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3.4 Jesus’ Ministry

Everything Jesus did lead to conflict, even his teaching. The first time he spoke in Nazareth, he did not follow the message from John the Baptist and the mob wanted to kill him. Luke says that Jesus went back to Galilee and the news spread around rapidly (Luke 4:14-15). As usual Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He stood up to read the scroll of Isaiah and read the prophecy about the coming of the Messiah (Luke 4:18-19). He sat down according to the custom and said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled by your hearing” (Luke 4:21). By this he meant that he was the Messiah, but the crowd saw it as a blasphemy as only the Messiah could make such a claim (Luke 4:28-29). The congregation threw him out and wanted to stone him to death, the punishment for blasphemy, but in some way he escaped and went his way (Luke 4:30). Jesus then left his town of Nazareth and went to Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. He chose twelve disciples and started training them. Four of them are important here: James and John the sons of Zebedee, Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. The first three were Galilean and Judas was the only Judean among the twelve. Judas was from Kerioth and the son of Simon Iscariot. Peter was known for his outspoken manner. Peter, James and John were the closest to Jesus and Judas would finally betray him. Jesus spoke to the crowd and to single individuals. He offered hope to be saved to the people who came to listen to him (Matt. 4:17 and 5:3-4; Luke 12:32 and 17:21). He preached to individuals too, such as Nicodemus. As we know Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of Sanhedrin, and a rich man. The Sanhedrin was a council of about seventy Jews who had authority over religious matters and, as such, could decide if a person had to be put to death, although the Romans reserved to themselves the execution. He was afraid to be seen to talk to Jesus so he met him at night. It is difficult to imagine a worse candidate for conversion but, little by little, he came to realise that Jesus was the Messiah (John 3:1 to 3). Nicodemus could not understand certain concepts of Jesus’ teaching and this surprised Jesus as Nicodemus was “a teacher of Israel”.

As Jesus’ reputation grew so did the opposition to his teaching, especially among the religious leaders and the experts in Jewish laws and traditions. Some believed that he was violating the Mosaic laws that they were entrusted with keeping but, above all, they were afraid to loose their authority to this man who appealed more and more to the people. They asked him if a woman who had committed adultery should be stoned to death as prescribed by the Jewish laws. His well-known answer is still valid today: “He who is without sin among us, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. Jesus taught compassion in moral as well as in religious matter. Jesus was in conflict with the Pharisees but, most of all, with the Sadducees who, in contrary to the Pharisees, did not believe in resurrection. It is a fact that the Scriptures are not clear on this point and Jesus clarified his point of view. In particular, he distinguished between the raising from the dead to return to life on this earth, and the resurrection in a life beyond this one. After the final judgement, when God decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell, Jesus said that those who believed in him will have an everlasting life. In addition Jesus said very clearly that after he died he would come back again (John 14:2-3), but his disciples did not understand what he meant. They did not understand either when he said that the time was coming when the Temple would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2). Jesus explained at length what he meant by the Last Judgement and his Second Coming but, again, he was probably not understood (Matt.24:5-31).

Jesus went on teaching and doing miracles for three years and a half among increasing opposition. Only in a few cases was he happily accepted, like when he cured Mary Magdelene of evil spirits; after she became one of his follower according to Luke (Luke 8:2). Very often it looked as if Jesus would be put to death after clashing with the authorities but “His time was not yet come” (John 7:30; 8:20). The situation became more and more dangerous for Jesus as the religious leaders felt that he threatened their laws and traditions. For instance, a blind man he cured was thrown out of the synagogue as he said that he was cured by a man sent by God. One day, when he was visiting the Temple, the religious leaders asked him when he would tell them if he was the Christ. Jesus replied that he had already told them and they did not believe it. He added that he was “One with the Father” (John 10:24, 25,29). They wanted to stone him again, as pretending to be God was a blasphemy (John 10:33). It was obvious that his days were counted but he still decided to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Jesus alone knew what was going to happen. He made certain his disciples knew he was the Messiah, but he asked them not to reveal it to anyone (Matt.16:13-16, 20); he also predicted his own death. He told them that he had to go to Jerusalem, to suffer from the Elders, the chief priests and scribes, that he would be killed but that he would rise on the third day. His disciples refused to believe it and Peter went as far as saying that this would never happen to him (Matt.16:21, 22). They were however convinced that he was the Messiah and they thought that he was going to set up a new Kingdom in Jerusalem. Jesus’ death was, for them, in contradiction with being the Messiah. He then tried to prepare his closest disciples. He took Peter, James and John to a mountain where they saw him transfigured, His face shone as the sun, and his clothes became white as the light. He then talked to the prophets Moses and Elijah. Afterwards Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, or memorials, to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. A cloud darkened the sky and they heard a voice coming out of the cloud saying: “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; hear him!” (Matt.17:5). The disciples fell on their face but Jesus reassured them and asked them not to reveal the vision until he had risen from the dead (Matt.17:9).

Jesus left Galilee, going first to Samaria, then Jericho and finally to Jerusalem where he would die. In fact a conspiracy started in October to assassinate him and the plotters were only waiting for the right opportunity. This happened when Jesus resuscitated Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha, Lazarus ‘sisters (John 11:1). Jesus and his disciples visited Martha’s home very often. When told that Lazarus was ill Jesus waited two days before going to Bethany, a village two miles outside Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives. This decision to go to Judea frightened his disciples (John 11:7-8). He first told them that he had to go to waken Lazarus who was dead (John 11:11,14). Someone ran ahead to tell the sisters that Jesus was coming. Martha reproved Jesus to come so late and that now her brother was dead; Jesus replied that he would raise again (John 11.21). She thought that he meant that he would rise again in the resurrection at the last day, but Jesus told her to believe in Him and that Lazarus would live again (John 11:24-25). Mary joined Jesus and Martha, and they went to the cave where Lazarus’ body had been buried. He ordered to remove the big stone closing the cave, then he prayed the Father and finally ordered Lazarus to come out (John 11:39 to 43). After a moment Lazarus, dressed in burial clothes, came out of the cave. Many of the Jews present knew then that he was the Messiah but others went to report to the Pharisees. The religious leaders met in the council-chamber of the Sanhedrin to decide what to do. After listening to the presents Joseph Caiaphas, who presided, suggested that Jesus should die for the people to appease the Romans (John 11:47 to 50). The Jews did not often condemn people to death but this time all agreed. It has to be done before the Passover to avoid a possible riot as many people believed that Jesus was a prophet (Matt.26:5). The city of Jerusalem was filled with Jews who had come for the Passover and Pontius Pilate had many soldiers ready for eventual riots. It was decided to have Jesus arrested and killed, but it had to be done quietly so they bribed one of his disciple, Judas Iscariot, to identify him. (30)