The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section I

Jesus in Jerusalem at the feast of Purim. his conflict with the hierarchy, and its first attempt to bring about his death

(John 5)

As has been already remarked, the history of the life of Jesus takes a decided turn at the time of His appearance at the feast of Purim. Through healing a sick man on the Sabbath-day He is brought into decisive conflict with the Sanhedrim. The consequence is, that the Sanhedrim seeks and determines His death. From this time His persecutors are everywhere dogging His steps, even in Galilee. Nowhere is He secure, but He is hunted like a hind.

In these circumstances, His wanderings assume the character of a flight, they describe great and rapid journeys. He behaves with great caution before the public eye. He generally appears in the midst of the people suddenly, and does the work of His ministry, being guarded by the impression of His majesty and the reverence of the surrounding multitude; and then suddenly vanishes again amongst the crowd from the outstretched hands of His persecutors. Now we see Him seeking and finding a refuge in the range of hills beyond the Sea of Galilee, in the territory of the tetrarch Philip; now again in the wilderness of Judea; now in a dwelling with faithful friends at Bethany; now in a solitary olive-garden in the gloomy gorge of the Kidron. Thus does He guard His life; not from fear, but in holy foresight, that He may secure and accomplish His life’s work, and then openly give Himself up to His people for life and death.

The Gospel history gives us no particulars of a journey which it tells us Christ took to go up to a feast of the Jews; what feast it was is left unspecified: we have, however, above recognized in it the feast of Purim in the year 782.1 We learn nothing at all in reference to this sojourn in the capital, except an occurrence which was fraught with the deepest importance for His whole life.

If we would rightly understand the account of the wonderful cure of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, we must call to mind the holy wells or mineral springs which the superstition of the Roman Catholic middle ages had consecrated as places of healing grace. These wells were often important on account of their medicinal effect; but often, too, they were very unimportant. In the latter case they owed their reputation to especial isolated experiences, and to the co-operation of popular superstition which these cases called forth. Such a healing fountain Jewish superstition once discovered in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate. It was a fountain-fed pool which was at times disturbed by a rush of water from an intermitting spring, and whose water just at this juncture proved to be very salutary to those who bathed in it.2 The faith of the people had given the place, with thoughtful piety, the name of Bethesda,3 House of Mercy, Place of Grace, and had adorned it with five porticos to afford shelter to the sick people who were laid down round the pool. The Evangelist’s description has been often, but without real ground, understood as if the pool of Bethesda, with its wonderful effects, belonged to the articles of evangelical faith, and as if we were bound to discern in it a healing spring of peculiar miraculousness. Then on this supposition men considered it suspicious, that Josephus, as they imagined, should have said nothing of this spring. But if we look at the Gospel narrative with an unprejudiced eye, we shall see that it merely gives us an historical description of a Jewish place of grace, a fountain of healing, which wrought its effect only from time to time, and then also only for a short time. The water on such occasions proved particularly salutary for the blind, or for those in general who were suffering in their eyes, for the lame and the consumptive. Such sufferers were seen surrounding the pool in crowds, who, no doubt, were also seen there in such large numbers because these healing effects were so seldom exhibited. But concerning the cause of this troubling of the water, tradition explained that an angel of the Lord went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; and whosoever then first, after the troubling of the water, stept in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. It is possible that the Evangelist might have adopted this mode of expression either as an historical reporter, or in the genuine devoutness of his own spirit. It is, however, probable that this tradition respecting the spring was not inserted in the authentic text until later.4

On Sabbath-day Jesus was walking round this Place of Grace. Here He found a sick man lying, who had been already suffering eight and thirty years, and who had even been lying there a long time.5 Probably the man bore on his countenance the stamp of weakness of will, of destitution, and of discouragement. ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ thus ran the Lord’s question. The extinction of all courage in the man, and his perfect helplessness, moved the Lord to pity, and induced Him to take an interest in him as the most needy one amongst all who were lying there. He determined, in the first place, to create in him once more a will, in order to gain a means of effecting his cure. The man declared his desire for recovery; it was honest, but, as it seems, faint and feeble; at all events, he does not in his answer quite come up to the categorical wish of being restored to health. We see from his words how the matter stood with him. He could still manage to limp slowly a little way; and in this manner he was then accustomed to hobble, when the water was springing up, from his portable bed to the pool; but another always got before him. Perhaps most of the others had friends to help them; at all events, this man was assured that he could never accomplish it except he had some one to put him at the decisive moment into the water.6 Suddenly, in the tone of command, Jesus said to him: ‘Rise, take up thy bed and walk.’ After a long dreary period of torpor, the man now for the first time felt what it was to will, the thunder-power of the Saviour’s will shooting its healing rays into the slight movement of his feeble but honest wish. He felt how the word of the lofty Stranger had again aroused as from the dead his vital spirits; and in the sudden elasticity of his awakening faith, he understood His call, obeyed His summons, stood up, stepped forth, and found himself healed. The taking up and carrying home his bed no doubt belonged to that carrying out of his faith into action which Christ required in order to the perfect consummation of His healing work. And this also clearly explains to us why it was that, in giving this command, Jesus paid no attention to the rules then existing among the Jews concerning the Sabbath. But as the healed man was walking away with his bed according to Christ’s command, he forthwith met with a hindrance. When the Jews, the champions of Judaism, saw him going along with his bed on his shoulder, they reproached him with breaking the Sabbath.7 He, however, appealed to the weighty authority of Him who had made him whole. They now inquired the name of this miraculous physician: he knew not who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn Himself from observation amongst the multitude immediately after the deed. Afterwards, however, He found the healed man in the temple, and here He was impelled solemnly to address him: ‘Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’ From these words we must conclude that Christ had perceived in this man the symptoms of guilt which he had formerly incurred; perhaps even now again He observed in him a disposition which did not quite satisfy Him, although apparently the sick man had come into the temple with the motive chiefly of fulfilling in that place the religious duty of thanksgiving. But the man, who by this opportunity learnt Jesus’ name, reported him forthwith to the Jews; that is, doubtless, to that court amongst the Jews which with official zeal had already instituted that inquiry. This led the hierarchical authorities to persecute Jesus.8 Without doubt they knew about Him, as we have before seen, and had already fallen out with Him; but they believed they had now got hold of a public accusation against Him. Even now in their counsels the purpose was beginning to work, of putting Him to death; Jesus distinctly saw this, and afterwards plainly taxed them with it.9

We do not know what were the official forms which they made use of to call Him to account. Probably He was cited before the lower Sanhedrim. Here they appear in all the professional pride of doctors of the law to have lectured Him, telling Him that even, God Himself rested on the seventh day. At any rate, His declaration alludes to this thought: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ He did not thereby abolish the binding authority of the Sabbath for the sphere where labour and rest are opposed to one another. But in His operations He claimed to the singular character of an activity which was exalted far above that sphere; an august doing of work, which was at the same time a keeping of holiday; a working in God. In the fermentation of creative powers which produced the world, during the six days of creation, the Father had, according to human view, worked; then in the heart of man He had rested: He was now enthroned, resting in His Son. But this rest was an energizing rest; it occupied itself in a perpetual silent activity, in the ever continuous preservation and quickening of the world. And because as Father He worked in the heart of the Son, for that very reason the Son could not but work in communion with His Father among His people.

The significance of the Lord’s answer was quite understood by His adversaries, and eagerly laid hold of. It was now a more certain point with them than ever that He must die, since, in their opinion, He not only had broken the Sabbath, but had also made Himself equal with God, by representing God as in a proper sense His own Father. They now accused Him of the crime of blasphemy.10 But He felt deeply the greatness of their perversity in wishing to kill Him because He made alive, because He worked in His Father with supreme devotion to Him and rest in Him, and because He was conscious of a peculiar relation to His Father, and from this consciousness spoke. Therefore, with His solemn twofold amen, He declares: ‘The Son can do nothing of Himself, but only what He seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth (whatever the Father by inward and outward guidance impels Him to do), these also, entering into His mind and will, the Son doeth likewise.’ By this declaration He had shown them that in their accusations they had not, properly speaking, to do with Him, but with His Father who moved Him to work. Next, He explains to them this wonderful relation: ‘The Father loveth the Son.’ It is a peculiar reciprocal relation of eternal love, a mystery of the most sublime love, which must explain it all. In this love ‘the Father showeth the Son what He doeth,’ and thus the Son enters into the Father’s work. But He calls Him to ever greater and yet greater works: hereafter even they will have to marvel, when they see how the Son carries out the Father’s greatest miracles.

To this extent reaches the general thought which lies at the basis of Christ’s statement now before us. In the Father, with Him and through Him, Christ will continue to work miracles of life like the one which He has now performed on a small scale before their eyes; and at length in the resurrection they will be filled with amazement at the mightiest miracles of His quickening power by which they will see themselves surrounded, and they at that hour will certainly guard against condemning these miracles as a profanation of the Sabbath, or the assertion that He accomplished them in union with the Father as blasphemy.

This thought He now carries out in three forms, rising in gradation one above another. First, He marks the time of His present marvellous revivifications of men (vers. 21-23); then the great period of the spiritual waking up of mankind, with which also is connected the silent and secret revivification of mankind; consequently, the period of the gradual revivification of mankind proceeding forth from its centre-points, from men’s hearts (24-27). But in reference to this He tells them that they should not marvel so very much even at this (ver. 28). For there shall follow yet another resurrection-scene, the epoch of the sudden resurrection of mankind, with which the judgment is connected (vers. 28, 29). This is the final end of His marvellous works of quickening; and on that day shall those very miracles of God appear, at which they will marvel.

The isolated miracles which Christ wrought during His pilgrimage upon earth form the first stage. The Father raises up the dead, quickens the dead throughout the world in manifold ways; as for example, through the spring at Bethesda. And so also it is the Son’s delight to quicken, to make alive, to diffuse life. But the son quickens whom He will. For although He follows the indications of the Father, yet is His acting a discriminating acting; and through His choosing between those who are to be quickened and those who are not, He executes His judgment. This judgment, through which the contrast is formed between a Christian resurrection-world and an antichristian world of death, the Father has given over to the Son. And thereby the honour of the Son is to be advanced. For the being of the Father is revealed through the being of the Son; the life which the Father creates is revealed through the life which the Son diffuses; and in consequence, also, the hidden glory of the Father is made clear through the glory which the Son unfolds.

And now the Son points out the second stage of His making alive. It is displayed in the kingdom of His spiritual operations. His word is the real principle of life. He that hears His word and keeps it, believing on Him who sent Him, has everlasting life. For such an one has the principle by which he every moment perishes in the Eternal God as priest and rises again in Him as king, and thus has received into himself the principle of eternal rejuvenescence; and he cannot come into condemnation, because condemnation and death are absorbed in his life, and thereby he has forced his way out from the death which reigns in the natural life, into life. Henceforth this life-word of Christ’s goes throughout the world, and the dead shall hear it, and those who hear it (hearkening, understanding) shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself, is the source of life, so has He imparted to the Son the power of renewing in Himself the life of the world, of being the Principle of life to the world, and of distinguishing between those who are to be quickened anew and those doomed to death, because He is the Son of Man, the new Man, and consequently the Principle of life to new humanity.

Through these operations of life which Christ, through His Church, spreads abroad in the world, is next brought about the third stage in His activity: the resurrection of the dead. At this epoch, which is brought about through the work of His Spirit, the power of His life will embrace the evil as well as the good, and will bring back all that are in the graves into the life of phenomenal existence. Then those who have done good will come forth unto a resurrection which is unmixed life; but those who have done evil, unto a resurrection which bears in itself condemnation.

The threefold gradation of these quickening works of Jesus is at every stage a twofold operation. First he only quickens some, whom He chooses, restoring to them their health. But afterwards He will quicken many who receive His word, and that to an imperishable life. And finally, at a future day He will call back all into visible life; and not only life, but judgment also will be unfolded in an universal resurrection, which is an operation of His resuscitating power.

After uttering such great things concerning His agency, Christ refutes the error of supposing that He laid claim to the power of performing such mighty things in His bare isolated humanity. The secret of His infinite life-giving and quickening power, as He repeatedly explains, consists in this, that it is impossible for Him to work anything at all in egotistical self-will. His being able to do nothing of Himself is closely connected with His doing all things in God, as God does all things through Him. And thus, He says, He executes His judgment also, His discriminating between those called to life and those doomed to death; He judges according to what He hears, and so His judgment is a just judgment. This hearing can express nothing less than that Christ, with a hearkening spirit, perfectly and correctly perceives, and as correctly executes, at every moment, the objective judgment of eternal righteousness upon those who come before Him. But this He is able to do because He seeks not His own will, but His Father’s. Which means, that the eternal power of His life, of being One with the Father, and the eternal deed of His life, of performing omnipotently the Father’s will, are one and the same thing in the eternal energy of His life, which, as freely as necessarily, is evermore turned towards the Father’s will, seeks and desires the Father’s will.

He then, finally, discourses to His adversaries concerning the evidence for this relation of His life to the Father, and for His great quickening work. First, in general terms He explains that He does not (in His isolated self) bear witness of Himself, but that there is Another who bears witness of Him. If the first were the case, such a witness, as being His own witness to His own life, would at once contradict its own truth; but the witness of that Other (the Father’s) is in its very nature true. Truth consists just in this, that it is not each single thing witnessing for itself, and thus disengaging itself from its connection with things in general, but that one thing bears witness for the other; and so also in the most universal sense, the Other of the Son, the Father, bears witness for the Son. This witness is true, because it is the witness of God, because it is the witness of the Father in the exercise of His power, because it is the witness of the great One for the great Other. Jesus introduces His discourse on this witness by reminding them of the message which they had sent to the Baptist, and of his witness for Him. This reminder is very remarkable. It shows, first, that Christ is here dealing with members of the Sanhedrim, probably with a distinct section of it. Secondly, that John must have then personally pointed out Jesus as the Messiah. He reminds them, therefore, of a testimony for His Messiahship which they had kept back from the people. But He expressly guards Himself from the suspicion of His wishing to sustain Himself by the witness of a man for His own sake; only for the sake of their own salvation does He recall to their minds that testimony. In fact, in respect to John also, He had occasion to reproach them. He was11 a burning and a shining light; but it was only for a season that they rejoiced, excitedly revelled (like night-flies), joyfully and proudly in his light; then they let him drop again.12

Thus Jesus shows them that they ought already to have followed the witness of John, if they had no other; much more, then, the greater witness to which He appeals, the witness of the Father, which expressed itself in His works. His works, He says, prove that the Father has sent Him. This is, beyond controversy, an appeal to His miracles as bearing witness for His divine mission.

But now He desires to remind them that the Father does not now for the first time begin to bear witness of Him, but that He has already borne witness of Him throughout the whole of the Old Testament revelation.13 Verily, He remarks, ye are no good prophets, like those who were the organs of divine revelation: ye have never (as the old prophets did) heard in spirit the voice of God, ye have never beheld a sight of Him, and just as little have ye kept in your hearts His word which has been handed down to you; and this is proved to be the case by your having no perception for His highest revelation, for Him whom He has sent. Nevertheless He is constrained to mention to them those ancient witnesses for His Messiahship. Therefore He exhorts them now at length to search better into the Old Testament Scriptures, in which even they themselves think they possess eternal life, in order to discover in them the witnesses for Him personally.

But now, surely He could not help sighing whilst feeling Himself forced to make this declaration: ‘Ye will not come to me that ye might have life!’ Yet they are not to imagine that this His sorrow over them has anything to do with their withholding from Him the manifestation of respect. He explains to them that His sorrow on their account is rather because their hearts are so wholly destitute of the love of God. Therefore, He plainly tells them that He finds no acceptance with them, because He is come in His Father’s name, and because they are wanting in love to the Father, because therefore they are wanting in spiritual affinity with Him; and this will be shown when another shall come in his own name, for him they would receive. The fellow-feeling of ambition, the elective affinity of the excited passion for shining, would make them disciples of such an one.14

But now He declares to them the sad riddle of their blindness. They cannot believe; or, in other words, they cannot renounce present visible glory in the sure hope of that future visible glory in the resurrection which will spring from communion with Him, because they are greedy to receive now at once honour and glory one of another. In proportion as they do this, they must of necessity neglect honour with God, glory in the Spirit of God, in His eternity. And therefore they have too the sad prospect of not finding that honour with God. Yet Jesus declares to them that it is not He that will accuse them to the Father, but that very Moses in whom they trust. Since their confidence appeared to be grounded on Moses, on the law and their fulfilment of it, it could not fail of being the greatest reproach to them, that they had not once learnt truly to know even Moses, had not entered even into his spirit, so that they were therefore bad Jews, who through their very unfaithfulness in Judaism were preparing for themselves condemnation. But how is He able to cast this reproach upon them? Christ is so certain of the identity of His spirit with that of Moses, that He can even say the strong word: Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me. According to this declaration, the law of Moses simply consists of outlines and shadows of the personality of Christ. And now they were the scribes, the men who were so intimate with the Scriptures, who set infinite value upon them, and especially upon the writings of Moses. And yet they believed not the word of Moses, viewed according to its living signification. And this, Christ says, is the explanation why they cannot believe His words.15

They charged Him with breaking the fourth as well as the first commandment of the law. He however flung back upon them the heavy guilt of giving Moses in his entirety neither faith nor obedience. They sought a pretext for putting Him to death. He declared to them that He would continue to quicken men even up to the last day. The board of Jewish magistracy before which He had now stood, and which from the first had intended by their examination to bring Him to trial and to death, and that too, first, according to the law against Sabbath-breakers, and then according to the law against blasphemers, now found themselves for the present disarmed by His powerful utterances, and let Him again go free.



Concerning the pool of Bethesda, Robinson makes the following remark: ‘Just north of this gate (St Stephen’s Gate, which, on the north-east side of the city, leads to Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives), outside of it, there is a small pond or reservoir, and within the gate, on the left hand, is the very large and deep reservoir to which the name of Bethesda is commonly given, though probably without good reason. It is entirely dry, and large trees grow at the bottom, the tops of which do not reach the level of the street’ (i. 233). In this pool, in fact, Dr Robinson sees a remnant of the old fortification-trench which belonged to the castle of Antonia (i. 293). The above-named traveller conjectures rather that the Fountain of the Virgin might have been the pool of Bethesda (i. 337 ff.). He says: ‘On the west side of the valley of Jehoshaphat, about twelve hundred feet northward from the rocky point at the mouth of the Tyropœon, is the Fountain of the Virgin Mary, called by the natives Aim Um ed-Deraj, “Mother of Steps.” I have already alluded to the reasons which make it not improbable that this was “the King’s Pool” of Nehemiah, and the “pool of Solomon” mentioned by Josephus.’ This well communicates with the fountain of Siloam by a drain, through which Robinson and his companions, not without much toil and risk, forced their way. He says: ‘The water of both fountains has a peculiar taste, sweetish, and very slightly brackish, but not at all disagreeable. Later in the season, when the water is low, it is said to become more brackish and unpleasant. It is the common water used by the people of Kefr Selwan. We did not learn that it is regarded as medicinal or particularly good for the eyes, as is reported by travellers; though it is not improbable that such a popular belief may exist.’ The traveller now relates (341) how that they had remarked in the upper fountain (the Virgin’s Fountain) a sudden bubbling up of the water, which was so powerful that within five minutes the water in the basin rose almost a foot. A woman assured him that this rush of water took place ‘at irregular intervals, sometimes two or three times a day, and sometimes in summer once in two or three days.’ ‘Now, since the old Sheep Gate appears to have been not far from the temple, and the wall of the ancient city probably ran along this valley, may not that gate have stood somewhere in this part, and this Fountain of the Virgin have been Bethesda?’ In this case, the silence of Josephus, which has been brought forward by ‘criticism,’ and considered an important difficulty, would be accounted for: Josephus would have mentioned the pool under the name of ‘Solomon’s Pool.’ But without that, his silence would form no real difficulty, since Josephus nowhere gives a complete topographical and statistical account of the city (Lücke, p. 19). If the tradition concerning the pool of Bethesda were false, then Eusebius’ account of this pool (in his Onomastikon), which depends on an improbable conjecture (see Lücke, p. 26), may perhaps cease to be regarded as having any relation to the true locality.

2. According to Von Ammon (ii. 203), Jesus, by His declaration on the subject, Himself attacked the foundation of the sabbatical law concerning God’s rest on the seventh day of creation (Gen 2:1, &c.; Exo 20:8, &c.) In putting forth this desperate hypothesis, theology has not been mindful of the saying of Jesus: ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.’ The same author is of opinion that the Jews were wrong in assigning a pregnant meaning to that expression of Jesus: My Father; that in reality it denotes no equality of being with God. Further on (209) he also remarks, that the passage under discussion in no way refers to the world’s future judgment, but is of an ‘allegorical nature,’ and has reference only to ‘the inward reformation of the contemporaries of Jesus.’ We will only remark that this view is only to be explained by the advanced age of the author.



1) Book ii. Introd, sec.—It must be here remarked that Tholuck, in his Commentary on the Gospel of John (6th edition), finds this supposition improbable, His principal reason is, that he thinks it unlikely that Jesus would repair to the comparatively unimportant feast of Purim, and not attend the principal feast, that of the Passover, which followed it. Both facts are, however, satisfactorily explained Ly looking at the circumstances of the narrative. Since, towards the time of the feast of Purim, Jesus was visiting the towns of Judea which lay in the direction of Jerusalem, this would naturally lead to His attending the feast of Purim. But as at the feast of Purim He gave occasion to the Sanhedrim to decide on His death, there thence arose a motive for His not attending, openly at least, the feast of the Passover which so soon followed.—[The various opinions regarding this feast are stated, and the argument in favour of the Passover urged, by Trench, Notes on the Miracles, p. 246. ‘The argument in favour of Purim may be seen in Ellicott, p. 135.—ED.]

2) See Tholuck’s remark concerning the gassy spring at Kissingen, which begins to bubble up at about the same times every day; just at those times it is that the development of gas is the most efficacious.

3) Chald. בֵּית חֶסְדָא, domus misericordiĉ.

4) The words of ver, 4, according to the highest class of MSS,, are decidedly spurious ; and probably also the closing part of ver. 3, from ἐκδεχομένων, who were waiting. Comp. Lücke's Comment., pp. 21 sq. Probably this addition to the text was adopted from the traditions of the Jews, for the particular purpose of explaining ver. 7, As the close of ver. 3 is of less suspicious authenticity than ver. 4, and as the connection seems in some measure to require these words, Ebrard (p. 29) is disposed to retain them as genuine.

5) See Lücke, p. 26.

6) Latterly a crowd of ‘critical’ remarks have been scen lying round the pool of Bethesda, like another multitude of blind, lame, and withered. See Ebrard on this, p. 291.

7) Concerning the rules for the Sabbath with respect to the sick, see Lücke, p. 29.

8) The remark, they sought to kill Him, in ver. 16, is, according to the MSS., of doubtful authenticity; but it is in sense quite right, and therefore is foisted into the text here, perhaps with reference to the 18th verse.

9) See John vii. 19, 21.

10) Comp. John x. 33.

11) From this expression it certainly does, indeed, not follow that John was already dead ; but it does follow that he was removed from the scene, and that Jesus considered him as already doomed to death.

12) The expression πρὸς ὥραν shows that they had deserted him before his course was at an end ; and this entirely agrees with the representation of the other Evangelists, particularly of Luke.

13) Consequently the μεμαρτύρηκε, ver. 87, is to be understood in direct contradiction to the μαετζνρεῖ. so that the latter expresses the revelation of God in the New Testament, and the former, the revelation of God in the Old Testament.

14) This word has been again and again fulfilled in ancient as well as modern and recent accounts of pseudo-messiahs. Comp. Tholuck on John, p. 165.

15) Truly Christ must have read the writings of Moses in another and a deeper spirit than those even in our own time, who are not able to discover the identity between Moses and Christ, and who can generally see nothing but contradictions in the different stages of one organic development. Yet Jesus will carry the point against these as much as against those Jewish gainsayers. Nay, with equal truth we may apply His word to all the preliminaries of the Christian life; and so also we may say to every natural philosopher, If you truly believed nature, you would believe Christ, for she has prophesied of Him as her principle of elucidation; and to historians, If ye believed history in her deepest underlying causation, ye would believe also the mysterious Point of Unity to which all her final causes converge, &c.