The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section XVII

the Baptist's embassy

(Mat 11:1-19. Luk 7:18-35)

We have already above established the point in a general way, that the return of Jesus from Judea to Galilee, which John mentions in the 4th chapter, forms one and the same fact with the first public appearance of Jesus in Galilee spoken of by the synoptists (Mat 4:12; Mar 1:14; Luk 4:14). But we may now convince ourselves of the correctness of this fact by the way in which the events related fall in with this view. We saw the Redeemer travelling about the country in the first free play of an activity which as yet suffered in the main no impediment. As yet, the hierarchy has not openly declared itself against Him; although everywhere the conflict with the spirit of the hierarchy was already beginning to unfold itself. All this is changed on His appearance at the feast of Purim in the year 782 (according to John 5) Henceforth hierarchial persecution pursues Him closely everywhere, and His position with reference to public life, His whole system of working, assumes of necessity a different character. After this decisive moment, the course of the events hitherto related in the Gospels, in the way in which He has unfolded Himself before our eyes, could no longer have fashioned itself in the same manner. Also, the period of time from the feast of Purim to the feast of Tabernacles of the year 782 would seem too short to embrace the earlier Galilean events as well as the later. Since therefore the return of Jesus to Galilee at the close of the autumn of 781 has been described by the synoptic Evangelists as occasioned by the imprisonment of the Baptist, we shall assume that this event must have taken place just about that time.

Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, had not inherited from his father, Herod the Great, the strength of mind which had made the latter so conspicuous as despot and as ruler. He was weak and fickle, and his yielding softness was liable to show itself in various ways; sometimes in a slavish disposition towards stronger minds who governed him, sometimes in a kind of susceptibility for the voice of Truth. Yet he was ruled entirely by the spirit of levity and extreme dissipation, and, like his father, he was capable of the worst crimes. He had married the daughter of Aretas, the king of Arabia; but afterwards he formed a connection with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod (Philip), who lived as a private man; and the daughter of the Arabian king took refuge in her own country. Herodias sufficiently shows her character in the history of the Baptist. She displayed in a wrong direction greater determination and strength of mind than her husband. Yet with the same strength she followed him in trouble, when afterwards he failed in his attempt, at her instigation, to gain at Rome the dignity of king, and when he was banished to Gaul. Herod resided in Tiberias, and perhaps during the summer-time at Julias or Livias in Perea, not far from the fortress of Machזrus.1 So that even when John was baptizing in Enon, he had been near to the residence of this prince, which was in the city of Tiberias, and it would seem that afterwards he entered the Galilean territory. It might have been now that, seized by one of those royal humours which so often possessed him, namely, a state of mind made up of superstitious excitement and passionate curiosity, Herod sent to call the Baptist. This circumstance might have occasioned the Baptist’s giving him the rebuke which led to his death. John treated him according to the same rule by which he had judged the elders from Jerusalem when they had publicly confronted him. But Herod did not allow this candour to pass unpunished; he sent his servants to seize him and cast him into prison.

Regardless of consequences, John had rebuked him for the adulterous connection which he had formed with Herodias, her lawful husband being yet alive. But he had also, as Luke remarks (3:19), reproached him in general for all his notorious offences. This last remark of Luke’s is of great importance for the Baptist’s history; for it is calculated to explain a difference which exists between the Evangelist and the historian Josephus. Josephus relates that Herod put the Baptist out of the way from fear, lest he should cause a rising or disturbance amongst the people.2 But the Evangelists assign that sentence of condemnation which the Baptist passed upon the relation of this prince to Herodias as the real motive which led to the Baptist’s persecution, and especially to his execution. But now the above-mentioned remark of Luke’s manifestly indicates to us the connection or the common meaning of the two accounts. The Baptist, namely, rebuked Herod for the public scandals in general which he had been guilty of. Thereby, considered from a political point of view, he appeared to the despot to be on the road to stirring up rebellion: he imprisoned him therefore, as being a dangerous demagogue, and secured him within the above-mentioned fortress, which was situated in a sequestered part of the country. And when in course of time the prisoner was executed, it was natural that the political historian of that time should bring prominently forward that political motive of despotic precaution. The disciples, on the contrary, had, no doubt, a more exact knowledge of what was most truly the motive which led Herod thus to act: they fixed their eyes upon that fatal point in the reproving words of the Baptist, which, relating more to religious morals than to politics, proved of such disastrous consequences, becoming the decisive cause of his imprisonment and execution.

The Baptist had passed a whole dreary winter shut up in the lonely fortress.3 And here we must remind ourselves of the fact, that the greatest heroes of the Old Covenant were much weaker in holy endurance than in holy action. Endurance often fell the heaviest upon those who were the strongest in zeal. Think of Elijah’s frame of mind when, fleeing from Jezebel, he hid in the cave of Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). At that time even Elijah might almost have asked, Art Thou Jehovah that should come? At that time he too needed to receive an impression through the still small voice of that divine, world-subduing Spirit, which was afterwards revealed to the Baptist in the Lamb of God. This lies in the very nature of the Old Covenant. The prophet, as the champion of the law, is a Moses heightened; he can lighten, thunder, call down fire from heaven. The prophet, as an announcer of the Gospel, is only a forerunner of Christ; therefore he is only one who is becoming a Christian as concerning the New Testament power of enduring; and in this sense especially, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

This relation of the prophetical to the New Testament spirit has hardly been sufficiently taken into account in the surprise, which men have in various ways expressed, at John’s message to Jesus. And yet this must be brought most prominently forward if we would wish to explain this message. But let us first of all turn our eyes upon the fact itself, which has in such various ways been the cause of offence. At this time, when Jesus had left Capernaum, and as the Saviour and Proclaimer of salvation was passing through the towns and villages which lay in the way to Jerusalem, apparently as He was just leaving the towns on the sea-shore, at any rate when He had already accomplished a succession of fresh miracles, He received an embassy from the imprisoned Baptist. There came two of his disciples; and in the name of the Baptist they inquired, ‘Art Thou He that should come, or are we to look for another?’

How strange does this word sound as a message from the man who some time before had pointed out Jesus to his disciples with the announcement, Behold the Lamb of God, which beareth the sin of the world!—he who had in general borne witness concerning Him in the certainty inspired by the Divine Spirit!

It is well known that men have sought to free the Baptist from the charge of weakness, or even the Gospel history from the appearance of a contradiction, by supposing that John had no need on his own account to address this question to Christ; but that it was his aim through this mission to put his disciples, who as yet were doubtful of Jesus’ dignity, in connection with Him, hoping by this means to help them on to full belief in Him.4 But against this it has been with justice remarked, that the disciples bring the message in John’s name (according to Luke, they even introduce John as himself speaking); and that the answer which Jesus gives them is just as formally given as an answer for John.5

But if it follows from this that we must really consider the question as coming from the very heart of the Baptist himself, then it is indisputably an utterance which exhibits a human weakness, an obscuration of his faith. It shows a beclouded state of mind in the Baptist. But first comes the question, What right have we to think this? And then, How is it to be explained? Now, on the one hand, it is surely apparent that his message cannot be considered as a real wavering in his theoretical conviction of the Messianic dignity of Jesus. For such a doubting of the authority of Jesus must have led the Baptist to an inquiry or an examination, in which he could not possibly have applied to Jesus Himself. He could surely never have expected that Jesus would give him an answer which should strengthen him in his doubt. But, on the other hand, we cannot either suppose that the abrupt question, as the Evangelists represent it, should have had a different purport originally; some such an one as Schleiermacher supposes:6 ‘Thou art surely He that should come? Why then should we yet wait for another?’ Neither yet can we say, for example, that the Baptist was only impelled by an impatient longing, and that he meant to call upon the Messiah, who seemed to him to be tarrying, to enter at once upon ‘that decisive conflict with the prevailing depravity from which He should come forth victorious, and which should issue in the purification and glorification of the theocracy.’ We imagine the Baptist’s state of mind as being more depressed, more uncertain, more gloomy; not merely a state of earnest longing and of great impatience, but also that of deep vexation; vexation, namely, at the apparent triumph of evil under the very eyes of the Messiah Himself; vexation which, though it did not make him concerned about his liberation on its own account, yet caused his imprisonment to appear as a sign of that triumph of evil. This feeling of vexation must be carefully distinguished from a theoretical change of opinion, though it certainly could not but have operated to dim the clearness of John’s conviction of Jesus being the Messiah. Thus even now Christ was still to the Baptist the Lamb of God as much as when he had thus designated Him in that brightest moment of his life. Perhaps now He seemed to him to be even too much so. Let us just class this word of the Baptist’s with similar expressions7 of Moses, of Job, of Elijah, of Jeremiah, and of Christ; perhaps doing so may help us to the right understanding of them. Concerning Job in that moment when he cursed his birth, and also the Lamentations of Jeremiah, one might perhaps be inclined to make the objection, that there we have to do with poetical passages, which as such are not fitted to afford any analogies to what is real. Only, if these passages are rightly estimated, they almost gain a greater significance than the others, by showing what frames of mind are possible for the servants of God in similar or like situations in all ages. But when now Moses at one time exhibits before the Lord his deep vexation, Job his despair, Elijah his suppressed bitter jealousy, Jeremiah his awful trembling under the fearful severity of God,—in all these cases, there of course could not have been the remotest thought of any theoretical doubt of the existence of God. They remonstrate with their God, because He is to them a living, personal God, and because they stand in a real, living relation towards Him, although without being either holy or perfect. They are too faithful and pious to forsake God; but they are also too violently agitated by the awfulness of His dealings not to exhibit to Him their bleeding, wailing heart, ay, even their surprise as at something strange. In the expressions which they use, whatever is not prayer is confession. Just because they have no desire to forsake God, they dare to show themselves to Him as they are. It was in the perfect openness of their piety that the Old Testament heroes came in their hours of deepest trial to contend with their God—and this according to the whole character of the Old Testament, because they are arrived at the point when they can no longer understand their fate from God’s justice, as they understand His justice. The glorification of these moods of feeling we find in the moment when Christ cried out on the cross: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It would clearly be unspeakably foolish if we attempted to see in this expression any theoretical doubt in the Godhead. But we see in it the whole feeling of Christ. With His heart’s whole feeling of what was right stirred up within Him, Christ asks God why He had forsaken Him. But He asks His God; and there we at once see the answer, that it was necessary that He should feel so forsaken, and also the assurance that God would explain the why through the great reward of this forsakenness in the salvation of the world. This mighty Why of Christ’s points, then, to an answer of God, which is unfolded in His glorification and in the redemption of the world. Now the Baptist’s present state of mind, from which the above question arose, evidently belongs to the same line of the deepest trials of God’s heroes,—a line extending from the life of Abraham and of Moses up to the life of Christ,—of those trials which are still prepared for every servant of God according to the measure of his strength. Now it was impossible for the weakness of John to display itself without the admixture of sinful infirmity. No doubt his was a state of mind in which he also bewailed his distress to his God with the keenest sensibility and with the liveliest expressions. But under this state of mind he turns to the Messiah, because his state of mind has reference to the Messiah; because, with the sorrow and wrath which as prophet he felt, he cannot understand how Jesus should so graciously devote Himself to the outcast among the people, whilst the rulers of the people are practising the grossest deeds of violence and meet with no punishment. We will not seek to probe further into the Baptist’s state of mind. So much is clear, that this utterance of his indicates the moment of the heaviest trial of his life, and also of his human weakness under this trial. But we should miss an essential trait in his portraiture if this spot of weakness were wanting, the moment of his human quailing under God’s providence,—that moment of the highest exaltation of God’s majesty in the life of His servants, when they sink into His arms as it were fainting under the inscrutable judgment of their life. But in the life of a man like John this shock could not fail to be great, and to force a strong expression of itself according to the measure of the greatness of the man himself.

But it is altogether wrong to imagine that for the explanation of this fact we must turn to those cases in history in which great men succumbed for a moment under their appointed trial, as, for example, Jerome of Prague, when he denied his evangelical creed. Therefore Strauss’s observation likewise hits wide of the mark, when he says: ‘Persecuted Christians of the first centuries, and later a Berengarius and a Galileo, turned false to those very convictions on account of which they were imprisoned, hoping through their denial to save themselves: the Baptist, in order that his case should admit to be compared with theirs, ought to have retracted his rebuke of Herod instead of giving a wavering character to his testimony concerning Christ, which had nothing whatever to do with his imprisonment.’8 Here it is assumed that the Baptist’s embassy, when brought into connection with his earlier testimonies of Christ, as they are represented by the Evangelists, make him appear as a fallen man. But there is not the remotest thought of this in the description which they gave of this embassy. Nay, it was even through this very embassy that he escapes the danger of taking offence at Christ. As the servants of God, under their great temptations and shocks, do not turn themselves in their anguish to the world, but to their God; as they open before Him their deeply wounded heart, and by the very means of thus crying out to Him, even though impure elements are evolved in the manner in which they do this, they become quieted, comforted, and saved; so it is also with John. And this is proved by his message to Jesus. If he had nourished as rancour in his heart the discouragement which he felt on account of Jesus’s manner of working, it might then have caused his fall. But this the Spirit’s consecration and the divine tendency of this quailing soul would not admit of. He gave shape to his discouragement in free, unreserved expression. Before all the people this great herald contended with his great King, because he would not, and he dared not, take with him to the grave, without giving expression to it, this feeling which had contended with him in his prison. Before all the people he had once borne witness to Him; therefore it was necessary that his relation to Him should continue to be open and clear in the sight of all the people. He ventured before the people to question His Messiahship; and this undoubtedly shows how beclouded and how agitated his state of mind was. In Luther’s life we find similar moods of feeling. Such in particular we find given outward expression to, during the time when he was imprisoned in the castle of Wartburg. Blücher was for a long time half delirious with vexation during the time of Prussia’s humiliation, and he then expressed the wish: ‘I would that either war would arise, or that the whole world were in one great blaze of fire.’ It is in the nature of things that imprisoned lions should now and then, in moments of deep vexation, begin to roar. But we should also not forget that John publicly submitted both his question and his own self to the final decision of Jesus. And this is just the much-misunderstood light side of his message: his abrupt reproach was at the same time his heroic confession of fault. The strong man in his great conflict clung publicly to the Stronger, and thus saved the close of his life.

If then we have made ourselves acquainted with the meaning of the Baptist’s message, there are still other considerations to bring forward which are calculated yet further to throw light upon his state of mind. With reference to the right estimation of the life of Christ, as viewed in the peculiarity of its New Testament spirit, John, we must grant, stood highest among all the men who stood on the Old Testament footing. In this respect, among those born of women, none was greater than he.9 As he was the last of the prophets, so he stood the highest, the nearest to Christ, of all on the Old Testament footing. But the peculiar course of Christ’s life, His spiritual life most emphatically His own,—namely, that He should lay the foundation of His work through love, through planting the truth in individual minds, through workings of the Spirit, through suffering and death, and not through severity, through judgments, through outward enterprises, struggles, and victories,0151this was what the least of those who stood on the New Testament footing could understand better than John. Added to this, we must likewise take into account the variation in the mood of feeling observable among the prophets. That which may be said of the human mind, and doubly so of the pious mind, is true in a threefold degree of the prophet’s mind: it is capable of being raised high as heaven, and again of being plunged down to death, even to the anguish of hell. Now of the pious man this is doubly true; because there are moments when he can soar far beyond the mountains, even up to the bosom of God; and others when, having sunk back into his insulated consciousness, he trembles before the smallest trouble. But this applies in a threefold degree to the prophet, because the divine-human life displays itself in his states of feeling as a life developing itself in a rhythmical movement (so to speak) of arsis and thesis. Therefore it follows, that at one time he should be able to gaze with rapt inspiration into all the glory of the new world, as if he had already conquered all the troubles of life; and then at another time, that he should fall into gloomy frames of mind, in which he can hardly understand what he himself had in those states of inspiration uttered.10 In this respect the life of the apostle has an unspeakable advantage over the life of the prophet, even though the life of the former likewise exhibits considerable weaknesses; for the apostle is from the very first filled with the spirit of that life of Christ which was perfect in word and deed. Now John the Baptist is just the very last of the prophets: why then should he be wanting in that peculiarity which so universally characterizes the prophetic life? It is true that Christ places him even above the other prophets, as being the pioneer of the new dispensation; but this very position of his, being the last of the Old Covenant prophets and the herald of the New Covenant, was in itself the cause that in him most especially it might come to pass that the New and the Old Testament frames of mind should succeed one another in the strongest contrast. There were, however, especial circumstances tending to this result, which we have already above referred to. His disciples, for example, had at first surrounded the camp of Jesus, so to speak, with jealous watchfulness and with passionate hope, and they had then returned to the Baptist with the intelligence that Jesus was now feasting with publicans and sinners. We can easily understand how these reports of John’s disciples, and their feelings of annoyance, would naturally contribute to heighten his gloomy state of mind. This report might have raised in his soul the apprehension lest Jesus should not carry out that separation between the clean and the unclean, between the subjects of the kingdom and its adversaries, of which he had laid the foundation through his baptism; rather Jesus was pulling down what he had built, instead of continuing to build on the foundation which he had laid.11 And this makes it obvious to us to conjecture, that this tempted one was hoping to obtain from Christ’s answer a comforting explanation not merely for himself, but also for his disciples.

Commentators have been so busy with the Baptist’s message, that often the Lord’s answer has not been sufficiently considered. And yet this supplies us with the clearest and most delicate estimate of that message. They have only to go and report to John what they themselves have seen and heard, the evidences which He afforded of His character. And in these signs John would find it impossible to mistake the prophetic description of the Messiah. Now were the eyes of the blind opened through Him; now were seen lame men healed and leaping as harts; now were the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the dumb were beginning to praise God, according to Isaiah’s prophecy (35:5, 6ff.); now were the people cleansed from their iniquities, and the dead were living again, according to Ezekiel’s prophecies (36 and 37);—but the greatest thing of all, the culminating point of all those works of wonder, was this, that now good tidings were preached to the poor, the jubilee year of salvation, according to Isaiah’s announcement in chap. 61, and other prophetical passages, which speak of the wonderful consolations which during the Messianic time should console and make happy the miserable. The order and manner in which Jesus enumerates these signs of His evangelical operations, in which were reflected the prophetical signs of the Messianic blessing, seem to be founded on a distinct progress of healing and saving works in the removal of life’s evils, from the smallest to the heaviest of all. First the blind are named. They stand as expectant sound ones, wanting only light, before the curtain of life; these see again. Next the lame. In their case even the free motions of life are wanting; they walk again. Then come the lepers. With them life itself is tainted by a dangerous element of death; these become clean. The deaf appear to be placed here somewhat too low; but many of them are not only physically but mentally bound, so that they do but vegetate: with their hearing, mental existence is likewise restored to them. Next come the dead; they return to life. In the simply sublime character of these antitheses, ‘the blind receive their sight,’ &c., the evangelical working of Christ is set forth as a new creation. In this answer of Jesus lay a threefold power of comfort; quite apart from the striking consideration that Isaiah had already uttered that message respecting the coming Helper-God with especial reference to the weak hands, the feeble knees, the fearful hearts. For, in the first place, the Baptist could not fail to recognize in these features the power of the manifestation of God, the power of the mighty Saviour of the people rescuing men from their miseries. The complete concurrence of the signs, their combined effort, the Messiah passing from bodily to spiritual deliverances, and their connection with one another, left no doubt of Jesus being the Bringer and the Bearer of the time of salvation. But the second ground of satisfaction the Baptist was to find in this, that it was by these very signs that the prophets had signalized the Messiah. Finally, the third was in this, that even those theocrats of a much earlier time had proclaimed the Messianic kingdom as being most prominently a kingdom of mercy, of deliverances, and not so much a kingdom of legal distinction and separation, of retribution and of judgment.

The addition, ‘And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me,’ is Jesus’ last word to John. It shows that Jesus perceived that John really was in danger of being tempted; but, at the same time, that He knew him to be rescued. The Lord utters no woe over him who should be offended in Him, but He pronounces blessed him who should be preserved from this peril. This praising as Blessed is no doubt meant for John himself. For Jesus knew His man, and knew how the message would affect him. But by this word John was also seasonably reminded of a prophetic passage which announces that the Messiah will become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to many (Isa 8:14); and the recollection of this may have very much helped him to set himself right concerning his true relation to Jesus, and with a composed soul, as the herald of the Lamb of God, to go quietly and silently to that death of his, in which he likewise was to show himself His forerunner.

When the disciples of John were departed with Christ’s answer, the heavenly superiority of Christ over this vehement man came out still more strongly. The Baptist had taken offence at Christ’s course of life, but the violent shock of public offence which John had given Him in his ungentle strength did not in the least disconcert the Lord. He felt more that the Baptist had done himself harm with the people, than that he had injured Him. Therefore He took John’s reputation under His protection, so to say, against his own message, by beginning to extol him for the real strength which he had exhibited, and for his true worth. In this encomium we again recognize the Master of souls, the King of the most mighty of men. ‘What went ye out into the wilderness to see?’ He said to the people. ‘A reed shaken with the wind?’ The people had not gone from any curiosity to see, we will say, the reeds by the Jordan waving in the wind. No such frail object as this draws the people. They had been overpowered by the strong, iron-hearted character of the Baptist. And now that John really appeared to be wavering, the people were to remember that impression, and instead of being unjust enough to see in him a reed shaken at the mercy of the wind, to consider him rather as a cedar shaken by the storm. Neither were they to believe that John fluctuated to and fro in his testimony concerning Christ, but they were to trust the solemn declaration spoken by the strong man in his strength. Then again the second time we read: ‘What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?’ And He adds: ‘Behold, they that wear soft clothing,’ men of luxury, ‘are in kings’ houses.’ They had surely seen that the Baptist in the wilderness, out of his own free choice, had worn a garment of camel’s hair, and was girded with a leathern girdle. Therefore they need not fear now that he would be unfaithful to his vocation as witness of the truth, when languishing in Herod’s prison. If he had the soft, weak mind from which the flatterer grows, he would surely be decked with soft clothing in the king’s house; but with his strong heroic soul he will unflinchingly remain in his rough clothing in the king’s prison: he will show that he is equal to his destiny.12 As speaking to the multitude who so easily become violently aroused, He prudently speaks in general terms of people in kings’ houses, to whom John forms a striking contrast. Thus with His first word He set the people at rest concerning the strength and consistency of the Baptist, and the reliableness of his testimony; with His second word, concerning the hardship of his fate, the inevitableness, ay, the necessity of his present condition. Then for the third time He asks, ‘What went ye out for to see? A prophet?’ And He answers: ‘Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.’ And how far more? Jesus now explains to the people that John is the messenger of the Lord of whom the prophet prophesies (Mal 3:1), who goes before the coming Lord to prepare the way, and that among all that are born of women there is none greater than he, the Baptist.

Thus therefore the Baptist was distinguished above all the prophets through his peculiar position in the kingdom of God: he closed up the old, he announced the new dispensation; he practically set forth the revelations which were given him with the most faithful energy in outward action, by rebuking the people, and consecrating them for the kingdom of heaven through the ordinance of baptism. Just as Moses became the lawgiver or legal establisher of the patriarchial development of the theocracy, so John in his spirit and office comprised the whole prophetic development of the theocracy in practical activity. But when Jesus extolled him as the most eminent among those born of women (those not yet born again through the New Testament baptism into Christ’s death), He added yet the declaration: ‘Notwithstanding’ (in a spiritual point of view) ‘he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’

With these last announcements Jesus had clearly explained to the people the Baptist’s precise mission; that, namely, of announcing the Messiah. In so doing, He had at the same time made it sufficiently clear to all that the Messiah had appeared, and that Himself was He. The last word ought also to have given His hearers the clue to understand how it was that the Baptist was not perfectly able already to understand Himself.

But now Jesus considered it necessary to come back with an explanation to that word of His which placed the Baptist above the prophets. Until John13—thus He explains Himself—all the prophets, as also the law, stood, so far as related to the kingdom of God, in the domain of prophecy. They set forth this kingdom as a future kingdom. But since John’s appearance that was changed. From his days up to this moment the kingdom of heaven continues in powerful, living activity, violently forcing its way, on the road to perfect mastery. Now it is drawn forth with violence from its hidden depth, and the theocratic violent ones, the holy doers of violence, actually in reality draw it in; they obtain it, they have it.14 In this respect, Christ adds, ye may consider John as the first forerunning violent one, as the Elijah whom the prophet has designated as the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal 4:5). ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!’ we finally read; that means, the other and mightier Violent One do ye now find out and acknowledge.

Now it struck the Lord with a feeling of pain to reflect how much they both, the pioneer and the Establisher of the kingdom of heaven, were misunderstood by the people; so He gave His hearers a solemn rebuke on this subject in the form of a parable: ‘Whereunto shall I liken this generation? Unto children sitting in the market. They call out to their fellows, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced! We have mourned unto you, and ye have not wept!’ We must carefully observe that these are capricious children who are here represented, who in one and the same moment want to play with their fellows now at a wedding, now at a mourning, and who complain that their fellows will not join in the game. Under this figure the race of that time appears to be represented in its behaviour towards the Baptist and Christ; or it also exhibits the way in which every age lectures its prophets, namely, with a supreme inconsistency, which forgets its own words. This inconsistency appears to be the very point of the parable. Thus the ‘children’ who wished the prophets to dance to their piping, would fain strike up for John to follow a cheerful wedding tune, whilst he was calling the people to rites of mourning; and then immediately in the same breath they wanted the Lord to follow them in a funeral dirge, whilst He desired to summon the people to the cheerful marriage-feast of New Testament liberty.15 The former appeared neither eating nor drinking; he represented in his strict abstemiousness the very deepest earnestness of life. And although the people were moved by the power of his spirit, yet they gradually exclaimed: He is too severe for us, too gloomy; and at length most of them turned away from him with the excuse, that he was possessed by a demon of melancholy. The latter came eating and drinking; freely and with devoted love He shared in their feastings. But then they cried,  arid with devoted love He shared in their feastings. But then they cried, Behold a man gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinnersʼ—the spirit of Pharisaism anathematized Him as one who set Himself above all law. And so they gave Him up likewise.

In this sketch Jesus has drawn the chief difficulties which the preaching of the kingdom of heaven always meets with in the world. The preaching of the law men find too solemn, too superhuman, destroying all life’s cheerfulness; in the preaching of the atonement they find a favouring of levity, of sin.16 And the messengers of God, whose office it is to call the world to the proper seasons of mourning and of feasting, must always be content to bear being rejected by the world’s criticism.

But this melancholy experience is only a qualified one. Some there always are who receive the heavenly wisdom which they set forth, and become children of their spirit. And these children of wisdom have always made themselves answerable for her, and have maintained and justified her claims and her righteousness by their word and life. The children of wisdom make themselves answerable for her claims, as children for their mother.17

That was a critical moment in which Jesus spoke these words to the people. John, in his weakness, had endangered by his message both Christ’s reputation with the people and his own. he people might now have been tempted passionately to take up the Baptist’s question and go on with assaulting the authority of Jesus, or else passionately to declare themselves on Jesus’ side in order to blame the Baptist; or they might even have begun to go all wrong concerning both prophets. ‘This error of the Baptist’s Jesus remedies; indeed, He even makes use of this opportunity clearly to explain to the people the difference between the Baptist’s position and His own, and the higher unity of the two positions in the establishing of the kingdom of heaven ; and then He proceeds to show them how wrongly they had acted, first towards the Baptist, and then towards Him. Thus the most perfect policy could not have given a better turn to the occurrence; here, however, this wisdom was the policy of the Prince of the kingdom of heaven, which is in perfect unity with holiness and love.



1. Wieseler, in his Chronological Synopsis, places the date of the Baptist’s imprisonment in March of the year 782 U.C. (p. 223.) But this is done upon the incorrect supposition already referred to with respect to that return of Jesus to Galilee, with which the synoptists link the imprisonment of the Baptist. Further on Wieseler rests this view upon the supposition of an exact chronological succession of events in the synoptists, particularly in Luke, and finds especially in the σάββατον δευτερὸπρωτον in Luke 6:1 his authority for supposing that this said return of Jesus to Galilee, and consequently also the imprisonment of the Baptist, must have taken place about this time. But we have only to consider the intermixture of the several series of events to make us abstain from insisting upon this chronological order in these Gospels ; and in respect to Luke in particular, it is plain enough that in his narration he did not aim at a purely objective arrangement. With reference to this, let us compare, for example, the position of the story of the centurion at Capernaum with the position of the Sermon on the Mount. Next, Wieseler adduces proofs from profane history. First he finds out (p. 241) that Agrippa I. came to Palestine either in the autumn of A.D. 31 (784), or in the spring of the following year, and that he found Herodias already married to Herod. From this we only arrive at the indeterminate date of the marriage happening before this time. But it required at the same time to be proved that it took place after A.D. 28. This then Wieseler tries to establish in the following manner:—According to Josephus, Antig. 18, 5, 1, Herod first formed the plan of his union with Herodias whilst on a business journey to Rome. But this journey, Wieseler says, could not have happened before the year 29. For in this year, so we are told, the old Empress Livia, the mother of Tiberius, died ; and Herod probably made this journey to Rome on a visit of condolence, in order to make an opportunity of gaining some advantages for himself. Now this supposition has surely nothing convincing in it. Such a man as Herod would not wait for such a particularly special event, in order to make interest for himself in Rome. And it is also very much to be questioned whether with a man like Tiberius it would have been at all politic to make use of an occasion of condolence in order to compass private ends of his own. One rather gets out of the way of mourning tyrants. Thus Agrippa also was obliged to leave Rome, because, as being the former friend of the Emperor’s son Drusus, who was poisoned by Sejanus, he reminded Tiberius of his death. Besides, it is alleged that at a later period Agrippa I. accused Herod to Caligula of having been guilty of conspiring with Sejanus against Tiberius’ government. From this also it is to follow, that Herod’s journey was subsequent to the death of Livia, because it was only from that time that Sejanus rose to importance, and ‘because the alleged conspiracy could hardly have been formed, except, on the one hand, through personal intercourse, and, on the other hand, at a time when Sejanus was already enjoying great importance.’ But such an accusation as Agrippa brought against Herod before Caligula surely does not presuppose cither that Herod must have had personal intercourse with Sejanus in Rome, or that it must have taken place after Sejanus’ elevation. If probabilities, or shows of probability, were wanted for that accusation, it would even be more probable that Herod would have then been able to confide in Sejanus in the manner alluded to, when the latter had not reached the height of his influence at the court of Tiberius, than later. Thus it is no way proved that the imprisonment of the Baptist could not have taken place till the year 782.18

2, It will be shown hereafter that Christ's lament over the Galilean cities is assigned by Luke to a more fitting oceasion than it is by Matthew; Luke connecting it with Jesus’ departure from Galilee. But so much must even here be said, that that lament was evidently uttered as a retrospect of His ministry in those parts after it was finished, whereas as yet Jesus was still carrying on His ministry in Capernaum and Bethisaida.

3. Some have thought it unlikely that John would have been allowed whilst in prison to hold intercourse with his disciples, and through them with the world. But in reply to this it has been with justice remarked, that in ancient times imprisonment did not infer a regular locking up of the prisoner, as in later times; and in favour of this has been urged the intercourse which Socrates whilst in prison held with his pupils, also Acts 24:23 and Matt. 25:36. See the passage above cited in Weisse, vol. i. p. 272.

4. That the Baptist was more than a prophet is shown by that great act of zeal for true religion in which he pronounced the nation unclean, and required it to submit to baptism, by which indirectly even Jesus was led to seek baptism at his hands. It should be remarked in addition to what we have before said on this subject, that our explanation of the baptism of Jesus is fully confirmed by the prophet Haggai, chap. ii. 12-15.



1) See Wieseler, Chronol. Synopse, p. 250. [Ewald (Christus, p. 194, note) quotes Seetzen as having found the ruins of Machĉrus on the north-east shore of the Dead Sea, above the Zerka ; but from Robinson’s remarks (i. 570) it seems that Seetzen did not himself visit, but only heard of a ruined fortress called Mkauer,—ED.]

2) Antiquities, 18, 5, 2.

3) [Ewald thinks he had been in prison a whole year, p. 30. ED.]

4) This view [formerly advocated by Calvin] has recently been advanced by Stier, ii, 56 ff. [and with his usual ability by Alexander, in his Matthew Explained, p. 303.—ED.]

5) [Perhaps, however, Alford’s statement, that the disciples ‘are bona fide messengers and nothing more,’ is rather strong. Ewald (p. 351), with apparently greater accuracy, represents the disciples as themselves partly causing the message, by pressing John to say definitely whether they-should go over to Jesus. Ewald and Alford agree in thinking that there was more of impatience than of doubt in the message. Ewald, however, thinks that John not only desired Jesus to proclaim Himself as the Messiah, but expected Him to become a Messiah with more sensibly striking power and wider worldly influence than He seemed to be assuming.—ED.]

6) On Luke, p. 110. The whole construction put by Schleiermacher upon the message of John must be characterized as far-fetched and a failure.

7) Ex. xvii. 4; Job iii. 1; 1 Kings xix. 10; Lam. iii.; Matt, xxvii. 46.

8) Vol. i. p. 365.

9) Comp. Neander's Life of Jesus Christ, p. 214.

10) 1 Pet. i. 10, 11. The same is true of some of the productions of great poets.

11) Comp. Ebrard, p. 283.

12) See Stier on the passage.

13) The 13th verse in Matthew is to be taken as an explanation of the 12th verse. Hence we may also imagine this verse placed as an introduction before the 12th, in order that the meaning of the passage may come out more clearly.

14) According to the context, John and Jesus must be the βιασταί. For until their time the kingdom of heaven was a hidden kingdom, Israel’s ideal hope ; but with holy violence they drew it out from the depth of life into aetual manifestation, ‘'Therefore the period also is to be fixed thus: from John’s appearance up to this time in which Jesus is speaking, It also appears to be according to the connection of the passage to understand the βιάζεται passively, The kingdom of heaven is violently drawn forth to view. Under another point of view, it is, no doubt, the kingdom of heaven itself forcing its way amidst agonizing birth-throes.

15) Stier's explanation of this passage (ii. 14) had well-nigh forced me to give up my own earlier explanation of it in my Biblische Dichtungen, vol. ii., in favour of his, For Stier makes the piping for the marriage-feast refer to the ministry of Christ, and the dirge for the funeral to the ministry of John, Thus then would they themselves be compared to children who in vain desire to get up both a festival and a moaning. The comparison would then include the Baptist as well as the Lord Himself in the designation, this generation, Grotius reminds us on this passage of the parable of the Sower, which, he observes, represents the kingdom of heaven, and yet there the sower must also, of course, be included in the history of his seed, But yet here these piping and mourning children are too distinctly designated as the generation of that time, Added to this, the same children are represented as contradicting themselves, with peevish irresolution wanting to play now at a wedding, now at a funeral, thereby causing nothing to be done. Not children playing harmoniously and quietly are here represented, but excited children, irresolute and bewildered, having no call to do this piping or dirge-playing, who are spoiling their own play. But the Baptist’s and Christ’s way of acting did not correspond with this. The first continued his darkly solemn tune, and the other His brightly cheerful tune, even till death, Besides, the race which criticises both the men are in the parable very plainly identified with the complaining children. And what is especially to be remarked is, that the flute-players are here represented as coming before the mourners. If they were meant to refer to John and to Christ, the situation must be reversed, whereas it quite corresponds with the inconsistent behavior of the people. John found in the people a group of merry flute-players who wished to force him to join in merry dances. Christ found in the same people a choir of mourners who required of Him to set forth the victory of death in ascetic behaviour, or by joining with them in weeping and crying.

16) See Stier, ii. 98.

17) If we carefully regard the signification of the expression the children of wisdom, and the connection of this passage, we cannot be doubtful concerning its meaning.

18) [This is one of the most difficult points in the chronology of the Gospel history. Its determination depends upon data which themselves can scarcely be said to be ascertained. One of these is the date of our Lord’s leaving Judea and retiring to Galilee (John iv. 3); for at this time John was not yet cast into prison (John iii. 24), This may be called December 780. ‘The other date to be fixed is, of course, the earliest at which there is any notice of John’s being or having been in prison; and this is supposed to be found in John y. 35, where his ministry is spoken of as past. The words referred to were spoken at a feast of the Jews, though at what season is nob certain, Lichtenstein (p. 176) and Riggenbach (p. 408) agree in thinking that it was the feast of Tabernacles in September 781. This is corroborated by the fact, that before the Passover of 782 John was already beheaded (Matt. xiv. 13; Luke ix. 9; John vi. 4). Wieseler, as is acknowledged on all hands, allows too little time for the events which are known to have transpired during the imprisonment (Tischenilorf’s Synops, Evan. xxxiii, Pref.; Ellicott's Hist. Leet. p. 129, note ; and Andrews, Life of our Lord, p. 159). Lichtenstein has very elaborately discussed the events of profane history which are connected with the imprisonment of John, viz.,—the death of Philip, the war between Herod and Aretas, the journey of Antipas to Rome, and the marriage of Herodias’ daughter ; and he has shown that Wieseler has in profane history no ground for asserting that the imprisonment of the Baptist could not have taken place till 782 (Lebensgeschiehte, pp. 171-201).—ED.]