The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the last public appearance of Jesus at Capernaum. discussions among the disciples relative to the primacy

(Mat 17:24-27; Mat 18:1-5. Mar 9:33-37. Luk 9:46-48)

That Jesus, after His public appearance at the feast of Tabernacles, returned once more from Judea to Galilee, and that He then took leave of this country accompanied by a large train of followers, has been proved already.

But a question now arises, whether this return to Galilee took place immediately after the occurrences at the feast of Tabernacles (after Joh 10:21), or after the public appearance at the feast of Dedication (after Joh 10:39). The most numerous reasons, and those (we think) of a decisive character, seem to be in favour of the former supposition.

It is certainly true that John relates Christ’s public appearance at the feast of Dedication in unbroken connection with that at the feast of Tabernacles, and does not, in the place where, on the above supposition, it would properly have come in (between ver. 21 and ver. 22), say anything about Jesus having in the meantime gone to Galilee. But, nevertheless, it is surely without justification that some have thence concluded, that therefore, according to John, no such intermediate piece of history could have taken place.1 For in the way in which the Evangelist leaves unmentioned the journey from Judea into Galilee, between the fifth and sixth chapters, we see a most striking example how, in putting together different scenes, he allows himself to pass over most important particulars of this kind which took place between.2 But when he does give a specification of change of place at all, he does it with a distinctness which does not so easily allow of our further introducing particular explanations, as would, for example, be necessary in reference to the statement in 10:40, that after the feast of Dedication Jesus went again into Perea, which we should be compelled to understand as meaning that He went first into Galilee and then into Perea, if we assumed that it was not till after the feast of Dedication that He returned to Galilee.

Against this last supposition several other circumstances seem to us to militate. The feast of Dedication began with the 20th of December. If, then, Jesus did not go back into Galilee at the expiration of the feast of Tabernacles, on the 19th of October, we should have to assume that He passed the whole intervening time, that is, two full months, in Judea in concealment. No doubt, He would in this case gain the opportunity of effecting much good in a secret manner among the Judean disciples; but yet, two months appear too much to be assigned in this manner. And, on the other side, the time elapsing between the close of the feast of Dedication (the 27th of December) and His public reappearance in Judea before the next Passover-feast, six days before the Passover (towards the 1st of April), that is, a period of about three months, would hardly be enough to take in all the occurrences which, on the supposition in question, would have to fall into the time. For there would have to be compressed into it the following events:-The return of Jesus into Galilee; His closing ministry there; then His setting off in the direction of Samaria, and His wandering through the border-country between Samaria and Galilee into Perea; further, His journey to the farthest districts of Perea, and His longer ministry there; lastly, His going to Bethany to ‘awake’ Lazarus, and His last concealed residence in the town Ephraim. To this must be added, that a setting out from Galilee to go into Judea just immediately after the close of a feast (namely, the feast of Dedication), would appear to lack explanation.

In favour of the other supposition, that after the feast of Tabernacles Jesus returned into Galilee, and from thence journeyed into Perea, there are several important considerations. We do not mean to lay any stress upon the departing words which Jesus spoke at His last public appearance on the feast of Tabernacles, although they express His determination now to take the last decisive steps, and not much longer to conceal Himself. But this, at any rate, appears to us to be more material, that Jesus’ departure for Jerusalem after the expiration of His last residence in Galilee is fully accounted for by the nearness of the feast of Dedication. Next, a small but definite statement in St John seems to us to be here of great importance. The Evangelist states, that after the feast of Dedication, ‘Jesus went away again beyond Jordan’ (ἀπῆλθε πάλιν πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου). This clearly points back to a foregoing residence of Jesus in Perea. But then the Evangelist adds a further specification, which is to be taken good account of as well. He says that Jesus went again into Perea, ‘to the place where John at first baptized, and there abode.’ It follows that, on this occasion, Jesus stayed close by the left bank of Jordan. With a high degree of probability, it is considered that this notice is meant to describe a contrast between His present stay in Perea and the one last preceding; respecting which Mark states that Jesus went through Perea into the coasts of Judea, and engaged in the work of His ministry in that distant neighbourhood: evidently a different locality (Mar 10:1).

What has been now said is, we think, sufficient to make good our assumption, that about this time Jesus returned into Galilee to bring His work there to an end.

On returning into Galilee, Jesus again appeared publicly, but (without doubt) under the same conditions as at Jerusalem, namely, amidst a circle of friends. As He was preparing His followers for the last crisis in His course, it was natural that they were now surrounding Him in greater numbers. Thus, then, He also came back once more with His disciples to Capernaum. But soon it appeared how much His enemies had succeeded in shaking His former popularity. The collectors of the temple-tax hit upon the thought of having Him reminded of a debt, which it was pretended had for some time fallen due. ‘Doth not your Master pay the two-drachma piece?’ they asked Peter. This was the term by which the temple-tax was known.3 In all probability this hint was nothing more than a piece of malignant chicanery. For, even if they were not disposed to heed the consideration, that as a prophet Jesus held a position according to which they were bound to refer the payment of the temple-tax to His own option, yet they surely were not in a case to know whether He had not already paid the amount elsewhere. They also appear to have even neglected to demand the didrachma of Peter. In this act of the officials connected with the temple there was a plain reflection of the disfavour with which Jesus was regarded by the priesthood. The under-officers were becoming rude to Him, and thereby gave it to be understood how their superiors were affected towards Him. So dogs begin to bark upon the stranger when he has been in an unfriendly manner dismissed by the proprietor.

Peter had hastily given the officials the assurance that certainly Jesus would pay the two-drachma piece. It is very supposable that he did not distinctly feel the sting in their application, and in a spirit of noble pride thought scorn of disputing with them respecting such a trifle. As he did not at once proceed to speak to the Lord of the engagement which he had made, we may, perhaps, assume that he had meant to settle the business, as being such a trifle, out of his own resources. But Jesus anticipated him. As soon as He returned to their dwelling, He addressed to him the question, ‘What thinkest thou, Simon? From which class of men do kings of the earth take custom or tribute? From their own sons, or from other people’ (their subjects)? Peter thought the answer plain and easy: ‘From other people.’ Jesus drew the inference: ‘Then the children are exempt.’ And now He was able at once to assume that Simon understood Him: He regarding the temple as the citadel of God; Himself with His spiritual partners as the free children of the Lord of the citadel; and the Jews, on the contrary, as the subjects bound to the maintenance of the citadel, and consequently bound to pay the temple-tax.4 But, however, in the present case, He neither would assert His own immunity (and for the additional reason that Peter had clearly made that engagement for Him), nor directly allow the claim of the tax-collectors, because thereby He would have recognized an error. He therefore gave His disciple the commission ‘to go to the sea and throw out his angling-line.’ He promised him that he should forthwith draw a fish, and find a stater or four-drachma piece as soon as he opened its mouth. This stater he was to pay for Jesus and for himself. Thus does the Prince of the temple have the temple-tax collected from Him; He has the sum fetched up with an angling-rod out of the depths of the sea.

The disciples, however, were not put out by the symptoms, which were more and more frequently showing themselves, of the slight regard with which their Lord was treated: the less so, inasmuch as they saw how triumphantly He came forth out of every conflict. Nay, it was just about this time that their especial chiliastic expectations and claims began to gather strength. Why, the Lord had told them, had He not, that the end was now near? As for His announcements of coming sorrow, these they let be; they held fast by the supposition that the sorrow could only be of a passing character, while the final issue must be joyous. But it seemed to them that it would now soon be time for them to ascertain what dignities they should severally hold in the coming kingdom. And thus it came to pass that a dispute arose among them, ‘who of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,’ or who would take the highest place next to Christ Himself in His kingdom. It was on their way, as they were coming home from the same journey in which Peter had had that hint given him by the tax-collectors, that they had been engaged in the animated discussion of this question. They had discussed it as much as possible behind His back; but nevertheless He read it in the excitement and disturbance visible in their countenances. When they were returned and in the house, He assembled them around Him, and asked them, ‘What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?’ ‘But they held their peace,’ says Mark. On the other hand, Matthew remarks, that ‘they came to Jesus, and asked Him, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Out of this seeming contradiction there fashions itself to our minds a speaking scene. With feelings of the highest excitement they are standing round their Master. He shall solve for them the question of the primacy. Their countenances ask, and yet they will not come out plainly with the words; they seem to feel that His spirit is against this questioning about primacy.

And their feeling is verified by the result. Jesus called a child and placed it in their midst.5 An ambitious ecclesiastic present there, might at this moment have conceived an apprehension that this child was to be invested with the primacy. But, in fact, the Lord’s aim was to emancipate His disciples from the hierarchical spirit by three significant utterances.

The first was, ‘Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.’

The second: ‘If one humbles himself, becomes least of all, and servant of all, little as this child, he shall be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

The third: ‘And whoever receives such a child in My name, receives Me; and he that receives Me, receives Him that sent Me.

The first expresses the thought, that lustings after primacy must be quelled in the disciples of Christ by a radical conversion and regeneration.

According to the second, such lustings should then be yet more put away through the law of Christian brotherly love, which makes it the holiest duty for every Christian that he should exercise towards his brethren the deepest humility, and the most sincere disposition to subserve their welfare.

According to the third, such lustings should be wholly destroyed by the perfect knowledge of the truth that every child has the destination of receiving into itself the life of Christ, and therewith the life of God; and that, in pursuance of this destination, it should be trained for God and Christ in the realization of the highest freedom from men.

And thus shall the disciple through three successive steps become free from all disposition to claim a hierarchical primacy for himself, and from all acknowledgment of a hierarchical primacy in others; namely, by himself arriving at a threefold evangelical primacy, and by learning to reverence the same in others.

The first primacy is the dignity of being a spiritual child of God. The second is the fair honour of free, self-sacrificing brotherly love; wherein a man becomes great in proportion as in true humility he humbles himself to serve and love. The third is the high consecration implied in the calling to receive in the heart, and to exhibit in the conversation, the life of Christ and of God realized in the royal priestliness conferred by Christ’s Spirit. This is the triple crown of the Christian. He who has himself received it knows that all men are called to wear as believers that crown, and that all service in the Church is designed to train them to realize this calling.

The whole manner in which our Lord treats the question shows that the kingdom of God is designed, in its official relations, to form the direct opposite to official relations in the world. The fundamental impulse of the world is for all to struggle upwards towards power and distinction in order to overtop and to rule each other. On the other hand, the fundamental impulse of the kingdom of God is this, that all shall stoop down in humility and serving love in order to draw each other up. And it is just by the might of this disposition to stoop that we are to measure a man’s greatness in the kingdom of God (see Philip. 2:6. seqq.)6 Therefore must the disciples be converted, and in unassumingness and self-surrender become like children.7



1. Neander also assumes that Christ went down into Galilee immediately after the feast of Tabernacles. It is true that he at the same time supposes that Jesus really made His last journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem through Samaria; and thereby the clear sequency of events, which Neander at this point retains is subsequently again obscured. B. Jacobi, in the above-cited treatise (p. 5), disputes this view of the order of events as it is set forth in Neander. He considers that it is hard to assume, that after His transfiguration, and so many discourses respecting what lay before Him in Jerusalem, Jesus should have gone thither, and yet have then once more returned back into Galilee.

2. That the narration of children being brought to Christ at a later time in Perea, that He might bless them, relates to an altogether different occurrence, is so plain as to require no elucidation. Even Strauss (i. 722), in spite of the similarity of the two occurrences, is of opinion that we may here suppose cases originally different which (he supposes) have become assimilated. To these features of assimilation it would certainly belong that, according to Mark, Jesus also here, as well as in the later occurrence, took the child which He placed in the midst of the disciples in His arms,—if there were any difficulty in believing that He did this twice at different times (comp. Mar 9:36; Mar 10:16). Next, Strauss thinks it unlikely that the sentence, Whoever of you will be the greatest shall be servant of all, should have been spoken, (1.) when He set forward a child, (2.) on the occasion of the request of Zebedee’s children, (3.) in the discourse against the Pharisees, and (4.) at the Last Supper. It will be apparent that, above all, Christ’s treatment of Salome and the sons of Zebedee is thoroughly original, and that here the repetition of the sentence in question is quite in its place, because the point aimed at was the instruction of a new and enlarged circle of disciples. In the discourse against the Pharisees, on the other hand (Matt. 23), it occurs as one ingredient of a larger discourse in a connection wholly new, and organically developed. The last discourse of the kind, which Luke assigns to the time of the Passover, certainly in the character of its expressions agrees most with the second in Matthew, but in its historical idea it runs parallel with Matthew’s third.



1) See Lücke, ii. p. 423.

2) [The same instance of the character of John s narrative is cited by Riggenbach (Vorlesungen, p. 421), who adds (p. 565) as proof of our Lord s absence from Jerusalem between the feast of Tabernacles and the Dedication, that at the latter feast He alludes (x. 26) to the words He had spoken at the former, which He could scarcely have done had many of His words intervened between these two utterances. Lichtenstein (p. 200) presses the high improbability of His remaining in Judea after the attempt to stone Him.—ED.]

3) The temple-tax fell due in the month of Adar (March). It is therefore in this ease supposed that Jesus was in arrears with His payment. Most certainly Wieseler’s assumption (in his work already cited, p. 264) is mistaken, that the reminding Him of it could only have taken place about the time of payment, and that it therefore admits of being used as a chronological datum, But there is yet less occasion for our supposing, with Wieseler, that a Roman impost is referred to. For against the government of Rome Jesus would not have been able to plead conceptions belonging to the ideal of the theocracy, in the same way as He could against parties entrusted with the administration of the temple,

4) See John viii. 35.

5) According to the legend, this child was the martyr Ignatius.

6) See Olshausen, ii. 233.

7) ʻΣτρέφεσθαι, alter the direction of their minds; instead of going upwards, they should go downwards.ʼ—Olsh.