THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE FORMATION OF THE DISCIPLES
“The first year of the public ministry of Jesus ended in failure. Most of those who had followed Him deserted Him. His miracles had excited their admiration and raised their hopes of deliverance from Roman rule. But His refusal to conform to their idea of a triumphant political Messias had alienated their allegiance to Him. He had offered Himself to them as the ‘Bread of Life,’ but they had refused to accept Him.
SOME FEW REMAINED FAITHFUL TO JESUS
Some few remained faithful to Him, especially the Apostles. They refused to leave Him, saying, ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ By so acting they cut themselves off from the majority of their fellow-countrymen. Jesus Himself knew, as He had indeed said, that He would be rejected by His own countrymen. From this time on He would continue to preach His message of salvation in the spiritual Kingdom of God. Only now He would seek to increase in His faithful Apostles and disciples the true understanding of the kingdom which He was to establish. He would show them how different was this kingdom from the earthly kingdom and domination sought by His countrymen.
A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM
Some time after the discourse on the ‘Bread of Life,’ Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Almost at once He came into conflict with His enemies. At the pool called Bethsaida, near the Sheepgate in Jerusalem, Jesus cured a man who had been a paralytic for thirty-eight years. He told the man to pick up the pallet on which he had been lying and to walk home. Now He did this on a Sabbath day. The Jews, on learning that He had done this, were angry. In their eyes Jesus had broken the law of the Sabbath-day rest. He had Himself worked the miracle and He had even ordered the cured man to carry his pallet. When they objected to this, Jesus replied, ‘My Father works even until now, and I work’ (John 5:17).
The Jews understood Him to mean that He was equal to God. Since they perceived Him only a man, they regarded His claim as blasphemy. Hence they determined to oppose Him.
THE JEWS DETERMINED TO OPPOSE JESUS
Jesus, for His part, was kind to them and He tried to explain His position clearly. ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever he does, this the Son also does in like manner’ (John 5:19).
By saying that He can do nothing of Himself but only what He sees His Father doing, Jesus attempted to soften for the Jews who did not believe in Him or His claims His right to be accepted by them as one sent from God.
JESUS EXPLAINS TO THE PEOPLE THAT GOD HAS SENT HIM TO RESTORE LIFE
But He goes on to explain that God has sent Him to restore life, spiritual life, to men who are dead in their sins. As God the Father has power to give this life to men who are dead, so also has He, the Son, the same power. And because He has this power, He has also from His Father the right and power to judge men. Those who hear Him and believe the Father who has sent Him will rise to life on the last day; but those who do not hear Him and accept Him will rise to judgement.
‘IF YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT MOSES, HOW WILL YOU ACCEPT ME?
Then Jesus tried to show the Jews the justice of His claim to be sent to them by God. Since this mission of Jesus from God is a fact, and indeed a divine fact, it is not susceptible of ordinary means of proof.
Only witnesses can testify to the truth of such a fact. Jesus calls upon the witnesses known to the Jews. John the Baptist, He says, gave testimony to Me and to My mission. If you accept John as a man of God, then you should accept Me to Whom he has given witness. But Jesus was not content to adduce only the testimony of John. There is a greater testimony to Me, the testimony of God Himself.
‘For the works which the Father has given me to accomplish, these very works that I do bear witness to me that the Father has sent me. And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness to me’ (John 5:36-37).
The works to which Jesus refers are the miracles which He has performed. These miracles are the divine seal placed upon His message and His claims. Through the miracles God Himself has testified that Jesus is the Son sent by the Father to establish the Kingdom of God among men. Lastly Jesus refers His hearers to the Scriptures. Moses, He says, has written of Me. If you read Moses rightly you would see that I am what I claim to be. But if you will not accept Moses, how will you accept Me?
JESUS EXPLAINS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAW OF MOSES WHICH HE HAS COME TO FULFIL
But the people would not believe Him. Knowing their enmity Jesus, for the time, left Jerusalem and Judea and returned to Galilee. But His enemies pursued Him. Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and reproached Him because His disciples were not keeping the Mosaic Law as they interpreted that Law. The disciples of Jesus, they claimed, were at fault because they did not wash their hands before they ate food.
Jesus made this complaint of the Pharisees and occasion to instruct His disciples and the people. God, He told them, is not so much interested in external observance which may cover an inner impurity and evil; rather He desires an internal goodness and purity of heart. The aim of external observances of the Law of Moses was to preserve internal purity of heart. To interpret the Law (and in this instance there was question of the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law) in such wise as to render it impossible to preserve real purity of heart was to act like a hypocrite. Hence Jesus applied to the Scribes and Pharisees the words of Isaias [Isaiah]:
‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; but in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines precepts of men’ (Matthew 15:8-9).
Jesus then summed up His teaching in the words:
‘What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, that defiles a man’ (Matthew 15:11).
The Pharisees took offence at this statement and their attitude alarmed the disciples of Jesus. But He told them that the Pharisees were blind leaders of blind men. Then, at the request of Peter, He explained His meaning to them.
‘Do you not realise that nothing from outside, by entering a man, can defile him? For it does not enter his heart, but his belly, and passes out into the drain. And the things that come out of a man are what defile a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, shamelessness, jealousy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man’ (Mark 7:18-23).
In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds the words, ‘but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’ (Matthew 15:20).
EVEN THE PAGANS GAVE GLORY TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL
After this instruction to His disciples He left Galilee and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. While there He expelled a demon from the daughter of a Syro-Phenician woman. Then He went to the district of Decapolis. There He restored hearing and speech to a deaf-mute. As a result great crowds came to Him, bringing their sick, the blind, the lame, the dumb and the maimed. Jesus cured them and the pagan inhabitants of that district gave glory to the God of Israel. Also, on one occasion, Jesus repeated the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, feeding over four thousand with only seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.
MORE UNWELCOME AND HOSTILE ATTENTION
This renewed activity brought upon Him again the unwelcome and hostile attention of the Pharisees. They came to Him and demanded from Him a sign from heaven. But Jesus, knowing that signs would not really convince them, replied:
‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Amen I say to you, a sign shall not be given to this generation’ (Mark 8:12).
Jesus and His disciples then entered a boat and went to the western side of the Lake of Tiberias. During the journey Jesus cautioned His disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
When they came to Bethsaida Jesus restored sight to a blind man. But He forbade the man to publish abroad what had happened.
‘WHO DO MEN SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?’ (Mt 16:13)
Some time later, when they had come to the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned His disciples, asking them, ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is?’ (Matthew 15:13). The disciples replied that some took Him for John the Baptist, some for Elias, some for Jeremias or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15).
Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then said to him:
‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19).
TWO FACTS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE
This incident contains two facts of great importance. First of all, in this dialogue with His disciples Jesus acknowledges to them that He is both the Messias, the Christ sent by God, and that He is the natural Son of God, equal to God the Father in divinity. Secondly, acting as the Christ and as the natural Son of God Jesus makes Simon Peter the rock or foundation on which He will build the Church, the Kingdom of God.
When the crowd would have accepted Jesus as a king who would lead them to earthly glory, a political Messias, Jesus refused to play the role and left them. But on this occasion Jesus allows Himself to be called the Christ, the Messias and the Son of God.
Why does Jesus allow to Peter what He had already refused to crowds of His countrymen?
The answer is clear. The crowds had wanted a Messias modelled after their own desires, a Messias who would lead them to world power. But this was not God’s plan, and so it was not the mission of Jesus. The crowds, stubbornly bound to their own desires, deserted Jesus.
But the Apostles and a few disciples, still believing in Jesus, even though they did not completely understand Him, remained faithful to Him. In their sight, and for their benefit, Jesus continued to do His works, to work the miracles which were a sign of the divine power He possessed. And while their wonder and admiration grew Jesus emphasised to them the spiritual nature of His kingdom and contrasted it sharply with the views of the Scribes and Pharisees.
Now Jesus would carry His disciples a bit further; He would initiate them even more into the understanding of His plans for the kingdom.
First, however, it was fitting that they should recognise Him for what He really is. He questions them gently, not asking them at first Who they think He really is, but asking them Who men say that He is. They reply: His countrymen see in Him surely someone remarkable; perhaps Elias, who is to come before the Messias; perhaps Jeremias, who also might be a forerunner of the Messias; perhaps John the Baptist, the recent martyr for God’s law, come again to herald the Messias; or at least a prophet. Then Jesus leads them on. ‘But who do you say that I am?’
Spontaneously Peter speaks. ‘Thou art the Christ,’ he says, ‘the Son of the living God.’ At last it is said openly by those to whom Jesus has come to preach the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Messias. Even more, He is the true, the natural Son of God, equal to the Father in His Godhood. When the crowd would make Him king, Jesus refused. But when Peter declares that He is the Messias and, indeed, the Son of God, Jesus does not deny it. Rather, He confirms it. Flesh and blood, He says, have not revealed this to Peter. Rather it is God Himself Who has revealed this to Peter, and Peter, in faith and love, through this divine enlightenment, accepts Christ Jesus as the Son of God.
GOD REVEALED JESUS’ TRUE IDENTITY TO SIMON PETER
This moment then is a most solemn one. In it the little band of followers which Jesus has drawn to Himself acknowledges Him as the Anointed One of God, even as the true Son of God, God Himself. With this acknowledgement made openly Jesus goes on to reveal to them His plans for the future.
JESUS REVEALS TO SIMON PETER AND THE APOSTLES HIS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
It is Simon, speaking under divine enlightenment, who has made this declaration of belief in the Messiahship and divine Sonship of Jesus. Speaking to Him in the presence of all Jesus tells him that He will make him the foundation of his kingdom, the Church.
When Simon first met Jesus, Jesus had told him that his name would be changed to Cephas, that is, to Peter (John 1:42). Now Jesus reveals the reason for the change. The name Cephas (or Peter) means rock. Simon is to be the rock on which Jesus will build His kingdom. ‘Thou art Rock (Peter),’ He says, ‘and upon this Rock (on you, Peter) I will build my Church.’ Simon Peter then is to be the foundation rock of the Church of Christ, the strong rock which will give the stability of truth and love to the kingdom. The ‘gates of Hell,’ that is, the kingdom of the devil, will be arrayed against the Church, but the strength of Peter, of the Rock which is Peter, will prevail against the power against the power of the devil.
To make His meaning even clearer Jesus goes on to say that He will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now the possessor of the keys of a house is the master of the house; he can admit whom he pleases and exclude whom he will. The goods of the house are his to dispose of as he will. The kingdom of heaven is Christ’s own kingdom; He is the master of it. But at some future time, not yet clearly determined, Jesus will make Peter the faithful steward of this kingdom, this household of God; He will give to Peter the keys which control this kingdom. The authority to rule this kingdom will be entrusted by Christ to Peter.
And as if even this were not enough to make clear that Peter was to rule the kingdom for Christ, Jesus adds, ‘whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ The decisions that Peter shall make, acting as the steward or vicar of Christ, will be ratified in heaven. God Himself, Christ Himself will ratify Peter’s decision, Peter’s rule of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Jesus refused to accept the title of Messias from the crowds who wished to make Him an earthly king. But He accepted this title from Peter, even the title of ‘Son of God.’
In return for Peter’s faith and love He made (or here He promises to make) Peter His vice regent in the Kingdom of God on earth. Since He would not accept and earthly kingship from the people, it is clear that Jesus accepts Peter’s homage only because Peter and, through him, the disciples are willing to believe in and accept the spiritual kingdom which Jesus has come to establish. This willingness on their part need not at this moment mean that they perceive clearly the essentially spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom. The subsequent actions of the Apostles seem to show that they had not yet reached that full understanding of the kingdom which they were later to possess. But they had not deserted Jesus when He refused to become an earthly king. They had not left Him when He offered men His own flesh, spiritually received, as the life of the world. Now, in Peter they accepted Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. They were men of faith and good will. This was enough, for the moment; Christ responded to their faith with a new revelation of the nature of His kingdom.
THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST
The kingdom of Christ is in its inner essence spiritual. But it is also to be ‘Church,’ a community of men called to membership in the kingdom. They will enter this kingdom by faith in Christ, by hearing His word and accepting it, especially by accepting Jesus as their life, their spiritual life, the source of their spiritual life. But as a community of men in this world, they will have to contend with the powers of darkness, the kingdom of the devil. To ensure the firmness of their faith, the stability in this community of the God-given truth which Christ brings to them, Jesus establishes (or will establish) Simon Peter as the head of the community of believers in Christ. Thus, though the kingdom is in its inner essence spiritual, it is also in this visible, tangible world a visible and tangible reality. By making Peter the head, the ruler and keybearer of the community of the Kingdom of God, Jesus will make His Church a visible recognisable reality in the world. Those who wish to come to Christ will submit to Peter, the Rock of the Church of Christ, the keybearer of the kingdom. From heaven Christ will ratify the rule, the decisions of Peter, His vice regent on earth. As we shall see later, the actions of the Apostles and of the first Christian community show that this was their understanding of Christ’s words and intention. The Kingdom of God on earth will be a spiritual kingdom, but it will also be a visible kingdom. The spiritual authority of Peter will be the visible rock on which the kingdom will be built.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)