thou be the Son of God, why shouldst Thou suffer an ignominious, violent death? Thou hast power to save Thyself from such a fate; surely Thou wilt not hesitate to use it!" The attached disciple, in fact, was an unconscious instrument employed by Satan to subject Jesus to a second temptation, analogous to the earlier one in the desert of Judea. It was the god of this world that was at work in both cases; who, being accustomed to find men only too ready to prefer safety to righteousness, could not believe that he should find nothing of this spirit in the Son of God, and therefore came again and again seeking an open point in His armor through which he might shoot his fiery darts; not renouncing hope till his intended victim hung on the cross, apparently conquered by the world, but in reality a conqueror both of the world and of its lord.
The severe language uttered by Jesus on this occasion, when regarded as addressed to a dearly beloved disciple, shows in a striking manner His holy abhorrence of every thing savoring of self-seeking. "Save Thyself," counsels Simon: "Get thee behind me, Satan," replies Simon's Lord. Truly Christ was not one who pleased Himself. Though He were a Son, yet would He learn obedience by the things which He had to suffer. And by this mind He proved Himself to be the Son, and won from His Father the approving voice: "Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased,"--Heaven's reply to the voice from hell counselling Him to pursue a course of self-pleasing. Persevering in this mind, Jesus was at length lifted up on the cross, and so became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him. Blessed now and forevermore be His name, who so humbled Himself, and became obedient as far as death!