The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the return of Jesus to Galilee. the news of the Baptist's execution. the first feeding of the multitude in the wilderness. Christ walking on the sea

(Matt. 14; Mar 6:14-56; Luk 9:7-17; Joh 6:1-21)

After the Lord’s return from Jerusalem to Galilee, we first find Him again by the Sea of Galilee, and in all probability in the neighbourhood of Tiberias, the residence of Herod Antipas (Joh 6:1). Here it was that a storm of sad and evil tidings burst upon Him simultaneously.

He Himself had this time once more escaped the sentence of death in Jerusalem. But yet He returned to Galilee with the decided impression that His death was determined upon by the highest court of His nation—the Sanhedrim; at least that was the tendency which the feeling of mind of the Sanhedrim were taking, even if the separate individual members of the college were not yet fully conscious of this tendency. It was clear to Him that a secret sentence of death was already hovering over His head.

It was thus that the messengers from John’s disciples found Him, who came to announce to Him their master’s execution (Mat 14:12). We cannot but regard this particular in the narrative as very remarkable in a twofold point of view. First we may consider it a cheering sign that the Baptist’s message had attained its object, that his soul had been again restored to calm, and that he had died in perfect peace with Jesus. For otherwise, surely, his disciples, or several of their number, would hardly after his death have turned to Jesus. Next we see in general the working of the reconciling power of death—especially of so consecrated a death. The disciples of this great hero of God, who had now been offered up, feel themselves constrained to turn with their bitter sorrow to Jesus. It was as if they felt the duty of reporting to the Lord the death of His herald. Perhaps the better part among them subsequently attached themselves to Jesus. The rest afterwards adopted another course. But now, in their mourning for their dishonoured master, the true spirit of Christ’s forerunner beamed forth in them once more with clearness: the message which Jesus received appears to have come from their whole body. We can only faintly conceive with what feelings Christ heard of the faithful Baptist’s death, knowing likewise its significance for Himself.

About this time also the apostles returned back from their missionary journey, and again were reassembled round Jesus. They had therefore finished their journeyings through the Jewish towns, or else, as one might also conjecture, they had suddenly broken them off. It is remarkable that Matthew is silent respecting their return, and that the other two synoptists only notice it very briefly. This return does not seem to have been so joyful a one as that of which Luke gives us later an account, in connection with the Seventy. Now it would certainly be possible that, having heard the news of the Baptist’s death whilst in the middle of their labours, they had in their alarm been led to go back again to their Master. It is also an easy conjecture, that on their return they might have fallen in with John’s disciples who were coming to Jesus, since there was an old feeling of friendliness between the two circles of disciples, which through this great sorrow would now readily revive. Thus much, at any rate, plainly appears from the connection of the accounts of the Evangelists, namely, that they could not long have returned to Jesus when those friendly messengers arrived, and that the intelligence which they brought was deeply afflicting to them as well as to their Master, especially to those among them who had been former pupils of the Baptist, and certainly fell like a thunder-clap upon them and upon their views in reference to the future. But whilst they, thus discouraged, were surrounding their Master, He and they were beset by a crowd of the populace, whose excitement was continually increasing, and whose feelings in all probability were also, at least in respect to some of them, becoming less pure and more worldly. At all events Jesus deeply felt the need of withdrawing the disciples from the crowd, after the labours of their journey in such a frame of mind, and of taking them into solitude, in order that they might rest a while and recover themselves (Mar 6:31).

Then, too, came the singular intelligence, that Herod was wishing to see Jesus. A little time before this, Herod had probably returned from Livias in Perea to Tiberias. It was not long since the despot had stained his hands with the prophet’s blood. Before, he had heard more of the doings of the Baptist than of Jesus. But now he found the whole country of Galilee filled with the fame of Jesus and with praise of His miracles. Already had the most various opinions been formed concerning the personality of Jesus, but they all came to this, that He must be one of those miraculous appearances in connection with the Messiah, which the prophets had foretold as evidences of the dawn of the Messianic time. Opinions were divided: some said that He was Elias; others, that He was one of the old prophets; and others appear, with a certain pointedness of meaning, to have declared that He might possibly be John the Baptist himself—John risen from the dead. Timid, pious men might perhaps express this opinion, wishing to speak to the conscience of Herod in a way which would not bring themselves into danger; though, indeed, certainly court flatterers might possibly have thus expressed themselves in order to set the prince’s mind at rest concerning his wicked deed, with the assurance that John, whom he had killed, was already alive again. The prince at least exhibits to us a state of mind hovering between one apprehension and another.1 He was filled with fear when he heard the opinion expressed, that this Worker of miracles might be John the Baptist, and again at the same time doubted concerning the truth of this assertion. Yet he was disposed to believe it; in fact, he at length adopted the view that this Jesus was John risen from the dead, but apparently in such a way that he allowed the figurative sense to mingle with his conception of the matter by entertaining the thought that the damage which he might have done to the good cause by the Baptist’s execution was already more than compensated for; there had already stepped again upon the scene a mightier John the Baptist, endued with new powers.2 Apparently in this way he sought to appease his conscience by a word which at first had terrified him, and he soon got so far as to be able to express a desire—a desire prompted by a curiosity as shocking for its audacity as for its folly—to see Jesus.

That seemed to be yet wanting. The prince, whose wicked deed had most deeply offended and wounded the Lord, and had smitten with dismay all who were around him, who ought to have trembled before Him as before the very judgment of God, now began to find Him interesting, and gave it to be publicly understood that he desired to give Him an audience.

Even if Jesus had not been induced, by sorrow for the Baptist, by His disciples’ state of mind, and by the pressure of the multitude, to cross to the other side of the sea, yet, surely, disgust at this almost demoniacal state of mind shown by Herod would have moved Him to do so. He therefore immediately took shipping and went with His disciples across the sea, going obliquely from south-west in a north-easterly direction.

This opportunity occasioned the disciples, when they subsequently were giving to the world that account of our Lord’s life from which the synoptical Gospels are derived, to introduce here the particulars of John’s execution, which had taken place some time previously.3

We know concerning Herod Antipas that more than once his mind wavered between superstition and criminal frivolity, between reverence for high personalities and contemptuous treatment of them. Let us only think of that scene, when Christ, by the direction of Pilate, was constrained to appear before him (Luk 23:8-11). From intense anticipation of seeing the miraculous works of Christ, he quickly passed to derision of Him. When therefore the Evangelists gave apparently contradictory accounts concerning His behaviour to the Baptist,—Matthew relating (ver. 5) that Herod wanted to kill him, but had been hindered in his design by fear of the people, whilst, on the contrary, Mark says that Herodias lay in wait for the Baptist and sought to kill him, but for a long time could not attain her object, because Herod feared John as a just and holy man, and therefore had kept him longer in custody than he otherwise would have done, ay, and further than that, even heard him gladly, and in many things followed his directions,—we cannot doubt but that this contradiction lay in the character of Herod himself. Here too, then, ‘criticism’ must be set aside with its oft-recurring desire to make the gospel history answerable for the wickedness and inconsistency of such heroes, or, in other words, to deal with that history in an inimical spirit, taking it for granted that one can suppose nothing contradictory or foolish in such characters. It lies in the nature of the case, that Herod would stand in awe of the restless and easily excited Galilean people, and just as much so, that the influence of Herodias in conflict with this influence of the people should produce considerable oscillations in the prince’s behaviour to the Baptist.

At length the well-known mad temerity of the despot decided the matter. He was keeping his birthday, and celebrating it by giving a feast to all the magnates of his kingdom. During the feast he was surprised by his step-daughter Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who came into the room and amused the guests with a dance, which apparently was some mimical representation. This homage enraptured the excited prince and his boon companions. These at once saw that it was the wily Herodias who had prepared this exhibition for them, and their applause completely intoxicated the despot. He challenged the dancer to make him a request, and swore that he would grant it, even if it should be equivalent to the half of his kingdom. She went out to ascertain from her mother what it should be; presently she came back, and demanded, on a dish,4 at once upon the spot, the head of John the Baptist. Herod was much grieved by this request, but his superstition was greater than his faith, and his courteous regard for the magnates of Galilee, who do not seem to have particularly cared for John’s preservation, was greater than his displeasure against the girl. For his own sake, and in order not to shame the dancer before his guests, he sent the executioner to behead the Baptist in prison. And, according to directions, the man brought the bloody head on a dish to the girl, who gave it to her vindictive mother. Not far from the mountain castle of Machærus,5 which was situated in the mountainous country on the east of the Dead Sea, Herod had his second residence, Julias or Livias. It was a royal palace, and Herod, especially at this time, appears to have been often there, since the war with King Aretas was already impending. Yes, and he might have especially selected this particular place at which to gather the magnates of his kingdom in order to impress the enemy, or else to prepare them for the war. But the near vicinity of the two places explains how it was possible the head of John could so soon be brought.6

The disciples of the Baptist bravely owned their connection with the slain hero, whose head had been made payment to a frivolous dancing girl: they came and laid him in his grave. But the spirit of the Baptist continued to live in various forms. Those, indeed, who wished to continue to be strictly disciples of John afterwards took an uncertain, wavering course, which led them into the mazes of heathenish theosophy.7

Jesus landed with His disciples on the coast of Lower Gaulonitis. Here they withdrew into a desert near the town of Bethsaida (fish houses), which was situated north-east of the sea, and which the tetrarch Philip had named Julias, in honour of the daughter of the Emperor Augustus.8

But in vain did they look here for solitude. The people from the towns flocked after them along the road by land (πεζῇ). Those who were already come from Tiberias after them were now joined by companies of pilgrims, which were already beginning to form, the Passover being near at hand. Thus, moved in His pity for the poor shepherdless multitude, Jesus again stepped forth from His retirement (Mar 6:34). Leaving the mountain-top to which He had repaired (Joh 6:3), He came again amongst the multitude, and taught them and healed their sick.

In the meantime the evening drew on. Jesus cast a look on the ever-increasing crowds, and felt that for the moment the people had forgotten themselves and their earthly wants, and that many were in danger of being famished on their way home. Even the disciples were aware of this danger; they therefore advised the Lord peremptorily to send away the people, that they might go into the villages lying nearest the desert and buy themselves food. But the multitude who had come to Him were not to depart, they were not to lose themselves in the desert, nor to leave Him hungry, embarrassed, and in danger of starving. Perhaps it was Philip who had represented to Him most urgently the distress in which the people were; at all events, Jesus first addressed to Him the question: ‘Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ He wanted to prove him, John says. But Philip saw not only the want of bread amongst the multitude, but also the want of money amongst themselves: he quickly ran over the cost and took fright. ‘Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them (he said) that every one of them may take only a little.’ But Jesus now distinctly required the disciples to give the multitude to eat; they were to go and see what provisions they could command. Andrew informed Him that there was a lad there who had five barley loaves and two fishes. ‘But,’ he added, ‘what are they among so many!’ But now Jesus commanded them to make the people sit down. The multitude therefore sat down upon the green grass (Mar 6:39). From this rural allusion we may draw an inference concerning the time of year: it was in the Palestinian spring-time. This corresponds with our narrative; for we stand between the feast of Purim and the Passover.9 They were to sit down in separate divisions or ranks of a hundred and of fifty men. By this means it was seen that the whole multitude consisted of about five thousand men, besides the individual women and children who were amongst the train.

Jesus stepped into the midst of His guests, took the food, and looked up to heaven, giving thanks: He was sure of the blessing, of the overflowing gift which He had to bestow. Surely, in this moment His guests must have more than ever admired and revered Him; wondering, they hung upon His lips. Then He broke the bread and divided the fish. He gave the food to the disciples, and they distributed it amongst the people. They all ate and were filled; this was shown by there being an overplus of twelve baskets full of bread, which was gathered up after the meal.10 Christ had fed them with His bread, His faith, His divine power, and His loving blessing. They surely hardly knew what had happened to them at this holy meal. They had experienced a great miracle; and they decided that Jesus was ‘of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world.’ This was the designation of the Messiah in the more indeterminate sense. And now they were on the point of encircling Him and of leading Him down in triumph into the inhabited country as the King of Israel. Jesus remarked this; and apparently He at the same time perceived that the disciples also were taken up with this scheme of the multitude, perhaps even were seriously excited by it. Therefore He constrained them at once to leave Him. He sent them down to the sea-shore with the command that they were at once to set sail, whilst in the meantime He would send away the multitude. The disciples therefore descended the side of the hill in the direction of the sea, whilst Jesus dismissed the people; and very soon, in the darkness of the evening, He retired to the solitude of the mountain-top in order there to pray.

The question now arises, how we are to understand the command of Christ with respect to the sailing of the disciples. Were they entirely to leave Him behind on the eastern shore, and to cross over to Capernaum without Him? This common supposition Wieseler has combated in an ingenious hypothesis, which appears to us to be partly well founded (Chronolog. Synopse, p. 274). Jesus, namely, according to Wieseler, commanded the disciples to begin their passage, and to proceed as far as Bethsaida-Julias on the eastern shore, whilst in the meantime He would send away the multitude, and then join them at the appointed time.11 So far the author’s hypothesis appears to us to be well founded. But when he goes on to suppose that the disciples had really landed again after the storm on the eastern shore, had there taken up the Lord to cross over to the western side, we cannot agree with him in this view. The grounds for not doing so we will state below. The disciples then wished to steer along the coast. But even as the sun was setting the vessel was driven out far from the shore by a strong wind, and was soon in the middle of the sea.12 Jesus now plainly saw that, in spite of violent efforts in rowing, they were overpowered by the contrary wind (Mar 6:48). Thus night drew on and He was not come to them (Joh 6:17). He was waiting for them on the shore, and they were struggling with painful exertion to come to Him through the raging sea. Thus midnight passed. But when the third watch was passed, and they had already come five and twenty or thirty furlongs on their perilous passage across the sea (which is about forty furlongs broad), they beheld Him coming towards them upon the sea. Their painful struggling to reach Him, the yearning of His heart after the distressed disciples, was the motive for this miraculous walk. As on the wings of pity, the Lord hastened to them with the howling wind and upon roaring waves, whilst they with their ship were struggling towards His coast against the wind and waves in vain. He came quite near to the vessel, and seemed to wish to hasten on before it, as if He would fain show them the easy way to the west. But when they saw the human figure walking upon the waves, they exclaimed with terror: ‘It is a spirit!’ He came near to the ship, and they cried out with fear. But He called out to them, ‘It is I,’ and encouraged them. And now they, on their side, were as anxious to receive Him into the ship as He, on His side, was desirous of drawing them on upon the flood.13 But His call to them had kindled in Peter’s heart a great fire of enthusiasm, and the disciple called out to Jesus to give him a sign that it was really He by bidding him come to Him on the water. ‘Come!’ the Lord cried. Peter stepped out of the ship and walked on the waves. The miraculous kingdom of Jesus had received Him: the power of Jesus upheld him. But it seemed as if the howling wind wanted to try him, for it blew more violently; the disciple began to reflect, to waver in his heart, and then immediately to sink. The lofty water-treader became a fearful swimmer, who could hardly keep himself above water, shrieking out: ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stood at his side, and seized him by the hand, with the tender rebuke: ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ And now both were received into the ship, whilst the wind gently subsided. The disciples had never been so much impressed by the majesty of Christ as they were now by this miracle (Mar 6:51). For the miracle of the loaves had not yet entered rightly into their hearts, because their heart was hardened (ver. 52). They now came and surrounded Him; they fell down before Him, and the cry was heard: ‘Of a truth Thou art the Son of God!’ But as soon as they were in some measure restored to calmness, they found that they were already at the shore for which they had been steering. Thus their having wanted to receive Him into the ship had become, so to say, superfluous; for even as they were on the point of doing it, they had reached the shore.14

In the meantime, the dawn had broken. The people on the shore at once recognized the honoured Seafarer, and the news was quickly spread that He was again there. And now they began again to hunt up the sick from every quarter to bring to Him, that He might heal them. He had, as it would seem, yet other places to pass through before He reached Capernaum;15 and in these He everywhere found sick people laid in the streets, for whom they craved His help. The numbers of these sick people seemed almost too large for Him to be able to heal them singly by laying His hands upon them; therefore many begged permission to touch merely His garment. And even thus His healing power availed for all who were suffering. The people were now at the climax of their devotion to Him, of their belief in His miraculous power; and therefore also His healing powers were diffused throughout the national life in the richest streams; whilst from the heights of the hierarchy He was already everywhere met by a decided hostility.



1. According to Von Ammon (ii. 182), the opinion of Herod Antipas, that in Jesus, John the Baptist was risen from the dead, is connected with the doctrine of the transmigration of souls; and that thus about the time of Jesus the mystical transmigration of souls had become the half Pythagorean, half cabalistic faith of the multitude. But the proofs which he adduces in favour of this supposition are not adequate. When, for example, he observes that, according to Josephus (De Bell. Jud. vii. 6, 3), the Pharisees held that the demons expelled from those possessed by means of the herb Baaras were the souls of wicked men, this is clearly an argument against the above-mentioned supposition. For, according to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, the departed soul must continue to live in other creatures or men as their own soul, as the principle of life to them, and not, like demons, take captive both these beings and their souls in the form of possession. And if, on the other hand, the souls of wicked men can only force a way for themselves into life in such a horrid way as demons, it is a proof that the way of an appointed transmigration of souls is not open to them. Men confound here two things outwardly similar, but which in essence are not only different, but quite opposed to one another; much in the same way as men have confounded the free act of renouncing the devil, which was imposed upon candidates for baptism in the early Church, with the exorcism which sprung up later. By the expression ῥαστώνη τοῦ ἀναβιοῦν (Antiq. xviii. 1, 3) Josephus wished no doubt to make somewhat plainer to his readers formed in the Greco-Roman school the doctrine of the resurrection. The true theory of the transmigration of souls says nothing of a facility of returning to life again, but of a necessity of continuing to live in appointed changes. But yet we cannot contest Von Amnion’s view, that, amongst other heathen opinions, the above-named one may also in certain respects have infected the Jewish systems of that period.

2. The conjecture of ‘criticism’ (see Strauss, ii. 188), according to which the first and second feeding stand towards each other as only two different inaccurate accounts of one and the same fact or tradition, can have no longer any weight with us (apart from the sharply defined differences between the two relations), since both feedings, as will be shown hereafter when we come to speak of the second, stand clearly forth in the life of Jesus as distinct events, belonging to different times and circumstances.



1) Διηπὸρει, says Luke (ix. 7).

2) Διὰ τοῦτο αἱ δυνάμεις ἐνεργοῦσιν ἐν αὐτῷ. Apparently, like his spiritual kinsman Henry VI II., Herod too had a mind to play the theologian.

3) It is evident from the accounts of the Evangelists, that they added the narrative of John s execution in order at the same time to indicate the motive for Jesus thus crossing the sea.

4) That the bloody head on the dish should represent, so to say, the dessert, as has been remarked, is untrue; for certainly neither Salome nor her mother were among the guests.

5) Comp. Von Raumer's Palästina, p. 255.

6) Comp. Wieseler's Chronoloy. Synopse, p. 250.

7) See Neander's Church History, ii. 16 [Bohn].

8) [For a description of the probable scene of the miracle, see Thomson, Land and Book, p. 372. ED.]

9) In Palestine the spring commences with the middle of February. If in this year the feast of Purim fell on the 19th of March (see Wieseler, p. 223), we shall find ourselves here in the latter part of March, and therefore about the middle of the Palestinian spring.

10) The twelve baskets which were used for gathering up the fragments were, no doubt, at all events travelling baskets, though they scarcely could have belonged to the apostles; as if, for example, each one of them had carried a bread-basket. But as they all were engaged in gathering up the fragments, they would naturally each take a basket from among those that were available; hence the number twelve. The problem, how it was that the twelve baskets came at once to hand in the wilderness, appears hardly yet to have been agitated.

11) Προάγειν (εἰς τὸ πέραν) πρὸς Βηθσαΐδαν, Mark vi. 45. Even supposing one chose to take it a being Bethsaida on the western side, one might easily retain the notion that they were to take Jesus in at a spot on the eastern side.

12) ἾΙόη μέσον τῆς θαλάσσης ἣν, Mark xiv. 24. The ἤδη is difficult to explain according to the usual supposition. About the time of sunset they were already in the midst of the sea. And yet they had contrary wind and a bad passage; the ship was being driven on against their will. This could only be explained by their wanting to land on the eastern shore in order to take up Jesus.

13) The ἤθελον οὖν of John (ver. 21) and the ἤθελε παρελθεῖν of Mark (ver. 48) naturally illustrate each other.

14) Concerning Wieseler’s supposition, which has been already mentioned, that the disciples had now really landed at the specified spot by Julias, and that they had now first begun the passage across the sea, the following may be said in its favour:—1. The words of John, that they willingly received Him, would then be more in accordance with the account of the synoptists. 2. It would be more apparently shown that it was already broad day when Jesus appeared on the western coast, and that the people immediately gathered round Him. Lut the grounds are certainly much more weighty for the contrary supposition. Since the voyagers wanted after all to sail to the west, there would have been no need for them to have first landed on the eastern side after Jesus was come into the ship. But yet more important is the circumstance, that John evidently represents the occurrence as if Jesus had walked across the whole sea. He could not thus have written if Jesus had only come a certain distance to meet His disciples.—[For a very simple and sufficient explanation, see ‘Thomson, Land and Book, p. 372.—ED.]

15) From which we may conclude, with tolerable certainty, that He had landed at Bethsaida.—[But Bethsaida is not in Gennesaret, where the Evangelists say He landed. The distance from some parts of Gennesaret to Capernaum is as great as from Bethsaida to Capernaum, and the country probably as populous. Josephus (Bell, Jud. iii, 10, 8) confines the name Gennesaret to a tract of land scarecly tour miles long, but of a wonderful temperature and fertility —ED.]