The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section XXV

the artifices of the pharisees

(Luk 13:31-35)

Although the train which was now gathered around Jesus might seem to continue too small to a disciple who perhaps had his hopes fixed only on worldly greatness, yet we can easily imagine, that to the Pharisees it would seem too large. They saw with feelings of apprehension how many Galileans were flocking to Him, and they determined upon an artifice to get Him out of Galilee. Accordingly, some of them came to Him under the pretence of giving Him a friendly warning of a danger which was threatening his life. They pretended that they had learnt that ‘Herod was minded to kill Him,’ and advised Him to go away with all speed and quit the country of Galilee.

But He was not to be led astray by such paltry manúuvres. He quickly dismissed them with the answer, ‘Go and tell that fox, Behold I cast out devils and accomplish cures to-day and to-morrow; and on the third day I shall close my course.’

‘However,’ He adds, ‘I must’ (must, in order to complete His course) ‘walk to-day and to-morrow, and the day following; for it is not allowable that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.’

They know now why He does not choose to flee. First, He will not flee, because He is quite certain of the time which is assigned Him still to live; so that He is able to work cheerfully as Heaven has called Him to work, in casting out demons and healing the sick, without being in the least degree concerned about the plots of crafty foxes. In the second place, He will not flee, because He as certainly also knows, that beyond the third day, beyond the near time of His impending death, He cannot get away with life, and shall not, because He is ready for death. In the third place, He will not flee, because He is conscious that He is going forward to meet His appointed end of His own free-will, and because He is ready even to take three day’s-journeys more for the purpose of offering Himself to His death in Jerusalem. With the three day’s-journeys, which may be reckoned as about sufficient to bring a man to Jerusalem, the Lord seems to mark the short period which is still given Him to walk in.

There breathes in these words of our Lord an indescribably delicate air of lofty cheerfulness, of divine joyousness, tempered with a certain feeling of melancholy. We must not forget, that in this heavenly gleam of a spirit which is as cheerful as it is holy,1 exulting in the soaring consciousness of perfect assurance of safety, of divine joyousness, of perfect openness and sincerity on His own part, and of complete insight into the thoughts of others, Jesus sets Himself face to face with the pitiful tricks of chicanery—tricks which have cowardly hearts for their origin, and reckon upon a cowardly heart as their object.

It is a question whether that statement of the Pharisees, that Herod was going about to kill Jesus, was a pure invention of their own, or whether they were acting upon a certain mutual understanding with Herod, brought about through the Herodians. If the latter were the case, we should still have to regard this as no more than an empty threat, employed by the government to frighten Him out of Galilee. For that Herod had actually formed any design against the life of Jesus is in the highest degree unlikely: he had done enough in murdering John.

If we were to assume that Jesus knew the statement of the Pharisees to be a mere fiction of their own,2 we should be hardly able to explain, in this case, why Christ should take occasion, from cunning which was altogether theirs, to give the name of fox to Herod. There would be nothing to lead to this, unless they had told Him that Herod had given some hint of his purpose, or that they had come from him. As they do not (according to the view we are now considering) profess to come from him, it is hard to see how Christ could have sent them with a message to him. And if in this case He would call Herod a fox in speaking to them, they would scarcely be led to apply this to themselves, though they might be clever enough to take a hint readily.

Rather, the circumstance that Jesus sends them to Herod, though they do not profess to come from him, and that it is Herod that He designates as the wily one, whilst they are themselves seeking to come round Him with the artifices of wile, seems to lead to the conclusion that the Pharisees have really an understanding with Herod in their opposition to Jesus. They would fain represent themselves as confidential friends of Jesus, taking part with Him against the plots of Herod. But He sees through the artifice, and sends them back to Herod, as the person in whose confidence they really were.3 The answer which He, at the same time, gives them, presents no difficulty. If the prince had sent Him a message in his proper character as prince, Jesus would have returned an answer framed with a holy attention to a subject’s duty. But when the prince, acting as a private individual, sought to bring intimidation to bear upon Him by a sly and unworthy artifice, then Jesus had no longer to deal with the prince, but with the man, with an enemy at once wily and cowardly, and framed His answer accordingly. However, the answer would have the like importance, whether in its essential import it was meant to mark the wiliness of Herod or that of the Pharisees.4 For, taken literally, the censuring appellation was in any case applied to Herod, and the Pharisees would have the opportunity afforded them of running to Herod therewith in the character of informers, even if they had not had any concert with him previously.

Here again we see the exalted firmness which is displayed in the position which Jesus maintained, in that He could dismiss His enemies with such a message to this prince, and then could go on as calmly with His work in Galilee as a child might repose on the breast of its mother. The appointed shepherds and fathers of the people would fain scare Him away as if He were an evil-doer, while He is unweariedly occupied in doing good, chasing the spirits of darkness out of the possessed, and restoring life to the sick; but in spite of their intimidations, He perseveres in His work for the whole time which is still assigned to Him as dauntless as if He knew of no danger: He shows what security in God is, and what is the victory of love over hatred. Jesus was well aware that He was shortly to die in Jerusalem. The cutting word by which He designated Jerusalem as the central place of all executions of prophets, is certainly not to be understood to the letter. The very last prophet who was put to death before Himself, John the Baptist, had very recently fallen by the hand of Herod. But in spite of such exceptions, there yet remained to the city of Jerusalem the mournful prerogative of being the proper murderess of the prophets; but especially so in the symbolical sense. For full enmity to the prophets of God is only possible where their message is and can be heard, and therefore is to be looked for in the figurative city of God which will not become the city of God in reality.5 The solemn reference made to Jerusalem led the Evangelist Luke to bring in here the word in which, on a later occasion, Jesus spoke more fully of the unbelief of this city.






1) Humour, in its essential nature, consists in playfully drawing some object, which inwardly is mere nothingness, while outwardly it seems weighty, into the heaven s light of the Eternal, for the purpose of displaying it in its real character, and thereby dissolving its false terrors in the clear light of truth, and transforming the alarm into a triumph of the light. It follows that the Christian spirit does not do away with humour, but only glorifies it. It is seen in its grandest manifestation in the laughing derision with which Easter exults over Satan. In the Old Testament, this festive kind of refined joking, this pious angels derision, as we may call humour, plays especially about the appearing upc/n the scene of Goliath. The genuine Sunday afternoon s feeling is, in its best sense, humorous; it should properly serve to annihilate a thousand false sham gravities of the earthly mind.

2) Which is the view of Ebrard and Stier.

3) We cannot here make much use of the circumstance that Herod once wished to see Jesus ; for that circumstance, as we have seen, belongs to a much earlier period. We may believe that the tetrareh was, in particular, led to conceive hostile purposes against Him, by finding that individuals belonging to his own court were attaching themselves to Him. See Luke viii. 3; Acts xiii. 1, See Sepp, ii. p. 431.

4) This is to be borne in mind in answer to Olshausen’s remark, that it can hardly be supposed that Jesus, who was so scrupulous in observing proper respect to authority, could allow Himself to nickname the ruler of His own country, ἀλώπηξ (iii. 17); so likewise Stier (iv. 61). The judgment pronounced by Jesus upon Herod would, on any supposition, be there ; the only ground on which it might have been thought unbecoming, would be in case Herod had not himself given just occasion for it.

5) See Gal. iv. 25; Rev. xi. 8