Period of General Exploration


Jesus Reveals Himself as the Messiah




THE newly chosen disciples, as we have said, lived on the western shore of the Lake of Genesareth. This district, the most thickly populated and most fertile portion of Galilee, was at all times thronged with the travelers who came and went from Syria to Palestine and from Auranitis to the sea. Jesus, preaching the GoodTidings there, was certain to see His words eagerly seized upon and swiftly borne away on the four winds of heaven.

He, therefore, decided to go toward the shores of the Lake with His disciples. His own family, desirous of seeing what He would do, followed after Him. The relations that had sprung up between them and the disciples were sufficient reason for their action.

Lodgings were found at Capharnaum. It is probable that Peter, who was married there, had the pleasure of offering them the hospitality of his motherinlaw's house. They remained there, however, only a few days.

The figtree in whose shadow we found Nathaniel reposing is proof that it was now springtime and consequently about the time of the Paschal feast. Everything made it a duty for Jesus to go and celebrate this feast in Jerusalem, not only as a pilgrim, but as Messiah. It was part of Jesus' plan to test without delay the religious dispositions of the people whom He came to evangelize. Galilee was soon to hear the Divine summons. But the preponderating influence in religious matters did not belong to Galilee. It was to the sacerdotal hierarchy and to the Jews of Jerusalem, ordinarily, that the first intimation in such affairs ought to be given. Jesus, therefore, determined to turn His steps toward the Holy City, though well aware of her unfavorable dispositions; He intended to pay homage to her primacy and to her traditional pretensions.

Therefore, joining the numerous caravans that were going down from Galilee, He departed for the celebration of the Passover. The prophet1 had said of Him: "And presently the Lord whom you seek . . . shall come to His temple. Behold He cometh . . . and who shall be able to think of the day of His coming? . . . For He is like a refining fire . . . He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver." The young carpenter of Nazareth had, indeed, often gone up to the Temple, and had seen the abuses, the sight of which was now to rouse His indignation; but at that period of His life He went only as a pious Israelite without any mission to purify the sons of Levi, the natural guardians of the house of God, and still less with the thought of taking upon Himself their authority. Today it is the Son of God Who comes to visit His Father's palace, the Master Who comes to claim His own house. He will have to denounce the abomination of desolation in the holy place, and to vindicate God's rights, so shamefully disregarded.

The Temple, as we have said elsewhere, was made up of a series of enclosures or courts, the first of which only was open to the proselytes from among the nations, who came to give homage to Jehovah. In that enclosure, along the whole length of an extensive colonnade, whose southern portion was particularly rich and spacious, a veritable market had been established with the approbation of the sacerdotal authority. Beneath roofings of highly polished cedarwood, on the brightcolored flagstones, among the double and triple rows of marble columns were seated the merchants and the moneychangers.2 They had begun by selling only the incense, wine, oil, and salt needed for the sacrifices, but they had now gone so far as to offer for sale even the victims that were to be sacrificed. So that this place, the only one reserved for the Gentiles in the house of the living God, was now invaded by herds of oxen, flocks of sheep, and heifers, was filled with the cries of avaricious speculators, and desecrated by their vile dealings.

Such was the spectacle that greeted the religious soul of Jesus. No one could feel more deeply than He the indecency of this profanation. Suddenly His eyes fill with the brilliancy of lightning, His awful voice rings above the noise of the multitude, and His hand, armed with a scourge of cords roughly tied together, rises in menace against the profaning throng. None can resist His holy wrath; He drives the herds of oxen and the flocks of sheep out from the Temple; He throws to the ground the money of the changers, and overturns their tables. In this confusion the sellers of pigeons alone are treated with less severity. They were there for the benefit of the common people, and Jesus merely says to them: "Take these things hence, and make not the house of My Father a house of traffic."

Such was the power of conviction and such the authority of Him Who caused this demonstration, and, too, so natural were the shame and confusion of those who had permitted themselves abuses so lamentable, that none even thought of resisting. If the perfect sentiment of his rights increases a man's moral and physical strength, we must admit, too, that the consciousness of a palpable wrong makes others timid and cowardly. He Who demanded respect for the house of His Father stood alone, and He triumphed over all the multitude.

When His disciples beheld Him so courageous and so redoubtable, they recalled the Just One of the theocracy of Whom the psalmist3 sang, and Whose spirit the terrible sect of Zealots sought to revive and impose. They thought that His device, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up," peculiarly fitted Jesus; for, in truth, the prophetic type of this zealot of the Lord found in the Messiah its most perfect realization. A resemblance so natural must have strengthened the faith of those who had perceived it.

The Jews, on the other hand, after their first movement of surprise or even of admiration, took up their position in the dangerous deadlock of reasoning and objection. They could not doubt that the act of purification just accomplished by Jesus was above all a religious act and that it immediately recommended itself to conscience. It required no justification; but these casuists, lovers of trickery, will not be content with the evidence of justice; they demand something more to sustain this evidence, a sign, so that they may afterward discuss the sign itself and thus lose sight of the light that required no proof. "What sign dost thou show unto us, seeing thou dost these things?" they said. And Jesus, with a depth of gaze and inspiration beyond the understanding of His hearers, replied: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." At no time has He promised to the incredulous any sign but that of the prophet Jonas. He has granted this because it entered into the divine plan, and in doing so He yielded to no solicitations such as He had endured from Satan in the desert, but rather did He define before the event and prophetically what God had decreed as an integral part of the Redemption. Nothing in the life of Jesus could be more decisive than the act of omnipotence by which, after remaining three days in the tomb, He rises again to life. To seal His whole mission with such a miracle proves that this mission is authentic and Divine. He Who holds power over death may well claim power over the Temple, and He Who shall regain life in the depth of the tomb has, indeed, some right to believe that He is strong enough to rebuild His Father's house.

But His auditors did not comprehend His response. As they were at that moment in the Temple, they thought that Jesus spoke of the material edifice, the profanation of which He was avenging. The thought that man's body is a temple was beyond the conventional concepts of the Pharisees. Much less could their errant minds perceive that the body of Jesus was the most real and most august of all temples, for they never even suspected that it sheltered the Divinity personally present and living.4 Perhaps, too, the gesture by which Jesus designated Himself as the temple of which He spoke passed unnoticed. All minds were immovably fixed on the first idea of a material temple evoked by His enigmatical words; they could not get rid of it.

This reply, then, seemed to them vain bravado, and, as they could not and would not destroy the sacred edifice for the sake of proving whether the young Carpenter of Nazareth could rebuild it in three days, they simply retorted: "Six and forty years was this Temple in building, and wilt Thou raise it up in three days?"5 Jesus apparently says nothing more even to check their scorn. To those who question Him with malignant intention, He almost always responds in language difficult to comprehend. To penetrate its meaning, the heart must be pure; then His words lose all that makes them obscure, and stand as lightsome as truth to the pure eye that looks upon it.

In the meantime, both friends and enemies hold this singular response deeply graven in their memory. We shall see how the Pharisees fling it in reproach against Jesus before the tribunals, and even at the foot of the cross, as a veritable act of impiety.

Nor did the disciples forget it;6 on the contrary, having long preserved it as a question to be solved, they finally saw its full meaning when Jesus rose again. They saw in the Scriptures, the key to which was given them by the Holy Ghost,7 that there was perfect agreement between the prophecies, the word of the Master, and the events which came to pass. Their faith understood, among many other mysteries, that the Savior's body had been the true temple of the Godhead destroyed on Calvary and rebuilt three days after, when it regained its life.

Even at that time, it might have been understood how, from another point of view, Jesus's death, by tearing aside the veil that hid the Holy of Holies, in fulfillment of the ancient prophecies put an end to the Jewish Temple, left the law of Moses in ruins, and, at the first tidings of His resurrection, laid the foundation of the nascent Church. This was, as it were, a second realization of the Savior's word; but whatever may be said of it, it was less direct than the former and more exposed to discussion in the circumstances of its fulfillment.

If the Messiah, manifesting Himself clothed with His royal authority, had been received by Israel with loud acclaim, this purification of the Temple would have been the signal for the general purification of the entire nation, and the Savior's public life would have assumed an aspect wholly different. But the violent opposition which He encountered was a proof that the Messianic kingdom was not to be established by a brilliant stroke, but in humble circumstances, after longcontinued strife, in patience and in affliction.

1 Mal. Iii, 1-3.

2 The moneychangers placed all kinds of money at the people's disposal in order to promote commercial operations. But they were more particularly engaged in changing foreign coins into sacred money, the only kind received by the priesthood in the name of Jehovah, as the tax imposed by Moses. (Ex. xxx, 13.)

3 Ps. lxviii, 10. Not that this psalm refers directly to the Messiah, since v. 6 also says: "0 God, thou knowest my folly, and my offenses are not hid from thee," but the Just One of the theocracy here mentioned bears a certain resemblance to the Messiah and is in part His prophetic type.

4 St. John i, 14; Col. ii, 9.

5 We know, according to Josephus (Antiq., xv, 11, 1) that Herod the Great undertook to restore or reconstruct the Temple in the eighteenth year of his reign. He began to reign in the year 717 of Rome. It is, therefore, in the autumn of 735 that we must place the beginning of this work. According to the same historian (Antiq., xx, 9, 7), it was under Herod II, in the year 64 A.D., that it was finished. If, as seems natural, we take liter ally the fortysix years alleged by the Jews we may conclude that the first year of the public ministry of Jesus coincided with the year 781 of Rome. But since the young prophet was then about thirty years old, his birth must be put back to the year 750, about two or three months before the death of Herod, which happened during the paschal festivities of that year. We have already said that, although not certain, this date appears to be the most probable. One may, in truth, say of a man of twentynine that he is about thirty, or else take the information, probably faulty but actual, of Josephus, saying (B. J., i, 21, 1) that Herod had begun the repairs of the Temple not in the eighteenth but in the fifteenth year of his reign.

6 According to Acts vi, 14, St. Stephen had repeated it and it was one of the accusations against him.

7 Ps. xv, 10 ; Isa. viii; Osee vi, 2; Jonas ii 11. Comp. St. Luke xxiv, 26; Acts xiii, 33; 1 Cor. xv, 4, etc.

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