By Harris Franklin Rall
Writers have often tried to indicate just what happened day by day during this last week. Despite the wealth of the materials that we have for this week, we cannot write the story in this way. The purpose of the evangelists was not to write a chronological record, but to give us a picture of the Christ. How wonderfully the Gospels make him stand forth before our eyes: surrounded by dangers, yet not afraid; beset with traps set by cunning foes, yet walking with sure step; met with refusal and enmity, yet warning and entreating to the end; conscious of what awaited him, yet full of courage and confidence in God. The disciples must have had their share in the events of the week; they probably aided the Master, for example, in the cleansing of the temple. But all that is passed by, and the Gospels show us Jesus only. His main work during this week was that of teaching, and we begin with his message of warning to the people.
The Call to Repentance
Parables in the Last Days. —The picture teaching of Jesus, familiar to all students, is at no time more striking than in these last days. His very entry into the city was a parable, in which he set forth his claim to be the Messiah and his character as such. He is constantly using parable and picture to bring his warnings, to assert his claims, and to answer his foes. Never was his skill as a teacher more manifest. If he had declared in so many words that he was the Messiah, he would probably have stirred an armed uprising against Rome. When he put into picture his charges against the leaders, they could not escape the meaning and yet they could not move against him.
Preaching Repentance. —We note first his call to repentance. Here in Jerusalem he saw the need even more than in Galilee. They were proud of their temple, of their religion, of their race, these Jews; they were filled with hate of the Roman. They did not see that the great obstacle to the Kingdom was the sin in their own hearts: the greed and violence of the priests, the hypocrisy and bigotry and pride of the Pharisees, the shallowness and indifference of the people. But we do wrong if we think of Jesus as simply plying the lash of scorn and condemnation. It was his people, his city, his brethren; and he bore their sins in sorrow and anguish upon his own heart. Jesus uses two incidents to enforce his call to repentance (Luke 13. 1-5). It seems that the soldiers of Pilate had slain certain Galilean pilgrims who were offering their sacrifices at the temple, an event that fits in with what we know of the character of this ruler. It is not unlikely that those who reported this to Jesus began questioning him: Why did these particular men suffer? Were they sinners beyond others? Jesus repudiates this. Why such evils come he does not tell them. But one thing he does tell them: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.''
The Parables of Warning
The Parable of the Great Supper. —And now we come to the series of great parables which Jesus spoke during these days. Three of these we shall take up in this lesson: the parables of the great supper, the fig tree, and the vineyard. While we cannot be certain, the parable of the great supper was probably spoken during this time (Luke 14. 15-24). The Jews were accustomed to picture the blessings of the Messianic age under the form of a great supper. That explains the ejaculation of some guest at the table who said, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." It was one of those pious expressions that are easily uttered and that may mean very little. These men could talk beautifully about sitting down in the kingdom of God, but they could not see the kingdom of God when it came to them.
To show their folly and sin, he tells the story of the man who made the great supper (Matthew says it was a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. Matt. 22. 1-14). The invitations were sent out in advance, and then, in leisurely Eastern fashion, when the supper was ready, the servant went around to bid the guests come. Such a feast was a high privilege. To slight such an invitation was an insult, and yet these guests did this incredible thing; they made all manner of excuses and refused to come. Thereupon the master of the house, indignant and angry, sent out his servants to bring in the poor and blind and crippled, and at length even the beggars from the roadside, and these sat down at the feast which the friends had scorned. Did the guests at the table with Jesus understand his parable? They were doing this same incredible and foolish thing. They were refusing the invitation, and meanwhile the publicans and harlots, the outcasts and sinners, were eagerly receiving the message. It was what he had said once before: "Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth" (Matt. 8. 11, 12).
The Parable of the Fig Tree. —The parable of the fig tree was another call to repentance (Luke 13. 6-9). A certain man had a fig tree. It occupied valuable ground, it had received constant care, but it had never borne fruit. The vinedresser begged for it another chance. He would dig and fertilize again; then, if it did not bear, it would have to come down. The nation was like the fig tree. It was fair enough to look at; but where were the fruits of righteousness that it should have borne with all the care that God had given it ? Where were the humble reverence and mercy and good will? They were quick enough to condemn a publican or one like the woman taken in adultery, but the nation's sin they did not see. And he was like the vinedresser, digging and dunging for the last time. Would they repent at this last call?
The Deputation from the Sanhedrin. —The third parable is that of the vineyard. In this case the Gospels give us the special circumstances under which the parable was spoken. It was apparently the day after the cleansing of the temple that there came to Jesus a deputation of "the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders," demanding by what authority he did these things (Mark 11. 37, 28). Jesus met their question, as we shall see in our next chapter, and silenced them. Then when they stood speechless, he turned upon them and gave them this parable of warning and condemnation before all the people. It was this that made the people think of the great prophets of the past, that here in the very seat of their power Jesus should thus denounce these men of place and authority.
The Parable of the Vineyard. —The figure of the vineyard was not unfamiliar (Matt. 21. 33-46). The psalmist had employed it (Psa. 80. 8-19), but it was Isaiah who had used it for the purpose which it now served with Jesus (Isa. 5. 1-7). A man had planted a vineyard. It had taken money and time and thought. He had set out the vines, made the hedge to keep out animals, built the winepress, and erected the tower for the watchmen. Such land was commonly leased either upon shares or for a fixed amount of its product. In due time, accordingly, the owner sent his servant to receive his share of the product; but the servant came back beaten and with empty hands. Thus they treated the other servants also, whom the owner with marvelous forbearance sent to them one after another. When at last he sent his own son, they put him to death, thinking thus to get the latter's inheritance for themselves. "When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" asked Jesus. They knew what the parable meant. Isaiah had already made the application to his own generation: "For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry." Jesus was charging against them what Isaiah had charged against the Israel of his day. Had any nation ever been privileged and cared for as Jehovah had cared for Israel? Had not God the right, then, to look for fruits? And what was it that God wanted? Not their show of piety, their endless sacrifices and tithings and washings and Sabbath observances. It was Justice and righteousness and mercy, as it had been of old. This people of old had killed the prophets and stoned them that were sent to her; what would she do now? The last and the greatest of the servants had been slain; what would they do to the Son?
Another Assertion of Messiahship. —Here again Jesus sets forth plainly his claim to be the Messiah. The Messiah was often spoken of as ''the Son," and it is to the son whom the Lord of the vineyard had finally sent that Jesus compares himself here. That claim Jesus now makes in still more pointed fashion. "Did ye never read in the scriptures," he says,
Openly and plainly he adds: "The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Jesus' bold denunciation of these leaders and his claim to be the Messiah angered them equally. What he said was perfectly plain to them, though the people probably understood it but in part. And yet; they were helpless. They did not dare to denounce him for claiming to be the Messiah, for that would have aroused still more the people, who as yet held him only for a prophet. And they did not dare to try to seize him, for the people had shown plainly on the day of his entry and at the time of the temple cleansing that they were with him. But the people themselves, as we shall see, were not ready to stand on his side.
Jesus' Lament Over the City
The Prophet of Sorrow. —There is no harder lot than to stand as a prophet of warning and speak words that you know will not be heeded. Such was Jesus' lot. It was his to give the appeal. His work would not have been finished if he had not sounded that message here in Jerusalem. How did he feel as he gave this message? And how far did he realize what the end would be? There are two sayings of Jesus that let us see into his heart at this time. They show that Jesus had no illusions as to his success; the people would reject him and the city was doomed. They show us too how deep the sorrow of his heart was as he thought of this people that was his people, and this city of their pride. We see Jesus, the patriot, forgetting his own terrible fate so near at hand, and remembering only his nation, his brothers.
His Two Sayings. —The first of these sayings was spoken by Jesus when he entered the city. It was in the midst of the enthusiasm of the disciples and the shoutings of the multitude. Jesus knew how little all this meant. He was looking forward to the end: "If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19. 41-44). The other saying shows the yearning love of Jesus, like the love of a mother, in words among the most beautiful that men have ever heard. These words were spoken just after the terrible denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees; he had the courage to denounce, but his deepest heart was love. "0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23. 37-39).
A Terrible Fulfillment. —Never did words have a more terrible fulfillment than that which came to the lament of Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred about forty years after this time. The priests and Pharisees had refused the Prince of Peace who had come meek and lowly and riding upon an ass. As a result the people gave ear more and more to fanatical preachers of revolt against Rome. The final result was, against the wish of priest and Pharisee, a futile uprising against the empire. The terrors of the French Revolution are probably the only scenes in history which may be fitly compared with the horrors of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. There was plenty of courage with the people and a certain kind of faith; but what one feels most of all in reading the story is the madness of the people and the selfishness and willfulness of most of the leaders. Before they fought with the Romans, they began fighting among themselves. That fighting continued as the Romans drew near. Three parties under arms held different portions of the city, burning and slaying as they could. Each tried to burn up the grain supplies which the others possessed, thus themselves preparing that awful famine which did as much as Roman arms to subdue the city. Only when the Romans actually began to assault the city did they stop warring upon each other and turn against the common enemy. But it was too late. Some fell in the fighting, and they were the most fortunate. Many perished from hunger. Most of the rest were slaughtered when the soldiers entered the city. Some were carried off to Rome to grace the triumphal procession of Titus, whose monument is that arch in the Eternal City under which no Jew will pass even to this day. Over a million, Josephus tells us, lost their lives by hunger, flame, or the sword. Nearly a hundred thousand were carried off captive, while countless thousands were sold as slaves. The picture is terrible enough even if we discount largely the figures of this historian. One little company had escaped from the city in time, the Christian community that took refuge in the town of Pella in Perea. Were there any besides those Christians out of that great city that remembered the words of Jesus: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate"?
Directions for Study
The Scripture passages: Luke 13. 1-9; 14. 15-24; Matthew 21. 33-46; 23. 37-39.
Call to mind the events of the last chapter, and what was said there of the last week as a whole.
Read through, if possible at one sitting, the narrative given above with the Scripture passages. Then take up the details as given below.
Read Luke 13. 1-5: Jesus' message of repentance is given here just as in Galilee. Note how ready the people were to condemn others, as the Galileans, or the woman taken in adultery (see John 8. 1-11). Which is easier for us, criticism or repentance? Note how little Jesus cares for a theological discussion, how much for the practical reality.
The parables of warning. What were the advantages of this picture form of teaching, especially during this last week?
1. The supper, Luke 14. 15-24. Read Matthew 22. 1-14, if you have time, and note the differences in detail, illustrating the variations which naturally came about in handing down such teaching orally.
2. The fig tree, Luke 13. 6-9. Note how Jesus takes his pictures from common life.
3. The vineyard, Matthew 21, 33-46. Read the references to Psalms and Isaiah. Did Jesus gain or lose by using here a figure familiar to his hearers? Consider how effectively great speakers and writers have used familiar passages or phrases from the Bible.
The lament, Luke 19. 41-44; Matthew 23. 37-39. Note the different circumstances in the two cases. This is another wonderful glimpse into the heart of Jesus. We should carry this with us in all the study of this last week.