THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Caesarea Philippi is on the slopes of Mount Hermon, near
the ancient site of Dan, the northernmost city of ancient
Israel. The mountain range is well-watered, receiving 60
or more inches of rain a year, and there are great fruit groves
in the area. It is also part of the tetrarchy of Philip, and
Yeshua may have come here next to continue to stay out of the
hands of Herod Antipas. Nothing is said about that in the
gospels; we are just trying to make sense out of all the travels
he is undergoing since Herod threatened him.
It was here that, after meditating on all of his experiences
so far in preaching the reign of God and warning about the
failure to practice the ethical teachings of Yohanan and
the other great Hebrew prophets, Yeshua turns to his disciples
and asks them,
Who do men say that I am?
The disciples reply,
Yohanan, the baptizer; and others, Elijah;
but others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
This is no surprise to Yeshua; Herod himself had expressed
the belief that he was Yohanan risen from the dead; and in Nain
and other places we have seen the people calling him a prophet,
and he has also referred to himself as a prophet. Then he asks,
But who do you think I am?
Now he wants to find out whether his disciples agree with these
estimates. Simon, in a burst of nationalistic hope, exclaims:
You are the Messiah!
This shocks Yeshua; at no time has he said anything about
being the long-awaited messiah, nor expressed any intention,
vague or ill-formed or otherwise, of taking any power or
rulership over Palestine or any other country. In fact in his
parables of the temptations in the desert he has forcefully
rejected any such pretensions or claims. So he tells them
in no uncertain terms that they must not say that to anyone;
Luke says that he commanded them to tell no one that.
Yeshua then told them:
For I, who am a prophet, a son of man, must suffer many
things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests,
and the scribes, and be killed by them;
but after two days you will be revived, and on the third day
you will be raised up, and carry on my teaching.
The last sentence is a quotation from the book of Hosea,
chapter 6. The disciples, and all his early followers, and all
his later followers up to the present day, have believed that
he said that he himself would rise again; and all the translators
of the ancient texts in Aramaic and Greek and Syriac have
translated it that way. But it is impossible that he made such
a prediction; later on he tells a parable, the point of which is
that if people do not understand and practice the teachings of
the Torah and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if
someone were to rise from the dead. And on two occasions now
he has stated emphatically that there would be no sign given
to this generation.
Simon, unwilling to believe that such a fate could happen
to the expected messiah, and in fact no such fate is
spoken of in the Hebrew scriptures, takes Yeshua to one
side and tries to tell him that that can't be. Yeshua, after
glancing at the other disciples, scolds Simon vehemently,
Get behind me, you tempter; for you are not thinking
of the reign of God, but of the sceptre of man.
Once again Yeshua refers to the idea of taking political
power as a temptation, and denies his intention of doing anything
like that, just as he did in the wilderness. Yeshua must have
felt discouraged at that moment; he has been preaching to his
disciples now for several months, and they still believe that
he is there to lead an uprising against the Romans. So he
called the multitudes to him, and began to speak to them about
the costs of being his disciple:
If any man would be my disciple, he must put himself last,
and bear all suffering and persecution; this is my teaching.
He does not add "cheerfully", but must he not have
meant it as such, since he calls it "good news"? He goes on
with the second of the two sayings which are found in all four
Whosoever seeks to save his life shall lose it;
but whoever loses his life in following my teachings
shall save it.
A paradoxical utterance! Lao-tze, the Chinese sage who
lived five hundred years before Yeshua, also said, Whoever
will not bend will be broken; but whoever bends will not break. It is
another form of the thought expressed about Phariseeism, that
whoever seeks exaltation will be humbled and whoever seeks to
be humble will find true exaltation.
He then repeats his assurance that whoever receives them
as his disciple is receiving him, although in a more
garbled form, containing references to the "angels of God"
which were a later development in theological thought. Finally,
he confidently predicts that some of them will attain to the
reign of God in their own lifetimes:
There be some of you standing here who shall not taste
of death before the reign of God comes into your hearts
As time goes on, we shall see that there were two entwined
strands of Yeshua's thought: the future of his country, for
which he expected disaster, and the future of his individual
hearers, for whom he hopes the understanding of his ideals,
just as he himself was enlightened while being baptized in the
Jordan. Here he is referring to his individual hearers.
About a week later (Mark says six days, Luke says it was
eight days) Yeshua and Simon, with Yakub and Yohan, made
an ascent of the side of Mount Hermon. It was a bright
day, and they had reached the snow line, when Simon, gasping
in the thin air, his eyes dazzled, thought he saw Yeshua all
clothed in white, and two figures on either side of him. "See
that!" he exclaimed to Yakub and Yohan, "Yeshua, with Moshe and
Elijah!" Yakub and Yohan looked, and thrilled by the tone of
Simon's voice, thought they saw the same three figures. At that
moment there came a roll of thunder, and the three disciples
fell upon the ground in fear. Afterward they told the others
that what they had heard was the same as what Yeshua had told
them he heard at the time of the baptism: "This is my son;
listen well to him." When they arose, they saw only Yeshua on
the trail before them. Simon, his mind still full of nationalistic
hope, told the vision to Yeshua, and said, "Master, let us
build three tabernacles here, one for you, one for Moses, and
one for Elijah." Yeshua shook his head.
On the way down, Yeshua told them sternly to repeat the
vision to no one. One of them asked, "Until when, Master?"
Yeshua said not until the resurrection, when all of them
would be risen from the dead, meaning to put it into the future
as far as possible. They looked blank. Another of them said,
"But the scribes say that Elijah will come just before the great
and terrible day of the Lord." Upon which Yeshua told them:
It is indeed written, that Elijah will come,
and restore all things; but I say unto you,
that Elijah has come already, and they have done to him
whatever they wanted.
The disciples were still puzzled at first, but then a light
dawned: Yeshua was speaking of Yohanan, who had come bringing
the word of God, and Herod had imprisoned and executed him.
Then they arrived back at the village, they found the rest
of the disciples surrounded by a great crowd, and a great
argument going on. Yeshua pushed through the crowd, and
asked his disciples, "What's the matter?" Then a man from the
crowd answered, "Master, I brought my son, who is afflicted
with a dumb spirit, which tumbles him down, and he foams at
the mouth, and grinds his teeth, and is wasting away. I asked
your disciples to cure him, but they couldn't do it."
Then indeed Yeshua's impatience with the crowds that ran
after him everywhere seeking cures and exorcisms boiled
over, and he exclaimed, in his most vexed tone of voice:
O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be
with you? how long must I bear with you? are you always
to be seeking a show, and never seeking the power within you?
Nevertheless, he told the man to bring his son before him,
and just then the boy was seized with another epileptic fit,
falling on the ground in front of Yeshua. Yeshua asked the
father how long the boy had had this affliction, and the man
said that it had been since he was a child. "Many times it
has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, threatening
his life; but if you can do anything, have compassion on us,
and help us." "If I can do anything!" exclaimed Yeshua,
passionately. "Of course I can do something." Then the man
said, "I believe in you, master; please help us, and drive
away my doubt."
The crowd was continuing to grow, and Yeshua turned and
watched the boy, stroking his back, and speaking soothingly
in his ear. Finally the boy quieted, and seemed paralyzed.
But Yeshua took him by the hand, and raised him up,
and the boy stood by himself, and seemed to be cured.
We are not told whether or not the boy ever had another fit.
Later, when Yeshua and the disciples were back at the
house where they were all staying, the disciples asked
him why they could not cast it out. Yeshua, who knew
that epilepsy or the falling-sickness was chronic and almost
impossible to cure, answered:
This kind can come out by nothing, but by prayer and faith.
In other words, he recognized that it was not a mental
disturbance, but a physical condition, and so exorcism was
not a proper treatment.
After this, Yeshua left the villages of Caesarea Philippi
to return to Galilee. Mark tells us that he was still
avoiding attention, that he would have no man know that he
was there, so that he must not have been ready to stand another
confrontation with the Herodians. He told his disciples again,
to stress the matter:
Let these words sink into your ears: the son of man,
myself, shall be delivered up into the hands of men;
and they shall kill him.
It seems plain enough, that he expects to be arrested,
and to be killed, just as Yohanan was. But the disciples were
unable to grasp this, and were afraid to ask him. The idea
of the messiah, which they took Yeshua to be, dying, rather than
conquering the Romans and ruling as a king, was too much for
them to understand; but it certainly makes sense, if you
recognize that Yeshua did not think of himself as the messiah,
but as a reformer who has opposed the scribes and Pharisees on
their interpretations of the Torah and God's will, and also
opposed the Zealots on their militant nationalism and belief
in armed resistance to the Romans. After all, nothing he has
said so far indicates that he intends to lead an army against
the Romans, nor to assume any kind of rulership over Galilee
or any other part of Palestine. But there is something chilling
about this: he knows he will be killed, but he is resolute
now in his determination to go to Jerusalem and confront the
priests and Pharisees on their own ground.