No one could deny that he was a hard worker. He had responsibilities. He had a wifeand children to take care of, his younger brother Andrew, and now he had partners. James and Yochanan, the Sons of old man Zebedee, knew how to work the sea and they had decided to join forces. But Simon Peter was the leader.
He was a big man with the large arms and hands necessary for the work of a fisherman. His flaming red beard dripped with perspiration as he hauled in the nets hand over hand. James and Yochanan were on the other boat, sweating and manhandling the other end, hauling them in to see what they had. The light was dim this early in the morning, the hills to the east of the lake casting their shadows over the water even though the sun was already over the horizon. Peter looked sharply for the telltale flash of shiny, wriggling fish in the nets but was met only with disappointment.
Again, only a few fish. Peter sighed as he contemplated the shore off in the distance. He could see Andrew there waving at him to come in.
Well, it was time to head in anyway. They had been out all night and they were tired.
Andrew had been preoccupied as of late with this new prophet, Yochanan, whom they called the Baptist. He claimed that the Maschiach was about to come to his people.
And about time, Peter grumbled under his breath. He had a good heart, but a rough way about him like many of the fishermen who eked out a living here in the back country of Galilee. James and Yochanan, his new partners, were not called the Sons of Thunder for nothing and they had earned their reputation with fist and brawn.
In truth, he wished he could go with Andrew more often to hear Yochanan ben Zechariah but there was work to be done. It was a pleasure to hear Yochanan tell the city rabble what he thought of them.
But Yochanan had called them all to repentance and to Peter’s way of thinking, that was good. He knew he had things to change in his life as well. If the Maschiach was coming, it was time they all got serious about following the ways of the Lord.
Finally, they reached the shore and Andrew waded out to haul the boat in, excited and telling his news.
“Hold on, hold on,” Peter kept saying.
He needed to tie up the nets and get the gear stowed away before he could pay attention to his younger brother. When he was ready, he jumped to the beach and strode confidently toward the small fire and poured himself a hot mixture of tea to warm his bones.
Although Andrew was jabbering at him constantly, he had not paid any attention. Now he turned to Andrew, smiled at him, and said, “Ok, what’s all the excitement about.”
Andrew was a bit breathless but managed to blurt out, “We have found the Maschiach!”
Bit by bit the story came out, how he had been with Yochanan and the Maschiach had been pointed out to him. He and another disciple had followed him, spoken with him, and even ate with him.
Andrew was obviously impressed with the man, Peter thought, maybe it was worth going to meet him.
Peter would always remember that first meeting with Jesus. He was mildly skeptical and what he saw at first didn’t impress him. Jesus was small of stature and certainly not someone the women would be interested in. Not ugly exactly, but not much to look at, either. Peter was looking intently at Jesus, as Jesus stood to meet him and immediately upon gazing into his eyes, Peter knew that he looked upon authority, even royalty.
Jesus looked hard at him and said “You are Simon son of Yochanan; you are to be called Cephas” – meaning Rock.
It was not until later that Jesus called Peter to follow him together with Andrew and even James and Yochanan, the sons of Zebedee. By that time there was no doubt that Peter would follow this man wherever he commanded. His boats and nets were left in the care of old man Zebedee who would keep them working with hired help. But Peter didn’t care, so long as his family and those of his men were taken care of.
He said to him, “We have found the one Mosheh wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
“From Nazareth?” said Nathanael. “Can anything good come from that place?”
“Come and see,” replied Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, “There is an Isra´elite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.” Jesus never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.He had looked at Peter and saw his faith; he looked also at Nathanael and knew him.
It was a disconcerting experience to be laid bare in front of a stranger. Nathanael, like all of them, understood the play on words that Jesus was using to describe him. The ancient story of Father Ya´acov who, through deceit, stole the birthright from his brother Esau but later was given the name Isra´el by Adonai Elohim, Himself, when he reconciled with his brother.
But why did Jesus apply this to him?
“How do you know me?” said Nathanael.
“Before Philip came to call you,” said Jesus, “I saw you under the fig tree.”
Under the fig tree! Nathanael’s mind flashed back to those awful, fearful days. His memories of fire and pain and fear were mixed with the terrible stories his mother told him years later.
They had lived in Beth-lehem when he was a child – just a baby really. The soldiers had come in the morning light while the village was still asleep. To this day, it made no sense. It was unusual even for the hated Romans to kill children. His father had been killed trying to protect them while his mother had taken him and rushed into the garden to hide him under a fig tree, praying that he would not cry and bring the soldiers. She had to leave him for a while unattended so as not to draw attention to his hiding place.
But, even through all the shouting, and fear, and wailing, he had felt strangely at peace. He had always believed that he had lain in the arms of an angel, who had taken care of him and kept him quiet.
And this Jesus had seen him there, perhaps had been the one taking care of him? Nathanael was filled with the certainty that this man would not lie, could not lie.
Nathanael answered, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Isra´el.”
Jesus replied, “You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” That was why you were born, he seemed to say, that was why you were saved, so that you could be a witness of the great things that God will do in Isra´el.
And then he added, “I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.”
And everyone knew that he was referring to the dream of Father Ya´acov at Bethel, the house of God, but had applied it somehow to himself. It would be a long time before Nathanael, and the rest of the disciples, would fully understand that he was referring to the cross, a new access, a new stairway into the presence of God, a new way back into the Garden of Eden.
Gabriel was content – no, he was more than content. He was filled with a joy that grew with each passing moment. He was beginning to understand. He knew the general outline of the plan that his Master had implemented to defeat the Evil One but he had not really understood it. Now that was changing.
What had happened in the Desert, in the strongman’s domain, had been a beautiful thing to behold. The first battle had been won, not by force of might, not by angelic intervention, but by the Word of God and the simple faith of Jesus in his Father’s love. For the first time, Gabriel began to understand why his Master had become a man.
The problem was in the heart of man. The problem was man’s alliance with the Evil One, and that problem could only be dealt with by a man, on human terms, on the human level. Jesus would strike at the heart of the problem both in the way that he lived and the way he died. His true strength lay in his relationship of loving obedience to his Father not in his miraculous power. He was a true Man who loved his Father completely. It was this loving obedience that would kill him in the end, and save him as well.
Certainly within the Godhead, decisions could have been made, justice met, the problem solved, but how would it have made any real difference in the daily lives of humans on earth? The point was for man to walk daily in fellowship with his Creator. The idea was to transform a dead nature into one that was alive again to God and that couldn’t be done automatically, spiritually, off in some remote place. It had to take place individually, one person at a time here on earth. And it had to begin with one man, the new template, the new originator of the race, the new Adam, the new Isra´el.
Humans were dead to God and needed to be resurrected in newness of life. They could not solve the problem, only God could, and did. But some response was expected of them, some use of their will, some crying out to God, even if it was the Spirit of God stirring them up. They needed to understand what had happened, and respond and embrace it and learn once again to live by faith in the Father’s love for them. But it was impossible without the help of the Father.
Human response and Divine stirring up. This interaction between man and God in the things of the will and of faith was a connection shrouded in mystery. But one thing was clear, there had to be a reestablishment of faith in God, and in His love for them to reverse the effects of the fall.
The battle in the desert was to break the power of temptation and the authority of Satan in the lives of the people. For now, it was obvious that Satan had no authority in Jesus, and Jesus came out of the desert refreshed and full of the power of Ruach HaKodesh.
Jesus had just entered the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth on the Shabbat day and Gabriel watched with great expectation as he inaugurated his ministry with the words of the prophet Isaias.
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor!
Gabriel and his brothers were filled with overflowing joy to hear such words spoken in Isra´el after so many years. Their brilliance blinded the demonic eyes trying to peer into the dimness of the synagogue. The obvious power and authority the angels displayed kept them, for now, at a safe distance outside the building. They wanted no demonic disruptions at this beautiful moment, the fulfillment of the ancient prophesies.
Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.
Then he began to speak to them, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” Jesus went on to draw a picture for his audience of the great things that God had in store for his people.
And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. For the moment they were carried away by the message of glad tidings that they were hearing but soon, upon further reflection, they would begin to look at the messenger and start to wonder.
The demons began to slip through the angelic circle, emboldened by the doubt of the people, to infiltrate the audience with their whispers and murmuring of dissention.
Gabriel’s smile began to fade as he realized that grumbling had begun among the people as they left the building.
“This is Joseph’s son, surely?” they said, obviously having difficulty that someone they had grown up with could make such claims. Besides, wasn’t it true that he was an illegitimate child? What would God want with him? And we are supposed to have faith in him, this carpenter’s son, as the Maschiach? I don’t think so!
As unbelief grew, the peoples’ hearts grew hard toward him and Jesus responded by saying, “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.”
And he went on to prophesy that many of them would be there on the day of his death, still in their unbelief and hardness of heart and they would cry out to him in derision at his weakness and say, “Physician, heal yourself.”
And so it would be.
Gabriel’s joy turned to grief as he realized that this moment in time was a reflection of the attitude that many in Isra´el would have to the visitation of their God. The rejection hurt, especially in the face of such good news. The favorable year of the Lord! Freedom for captives! Sight to the blind! How could they reject the one they had waited for so long?
No, they would not all reject him, Gabriel knew. Look at Peter and Andrew, as confused and lost as they could be. They hadn’t expected this kind of welcome either.
But Jesus was calm and spoke with authority. He condemned their unbelief and the crowd was enraged. They hustled him out of the town and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff. The demonic forces took the opportunity to build the fires of rage and the lust for revenge and blood. They handled him roughly, grabbing and pushing and shouting curses at him, everyone crowding close to try to get a hand on him, not to let him get away. In their self-righteous anger they would take care of this heretic once and for all.
Tundrac was bellowing orders as quickly as his captains could carry them out. Obviously an attack was imminent and he had to be ready. He had heard nothing from Rome, and it worried him. What was his Evil Master thinking, to allow this Jesus to roam freely through his domain? What was he supposed to do?!
In the absence of any other orders, he would get his troops ready for battle and keep a close eye on all spiritual activity. He wanted reports on everything this Jesus did, every person he talked to, every thing he said, every accursed healing, or direct confrontation with his demons! Everything!
“Mooove!” he bellowed as demons scattered in every direction to carry out his wishes.
An unclean spirit poked his head into the room and then quickly ducked back out. No doubt one glimpse of his Master bellowing and breathing fire and smoke was enough to make him want to come back another time. But he had been seen.
The order could not be disobeyed. The unclean spirit crawled into the room, his bat-like wings torn, his stench nauseating.
“What are you doing here?” commanded Tundrac.
“Your worship,” said the spirit, groveling, “I have been cast down.”
“Cast down?!” repeated Tundrac with a roar. “By whom?” But he knew the answer. It was Jesus.
“Tell me what happened,” he commanded with deep menace in his voice, “leave nothing out.”
“Yes, your worship, I swear it by the power of Lord-Baal,” replied the unclean spirit trembling with fear. “I told him that I knew who he was – the Son of the Living God. Everyone heard me.”
“Be gone, then.” Tundrac had no more use for him. “Your authority has been taken from you, so find another victim or get yourself gone into the abyss.”
Tundrac was satisfied for now. The reports had told him that Jesus was keeping his identity a secret for now. Jesus was telling those he healed not to speak to others about it, and he would order demons to be quiet if they revealed that he was the Son of the Living God.
For now his plan was simple enough. Frustrate whatever plans Jesus was making. Jesus wanted to keep a low profile? All right then, they would tell the crowds who he was. It was a dangerous move but they were desperate. Telling the people the truth about Jesus was crazy. What was deception coming to when the truth was the only weapon they had left!
So be it. For now they would cause mischief, confusion, doubt, division among his disciples and lack of faith among the people. Although, he paused at the thought, the people didn’t need much help in that regard.
Be patient, he told himself, your time will come.
Gabriel admired Jesus very much. This was the first time that God had visited his people in the flesh, become one with them and ministered to their needs so personally. Look at how he played with the children, placing them on his lap to talk with them and give them his blessing. Look at how his gentle hands wipe away the tears of that mother, bringing her feverish baby for healing. Look at how his arms encircle the shoulders of that father worried about provision for his family, encouraging him to have faith in his Heavenly Father.
He spoke as much and as eloquently with his hands as with his mouth, Gabriel thought. People loved him and people hated him but no one could ignore him.
Philip had been correct in saying that he was a Prophet, in fact he was the great Prophet foretold by Mosheh. Jesus spoke with authority not so much in style as in content. Where the rabbis quoted other rabbis to substantiate their interpretations, Jesus simply said it was so, as if he had some inner, secret knowledge. Jesus revealed the heart of the Torah to the people, the heart of God to those who would listen.
How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy those who mourn, they shall be comforted
His wisdom and gentleness towards the common folk were a welcome relief from the constant rules and regulations of the Pharisees. There was a spiritual hunger among the people to know God that Jesus was glad to satisfy. He was a prophet but not just a prophet.
He was also a priest. He cared for the people, prayed for them to the Father; he healed their diseases and brought the ultimate sacrifice to the altar, his own body. He was not just any priest; he was a priest of the order of Melchizedek, a holy order more ancient than that of Aaron. Gabriel knew this King of Salem who had brought bread and wine to Avraham after the defeat of his enemies.This priesthood was shrouded in mystery for the people of Isra´el, but Gabriel knew how appropriate it was for Jesus to continue this priestly line, bringing his body and blood as bread and wine after the defeat of his Enemy. Yes, he was a priest but more than a priest.
He was also a King. Certainly he was born in the lineage of David, but what did the Romans care about that ancient royal house? He did not need position or title or wealth to proclaim him King. The lineage of Jesus was more ancient than anything the Romans could claim, having been traced back to the first man, the first son of God.
A King he would always be, thought Gabriel, whether they recognized it now or much later. One day they would all bow the knee before His throne, and he will have dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth. In him the kingdom of God had come, for he himself was the King, but more than a King.
Prophet, priest and king, Gabriel contemplated. All of his ministry could be understood from those three truths, those three descriptions of who He really was, if you had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Gabriel returned his attention to the teaching that Jesus was giving his disciples in private upon the shores of the lake.
“Happy are your eyes because they see,” Jesus was saying, “your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.”
Tundrac was satisfied. On this level he could conduct a form of guerrilla warfare against the forces of the Enemy. He could not attack them openly. He simply did not have the authority and power to do so. But he had discovered a convenient method of harassment and challenge through the Pharisees and Scribes and the Teachers of the Law.
For years his demons had been building rule upon rule, precept upon precept into the fabric of their religion, legality and technicality taking the place of wisdom and grace. They had slowly but methodically built up a cult of the written word that had very little to do with the living Word of God. They had sown enough half-truths to make it look very right, very religious to follow the practices of the Pharisees but without the power of a true relationship with the Almighty God. And as a final measure, they had built a stronghold of religious pride in the leaders of the people as strong as the mightiest Roman fortress.
And now they would make it work for them, Tundrac decided as he rubbed his hands together in nervous anticipation of battle.
These people were not disposed to Jesus’ point of view. They rightly saw it as a danger to their own hold on the people, or at least the leaders did. The rest were simply blind, they could not see that being religious was not the same as being spiritual. “After all,” they would say, “we are true sons of Avraham.”
As if bloodlines had anything to do with it, Tundrac laughed with devilish derision.
And so they opposed this heretic who was the Truth Himself, a more spiritual man than any man had ever been and not the least bit religious. Tundrac had no illusions about Jesus; he did not suffer from myopic self-righteousness. He saw the truth clearly, and it made him tremble. But these humans could be encouraged in their blind stupidity, guided in their attacks on Jesus, and hopefully his own demonic forces could stay in the rear out of harms way.
Yes, he would let the scribes and Pharisees be his weapons for now. Tundrac paused for a moment, thinking. He would have to send his best tormentors on this mission.
It was absolutely absurd from Gabriel’s point of view. The spiritual blindness of these Jews was getting difficult to believe. They turned white into black, truth into lies as if nothing made sense anymore. Gabriel knew who was behind it, but he also knew that these Pharisees and scribes had to give the demons authority to work their deception, whether conscious of it or not.
Gabriel turned his attention back to the argument going on below. He knew that this was a turning point in the attitude of the Pharisees toward Jesus. They were becoming more and more vicious in their attacks against him. The opposition was growing bolder.
Jesus had just healed a blind and dumb demoniac so that he could speak and see again. Of course the people had been astounded and pleased but the Pharisees, true to their nature, could not see the good thing for what it was. They pressed their attack.
How perverse can evil be? Gabriel shook his head in wonderment.
They poke fun at the Devil, who is their own evil master, calling him a master of the common house fly, a master of the flies that flock to a dead carcass, and in so doing they try to make the Lord of Life look bad. It was the same way at the beginning, when the Evil One placed doubt on the character and goodness of God toward his children. The Devil was good at making himself look like man’s benefactor and God like a hard task-master.
Knowing what was in their minds, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin; and no town, no household divided against itself can stand. Now if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself so how can his kingdom stand?”
The appeal to common sense would bring most of the crowd to his way of thinking, Gabriel knew. But the Pharisees would not give up so easily. Jesus pressed his argument further, addressing the Pharisees directly.
“And if it is through Beelzebub that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges, then.”
The devil was not above using smoke and mirrors to deceive the people. He would even allow his own demonic forces to be cast out at the hands of these Pharisees. It made them look good; it gave the people a taste of power which would enslave them all the more to the dead teaching of the Pharisees.
“But if it is through the Spirit of God that I cast devils out, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you.”
Here was the central issue, Gabriel knew. What do you say about Jesus? His actions are plain. He heals the sick, he frees the captives from the domination of evil forces, he teaches the truth, he even sacrifices his own life. In the perversity of evil, all of this can be dismissed as the work of a lunatic, a heretic, even a demon.
At least, Gabriel thought, they were honest. At least they knew that the issue was black or white, for or against. In this, they provided a useful counter position to that of Jesus, making it clear to all that a choice was expected of them.
No one could believe any longer that Jesus was simply an honest, country rabbi not wishing anyone any harm. They could not believe that he was only a teacher or a good moral example to wayward children.
No, Gabriel realized, Jesus would have none of that. That is why he kept pressing and challenging the Pharisees and the crowds who listened to him. He made it abundantly clear on a number of occasions that he, himself, claimed to be the Maschiach, and more, to be the Son of God, Divinity in the flesh. He could not be ignored.
What do you say about Jesus? Demonic heretic or Divine Maschiach, there was no other choice.
As if to drive his point home even further, Jesus told them what he had done in the Desert, though they would not understand him. “Or again, how can anyone make his way into a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he has tied up the strong man first? Only then can he rob his house.”
Jesus looked around at his accusers and the crowd was silent. A seriousness came over him as he uttered the words that would be the final grounds for the final curse on the children of men. He, and no other, would judge the world in righteousness and each one of them standing there would ultimately have to render an accounting to him for their lives.
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” He would be the one who sits on the throne of Judgment on that final day, and the world needed to know it.
“And so I tell you, every one of men’s sins and blasphemies will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And anyone who says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but let anyone speak against Ruach HaKodesh and he will not be forgiven either in this world or in the next.”
The words were terrible and true. They were words that divided and exposed men’s hearts. One could be blind toward the Christ, not believing for a time that He was the Son of God who had come to save His people from their sins, but to sin against Ruach HaKodesh was not just to side with the enemy but to promote his deception, to repeat what he had done in the garden, to repeat what was being done now. To make Satan look like God and God look like Satan. This was the heart of the satanic deception.
If the works of the Spirit of Holiness are said to be evil, then where is salvation to come from? There is nothing else, there is no other hope, there is no other forgiveness possible.
Gabriel’s heart was heavy, for he knew that many would go to their deaths raging against the works of God and declaring them evil when the evil was actually and truly inside them.
So the Pharisees determined in their heart that Jesus must die.
The demonic forces agreed. As quickly as possible.
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.