The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the feast of the Passover in the year of persecution

(Joh 6:4. Luk 10:38-42. Mat 15:1-2; chap. 21:1-3; chap. 26:18, ver. 36; chap. 27:57)

The feast of the Passover was near at hand when Jesus, in the synagogue at Capernaum, had to see many of His disciples withdraw from Him on account of their taking offence at that great declaration of His, in which He set forth in what sense He was the Principle of life to the world. After this we know not in what direction He immediately bent His steps. He did not Himself travel with the caravan of His fellow-countrymen going up to the feast of the Passover. For John relates, that about this time Jesus ‘walked in Galilee; for He would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill Him.’ But we have certain indications that His disciples attended this Passover feast. It was in the summer of the same year that a deputation of scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem, and called Him to account because His disciples did not observe the traditions of the elders, in that they washed not their hands before taking meat. This fact we can only explain by the disciples having been recently present in Jerusalem, where they had given offence by their independent behaviour. But as we find them again in Galilee in the company of Jesus very soon after the Passover feast (Luk 6:1), we are forced to suppose that it was during the Passover feast that they had been in Jerusalem. But it is also natural to suppose that Jesus wished His disciples to attend this feast. How should He cause such an offence to the people as that of allowing the whole company of His disciples to be absent from this great national celebration? But if the disciples did visit the feast, we might expect that they would there be most sharply observed by the watchful enemies of their Master, who would now have gladly seized hold of Him if they could have done so. But the disciples were now again not at all disposed to resign themselves to fearful apprehensions concerning their Master’s future. They had only lately seen that the people had wished to make Him a king, and their hopes again ran high. Besides, they were too guileless to estimate at its right value the deadly malice with which the enemies of Jesus were skulkingly watching His steps. Nay, we may venture to suppose that they had now come by degrees to that stage of their development, in which they felt themselves impelled as disciples manfully, like the Protestantism of later days, to turn to bay against the hierarchy. They had now probably come to a point at which they had less consideration than afterwards they had for the timid and scrupulous amongst their people. This phenomenon is frequently exhibited in the course of development through which men pass, who are advancing from a legal to an evangelical stage of feeling. We will by the way just remind our readers of Luther. Now, if the disciples were, for the most part, about this time filled with the desire for religious freedom (as is shown some time later by their intercession for the Canaanitish woman), and if hence they might have been, for the most part, easily aroused to a certain feeling of opposition against the hierarchy, whose enmity towards their Master they knew; then this disposition might now gain a freer scope, since they were not appearing there under the immediate direction of Jesus, and hence possibly felt the proud consciousness of having for this time to fight His cause all alone in Jerusalem. With all this, their gainsayers were only able to hunt out a very insignificant offence in their behaviour.

Nevertheless, Jesus appears to have remained near them, since, as we shall presently show, He was almost immediately again in their midst. But if about this time He did not appear in Jerusalem, nor yet, as we know from John, teach in its immediate neighbourhood, yet it does not follow from this that He might not have remained in seclusion near His disciples. And for this supposition there are positive grounds.

Luke tells us (10:38), that once, as they were journeying along, He Himself entered into a certain village, whilst they went on, or continued their journey.1 It is plain that this mention by Luke of the entrance of Jesus into Martha’s house at Bethany forms a totally distinct section. It is not immediately connected with what precedes it, else we should have to think of the departing or travelling lawyer, and not of the travellers; and the scene, too, must then be laid, not in Judea, but in Perea. It could not, however, have happened during Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem, when He remained a longer time in Perea, and was summoned from thence to Bethany in order to heal Lazarus.2 For at that time there was already existing an intimate friendship between Jesus and the house of Lazarus; and the family, moreover, was in a state of great excitement. But here we see this friendship in its first stage, and we find the family in the most peaceful circumstances. But as we cannot place this incident at a later time, so also it does not appear to belong to the earlier history of Jesus, since Luke has related it so far on in his history. This incident, like so many others, Luke appears to have received from the female disciples of Jesus.

Probably the tradition which he received ran literally thus: It came to pass, that whilst those continued on their way, He Himself entered into a village. And amongst those who then went on their way, the disciples were no doubt included. It may be conjectured that Jesus accompanied them on their Passover journey as far as Bethany.

Now, if about this time He privately visited His friends in Bethany, we may suppose that He had determined to devote this journey principally to the making of visits. He was seeking out the faithful ones with whom He had already before come in contact. As a persecuted man, He turned in to their dwellings, having a presentiment that the time of His sacrifice was approaching. He might be giving them many an intimation which they would silently treasure up, and would sorrowfully revolve in their faithful breasts, and especially He might be making particular arrangements to remain with them in view of the time of His last public appearance in Jerusalem. And thus especially might that solemn presentiment have arisen in the mind of Mary, which afterwards led her to anoint Him as for His burial. Even in Bethphage He apparently had faithful friends. For afterwards an ass stood here at His disposal, when He returned the following year to make His entrance into the city. An unknown friend in Jerusalem lent Him a furnished room in his house, for Him to keep His last Passover. At the same time, another willingly placed at His disposal his garden, situated in a retired spot in the valley of Kidron, Gethsemane. Surely it were possible that Jesus might have seen these silent friends during this very journey which He was now making. Perhaps He also met Joseph of Arimathea on this occasion. The Evangelists give us to feel that a veil of secrecy rested over these intimacies, and over many an understanding which arose out of them.

We must certainly not overlook the possibility that Jesus may have made these silent visits earlier, at the time of His last departure from Jerusalem. But this is not probable, for then He did not accompany His disciples; also His return had then, according to John’s account, the character of haste.

In Bethany, a woman named Martha received Him into her house. She appears to be the mistress of the house, even though a brother, Lazarus, as we know from John, belongs to the household. For this reason, and because Jesus afterwards is entertained and waited on by these sisters and their brother in the house of Simon the leper, we may come to the conclusion that Martha was mistress of the house, as being the widow and heiress of a man called Simon. Martha’s sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His word, just after the fashion that the rabbinical scholars of that time sat at the feet of their teachers. Thus occupied, she forgot the whole house and the whole world. Martha, on the contrary, was busy and absorbed in household cares, especially in a grand entertainment, with which she desired to distinguish the honoured guest. She felt herself, as it would seem, in her element in such occupation. Mary appeared to her as half idle, as overstepping her womanly position, to be thus neglecting to render proper help in these household cares for the guest, and she thought it her duty to blame her, apparently with mingled feelings, half vexed and half cheerful. She therefore requested the Lord that He would send Mary to help in the house. But Jesus took His unemployed pupil under His protection. ‘Martha! Martha! thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful.’ One need, one disposition and care, one course of action; ever only one salvation, and the oneness of mind which in everything continues fixed upon this one thing. In this mind Mary has made her choice: ‘she has chosen the good (the best) part, which shall not be taken away from her.’

Martha’s service, too, had a noble object. But in all her service she considered herself as the stately provider for the wants of a needy, even though a highly honoured guest; therefore she could not attend much to His teaching though He was in the midst of her house. Mary, on the contrary, thought of herself as the light and salvation needing disciple, the disciple of a Master whose human necessities vanished amid the splendours of His divine kingdom, concerning whom she knew that He was better served by a teachable mind than by large hospitality; and in this spirit she had sat herself down at His feet. Perhaps Martha herself had some sense of her sister’s higher position; only she could not readily bring herself to confess it. Yes, she even ventured before Jesus to designate Mary’s position as a false one. Martha has with justice been considered as the type of Judaism, pious, but legally fettered; and Mary as the type of Christianity, free, and happy in believing. It is, however, to be remarked, that though Martha blames Mary, Mary does not blame Martha. So it is at the present day. Mary is ever being called upon to help Martha in the great serving of her outward Christianity; to-day, in the great service of ceremonies; to-morrow, in some other morbid over-activity. Mary is silent. She knows how to value the active zeal of Martha; but she knows that the Lord is not so needy as Mary imagines—that she in His presence may devote herself to supplying her own needs with His heavenly riches. The Lord takes her under His protection. As well now, when she is blamed for her apparent inactivity, as afterwards, when she is blamed for her apparently superfluous act of anointing Him. In both cases He protects the festal earnestness, humility, and loftiness, of the true disciple-mind, against the unquiet, sinful littleness of the work-day mind. The Lord, no doubt, knows how to estimate also the faithful spirit of Martha. He felt for her with all these honest and heartfelt cares about those many things. With a gentle rebuke He shows her how she is punishing herself, and points her to the one thing needful, namely, oneness of mind, in referring all needs and all doing to the one salvation in the life-giving word of the one Saviour.



1) Ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι αὐτούς.

2) Comp. De Wette, zu Luk., p. 64.