Courses

The Historical Jesus: Lecture Three


John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

The message preached by John is summarized by Q. True relationship to God is not based on ancestral connection but by personal commitment. John thus calls his hearers to rely not on their DNA but on their own dependence on God. This message would have been very attractive to Jesus, who had grown up in Nazareth, a stones throw from the great Roman city of Sepphoris. There (in Sepphoris) Jesus had seen first hand the results of Roman decadence and how that had influenced his own neighbors and friends. Living so close to a Roman city would have proven far too powerful for many of Jesus' schoolmates- who would have been attracted to the pagan lifestyle enjoyed by those more enlightened citizens of the great metropolis. Abandoning the "faith of the fathers" many of Jesus contemporaries probably became Romans in faith and practice.

John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

As John preached this message something within Jesus resonated and he knew that it was he. Further, he knew that he had been commissioned by God to carry out the messianic task. To learn what this task was, he would simply have drawn on the Old Testament texts which he interpreted as messianic. The remarkable thing here is that he did not drawn on the texts which describe the messiah as the victorious conqueror; but on those texts which portray the messiah as the suffering servant (i.e., Is 53, etc.). His choice of texts is illustrated in his ina in Capernaum (cf. Luke 4). From these passages we get a very clear glimpse of how Jesus saw himself and what he conceived his forthcoming ministry to be.

The Synoptics describe Jesus' baptism; but Q does not. For this reason we bypass that event and move to the next experience in the life of the man from Galilee.