This entry, part of the Harmony of the Gospel work, expounds upon part IIIB, the Early Judean Ministry.
- First Passover
- First cleansing of temple
- Sign of Jonah
- Messianic witness to Nicodemus
- Jesus’ early ministry in Judaea
- John’s ministry and testimony
- Woman at the well
First Passover: Popularity vs. Independence
This was the first Passover of the Savior’s public ministry, but as recorded in Luke, it was his second Passover recorded in the scriptures.
It is clear the Savior was very famous right from the start of his ministry. Here, already at the end of John Chapter 2, the people will believe and follow because the miracles.
23 ¶ Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23 – 25)
The word “commit” in Greek might be translated “entrust.” How often do we “entrust” ourselves to others; particularly those who would commend us for our works or act upon our pride in some way.
14 That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world; (D&C 78:14)
First cleansing of temple
Location: Solomon’s Porch, Jerusalem
13 ¶ And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. (John 2:13-17)
The Savior, in correcting the problems in the temple, perhaps followed the counsel in this priesthood directive:
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; (D&C 121:43)
He performed this work early; the “zeal” of the house of the Lord was clearly movement upon him of the Holy Ghost.
But he also was in control the entire time, as he commanded the men to take the birds away, rather than damaging them in some way.
Sign of Jonah
This experience described by John was referred to later by both Matthew and Mark. In Matthew’s account, it was referred to three different times.
First it was used against the Savior at his trail before the Sanhedrin.
And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. (Matt. 26:61)
We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. (Mark 14:58)
Second, it was used against the Savior as he hung on the cross.
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. (Matt. 27:40)
And third, it was used by the Pharisees to try to prevent the Savior from accomplishing his mission, as they posted guards over the tomb.
62 ¶ Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. (Matt. 27:62 – 66)
How much poorer would we be without John’s Account
John’s Unique Testimony
It is interesting to note that John did not make mention of any of the later references to this incidents in his testimony; yet he knew to record the original incident. It was, perhaps, that he was one of the few that heard the original utterance because the Savior had not formally called the disciples to follow him. This may also be part of the evidence that John had the other witnesses testimonies with him as he wrote his own, knowing the importance of explaining the origin of these comments.
What Were They Asking Really?
Why would the Jews ask for a sign?
Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? (John 2:18)
Were they asking by what authority he cleansed the temple? It seems that they are.
What a strange answer to give.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19)
Was the Savior saying that by the resurrection they would come to know that he was the Son of God?
What other authority could he have shown? The miracles were not enough, that is obvious from the verse below. They generated popularity. But popularity is not a token of authority.
And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:25)
It is interesting that Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews”, a Pharisee. The Bible Dictionary sv Pharisee says
The tendency of their teaching was to … encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride. BD Entry: Pharisees
They prided themselves on their ability to live under a very strict, difficult system, the corrupted law as taught by the scribes, many of which were part of this party called the Pharisees.
I am not sure there are many interviews with the Savior that were more humiliating than the one with Nicodemus.
Listen to Nicodemus’s bewilderment.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3:4, 9 – 10)
The Savior recognized that Nicodemus needed something first, before he could be taught.
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; …
28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness. (Ether 12:27 – 28)
Nicodemus came to the Savior quite literally, although he came by night (v. 2). He needed more humility, and the Savior provided that immediately.
Testimony to Sanhedrin
The footnote to John 3:11 says, “The Greek construction suggests that verses 11–21 contain a direct quotation. This testimony of Jesus was given to a member of the Sanhedrin”
Sanhedrin. The Jewish senate and the highest native court in both civil and ecclesiastical matters. Under the presidency of the high priest it regulated the whole internal affairs of the Jewish nation…. It consisted [of] 71 members and had an aristocratic character, being drawn from the three classes of chief priests, scribes, and elders. In the time of the Lord the Pharisees had the predominating influence upon it (Acts 5:34, 40), but there were Sadducean elements (chief priests, Acts 5:17; scribes, 23:6, 9). The powers of the Sanhedrin were extensive, for the Greek and Roman masters of the Jews granted them a considerable amount of self-government. From the N.T. we gather that it was the supreme court of justice in all cases, and that it had officers of its own who arrested accused persons and carried out its sentences and decrees. Questions involving life and death were removed from its cognizance 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. John 18:31; the stoning of Stephen cannot be regarded as a formal execution), and the Roman authorities could remove a prisoner from its jurisdiction (so Paul, Acts 23).
The extent of the legal jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin varied at different times…. Its decisions were nevertheless regarded as morally binding all over the Jewish world. Thus we find it issuing letters to the synagogue of Damascus, ordering the arrest and removal to Jerusalem of the Christians of that place….BD Entry: Sanhedrin (Emphasis added)
Did Nicodemus view the Savior’s statement as a testimony to the Sanhedrin? Or did just the Savior view it that way?
I don’t think we know how powerful Nicodemus was on the council. But what if he had viewed this as a formal testimony? What if he had taken this testimony to the Sanhedrin? What if Joseph of Amrimathea had joined him in his testimony? What if all the Pharisees had gained a similar testimony? The authority of the Sanhedrin could have established the truth across the entire Jewish world.
What a different outcome that would have been.
Introduction to The Testimony
Jesus introduced his testimony with a statement of his authority.
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (John 3:11 – 13)
Law of Moses
The Pharisees prided themselves on obedience to the Law of Moses; Christ pointed out that that law foreshadowed his life.
14 ¶ And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14 – 15)
What should they have done
The following verses summarizes the Savior’s mission very succinctly.
16 ¶ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16 – 17)
It is clear from subsequent events that they did not accept his witness and testimony.
Results of Rejection
The following verses warn what the result of rejection of him would be.
18 ¶ He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:18 – 21)
Conclusion and Latter-day Application
What a complete, succinct testimony that is, in ten verses. And what perfect timing, right at the start of his ministry. Here was the moment to make the correct choice, rather than entrenching against the Savior, and attempting to change their minds later.
Perhaps the Lord had this same thing in mind when he commanded Joseph to
2 …you are now called immediately to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel, and of this stake which I have planted to be a cornerstone of Zion, which shall be polished with the refinement which is after the similitude of a palace.
3 This proclamation shall be made to all the kings of the world, to the four corners thereof, to the honorable president–elect, and the high–minded governors of the nation in which you live, and to all the nations of the earth scattered abroad.
4 Let it be written in the spirit of meekness and by the power of the Holy Ghost, which shall be in you at the time of the writing of the same;
5 For it shall be given you by the Holy Ghost to know my will concerning those kings and authorities, even what shall befall them in a time to come.
6 For, behold, I am about to call upon them to give heed to the light and glory of Zion, for the set time has come to favor her. (D&C 124:2 – 6)
Jesus’ early ministry in Judaea
I think it is interesting that “scholars” have somehow discussed the relative merits and differences of the baptism of John and Jesus, but to little avail, according to Farrar (p. 169-170). Farrar’s examination of this passage is not much more illuminating. Talmage makes little of the Savior’s baptizing other than as a cause for John’s disciples’ jealously. He is certainly closer to the mark.
But note how much more insightful the Joseph Smith Translation makes John 4:1-4
1 When therefore the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
2 They sought more diligently some means that they might put him to death; for many received John as a prophet, but they believed not on Jesus.
3 Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples;
4 For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another. (Joseph Smith Translation of John 4:1-4)
(It is interesting to me that Talmage wrote before the use of the JST was generally accepted. Talmage certainly would have emphasized it more had he referred to the JST.)
John the Beloved, I am sure, was very careful in his construction of his testimony. He did not include the comments about the Savior baptizing by accident (which were lost and then restored by the Joseph Smith Translation). He did not carelessly sandwich John the Baptists last testimony between two passages about the Savior. He had a reason.
He had just concluded the Lord’s testimony to Nicodemus, wherein he states the universal need of baptism. If we examine the Savior’s ministry among the Nephites, it becomes clear that baptism was central to the Savior’s message.
In 3 Nephi 11:21, the Savior’s first official act, is to call a representative and confer upon him the authority to baptize. The next verses and even the beginning of chapter 12 emphasize again the universal need of baptism.
In chapter 19, after teaching the people the words of the Savior, the next official act of the disciples was to baptize them.
10 And when they had thus prayed they went down unto the water’s edge, and the multitude followed them.
11 And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
12 And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
13 And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them. (3 Nephi 19:10-15)
This passage reminds me of John 4:1-4. The Savior prefers his disciples, allowing them to baptize the people.
Clearly, I believe, John the Beloved was communicating that there was no difference between the Gospel of John and Jesus. Repentance follows faith. Next is baptism, then the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is simply showing that the ministry of John the Baptist, while ending personally, is continuing in the ministry of Jesus.
Location: Aenon near Salim
Are we, as Aaronic Priesthood bearers, willing to “decrease” when it is time? Do we try to set ourselves up for a light, rather than pointing to the true light?
John the Baptist was quite amazing in his ability to let fame go. He didn’t want to be the bridegroom; he was satisfied with being the friend, or as we might call it today, the best man.
As we will see shortly, the Savior really did think of him as the best man. What better approbation could we have?
McConkie says the following of John’s testimony:
What words of preparation and background he used we do not know; no doubt this great and formal introduction was the climax of a persuasive and powerful sermon. But when it came, it was in these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.436)
A good study would be of the steps of conversion demonstrated here in the lives of multiple disciples. The acceptance of these men is in marked contrast to Nicodemus.
Why did Andrew and John leave their Baptist friend—whose doctrines they believed, whose words thrilled their souls, and who had himself baptized each of them in Jordan—to follow another whom as yet they did not even know? What force impels these or any seekers of religious truth to forsake family and friends and possessions and to go they know not where, at the behest of others whom they do not know, but whose words they believe? The answer: they have what we call a testimony; they know in their souls of the truth of the Lord’s work; and they are willing to forsake all else to follow the new light that has been kindled in their soul. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.438 – p.439)
Now the processes of conversion are beginning. Andrew and John have come into the fold. They know Jesus is the Lord—they have heard his voice and believed his words. Andrew now does what every new convert should do: he seeks out the members of his family so they too may receive the saving truths of the gospel. And so Andrew “findeth his own brother Simon,” and says: “We have found the Messias.” It is just that simple: there was no long period of growth and development; he did not need to hear many sermons and see many miracles; it is not something that he grew into gradually. Andrew knew whereof he spoke, and he knew it the very day he left John and followed Jesus. `We have found the Christ; he is the Messiah; God’s Son has come; he is the Deliverer; John testified of him; and we now bear record that John’s witness is true.’ (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.440 – p.441)
Woman at the Well
Location: Samaria (Sychar)
The interview with the woman at the well is strikingly similar to the interview with Nicodemus. The Savior used natural images to teach his message; birth, wind, and water. He told the person something they only knew about themselves. He testified of himself, very directly.
Following these interviews, the “master” (two different masters) instruct their disciples; John the Baptist to his, and Jesus to his.
The results of these interviews were very different. As far as we know, Nicodemus did not have the courage to openly testify of Christ. The woman of Samaria did.
Philip’s later reported success in Samaria is interesting. The Savior commanded the Apostle’s specifically to go to Samaria after the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8). It took Saul’s persecution to motivate them to do so (Acts 8:1-4). But when Philip went, he was very successful (Acts 8:5-25, 40).
The earliest recorded testimony of the Savior was to a woman at the well. The Savior’s testimony planted the seeds that Philip harvested, just as the Savior told his disciples would be the case.