• Life of Christ Comments Off on “Lord, He Stinkest”: Jewish Burial Practices, Mourning Customs and Rabbinic Theology on John 11

    By Gordon Franz

    As the Easter season approaches, Christians contemplate the two greatest events in human history: the death of the Lord Jesus in order to pay for our sins, as well as His victorious resurrection from the grave.

    The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a watershed event in the history of the world. It was proof of His deity (Acts 2:32, 36; Rom. 1:4). It was proof that the payment for sin was complete and accepted by God (Rom. 4:25; 10:9; John 11:25). Finally, it was proof that the Word of God is true. It is the basis of the Christian message (Rom. 1:4; 3:24,25; 5:9,10), the fulfillment of Bible prophecy (Ps. 16:10, cf. Acts 2:22-32; 13:35-39), and the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

    A careful examination of the Scriptures reveals that the entire Trinity was involved in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: the Father (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:24,27,30,31; 13:30; Rom. 6:4; Eph. 1:19,20), the Son (John 2:19-22; 10:17,18), and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:4; 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18).

    John the Baptizer sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really was the coming Messiah (Matt. 11:2,3). The Lord Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (11:4-6).

    At this point in Jesus’ public ministry, there are two recorded accounts of individuals being raised from the dead. The first is Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 9:23-26 // Mark 5:35-43 // Luke 8:49-56) and the second is the son of the widow woman from Naim (Luke 7:11-16). Both miracles took place in Galilee: the first in Capernaum and the second in Naim. How many unrecorded resurrections there were, we do not know. When Jesus sent out His twelve disciples to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” He gave them power to raise people from the dead (Matt. 10:8).

    In the first half of his gospel, the Apostle John records seven miracles, or signs, to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing on Him, one could have eternal life (John 20:30, 31). The culminating miracle was the resurrection of His friend Lazarus from the dead (John 11).

    When John wrote the gospel that bears his name, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his mind went back more than 60 years to this monumental event that he had personally witnessed. He records five Jewish burial practices, mourning customs, or a point of rabbinic theology. A Jewish person reading this gospel at the end of the First century AD would catch the significance to these practices and customs right away.

    The Lord Jesus deliberately did not rush to the aid of his dying friend because He wanted to show His disciples and the world, that He was Lord of Life and had power over death. He came to Bethany, on the backside of the Mount of Olives, on the fourth day after Lazarus died. As He approached the village, Martha, the sister of the deceased, went out to meet Jesus. Her sister, Mary, the text says, “was sitting in the house” (11:20).

    When a Jewish person died, the body was prepared for burial and it was placed in the grave soon after death. It was the custom to bury within 24 hours. After, the family would sit in their house and mourn, receiving the condolences of friends and neighbors for one week, this was called shiva. Mary and Martha were practicing this custom.

    The second custom hinted at in this passage was visiting the tomb. Martha returned to the village and told her sister that Jesus wanted to see her. He arose from her house and went to see Jesus. The mourners in the house thought she was going to visit the tomb of her brother and weep (11:31). Tractate Semahot (“Mourning”) says: “One may go out to the cemetery for three days to inspect the dead for a sign of life, without fear that this smacks of heathen practice. For it happened that a man was inspected after three days, and he went on to live twenty-five years; still another went on to have five children and died later” (8:1).

    The tomb of Lazarus was outside the village of Bethany. Jesus approaches it and commands the people to take away the stone (11:39). John recalled this event and described the tomb as a cave with a stone placed against it (11:38). It was a typical Jewish burial practice to have a tomb hewn out of bedrock. In fact, archaeologists have found hundreds of Jewish rock-hewn burial caves around Jerusalem, many of them on the Mount of Olives. When the Franciscans excavated Bethany in the 1950’s they found several Jewish rock-hewn burials outside the village. It was the practice to place a stone, either round or square, in front of the entrance to the tomb. This stone was called a golal.

    Rabbinic theology will help illustrate the fourth point. When Jesus commanded the people to remove the stone, Martha protested (I like the KJV rendering), “Lord he stinkest!” She points out that her brother had been dead four days and his body was beginning to rot (11:39). According to Rabbinic theology, the body began to decompose after the third day in order to expiate, or be punished for, the sins of the dead person. Jesus is about to demonstrate what He told the people in Jerusalem two years prior to this occasion. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of the condemnation” (5:25-29 NKJV).

    After the stone was removed, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (11:43). The great evangelist of the 19th century, D. L. Moody said, “Jesus had to call Lazarus by name because if he did not, everybody in the grave would have come forth!”

    Verse 44 describes the final burial practice. Lazarus is bound hand and foot with grave clothes and his face was wrapped with a cloth. The Jewish burial practice was to wash the body, anoint it with perfumes, then bind the hands and feet, as well as the jaw, in order to prevent the extremities from flying all over the place when rigor mortis sets in.

    The resurrection of Lazarus was a powerful testimony to the deity of the Lord Jesus and His ability to give eternal life to any and all who would put their trust in Him. In fact, John records that “many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him” (11:45), thus fulfilling the purpose of John’s gospel (20:30, 31). Have you trusted Him as your Savior?

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on The Feedings of the Multitudes – When, Where and Why?

    By Gordon Franz

    All four gospels record the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:11-17; John 6:1-13), but only Matthew (15:29-39) and Mark (8:1-10) record the feeding of the 4,000. Are these feedings actually the same event as some critical scholars suggest, or are they two separate events? When did they take place and why does the Lord Jesus perform the same miracle twice? Who are the recipients of Jesus’ miracles? What actually took place on the hillside of Galilee and elsewhere?

    The early pilgrims to the Holy Land commemorated both feedings (they assumed there were two feedings) at the site of Heptapegon (Greek for “seven springs”). A pilgrim, tourist or student of the Bible Lands visiting Israel today would recognize the corrupted Arabic form of the name Tabgha where the Benedictine monastery and church are situated. Is this tradition accurate? The visitor to the site will enjoy the Benedictine hospitality as well as view the lovely mosaic floor from the Byzantine church that depicts a basket containing four loaves marked with crosses and two fish on each side.

    Ironically, the artisan who made this mosaic floor did not read his Bible or eat in any of the local fish restaurants while he was employed at the church. First, the Bible says there were five loaves of bread, not four. Second, the fish depicted on the floor has two dorsal fins. These are not indigenous to the Sea of Galilee! The “musht” fish (Arabic for “comb”), better known as the “Saint Peter’s Fish”, has only one dorsal fin. Does this site square with the information given to us in the Bible? If not, how and why did the tradition move there? Is it possible to identify the site where Jesus performed both miracles?


    When did this event that place?

    This is probably the easiest question to answer because the Scriptures are quite clear on the matter. John 6:4 says, “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.” I will assume an AD 30 crucifixion and resurrection for the Lord Jesus. Thus the event took place in the Spring of AD 29, right before Passover. Another time indicator in the gospel accounts has to do with the grass. Matthew states that Jesus commands the multitudes to “sit down on the grass” (14:19). Mark says the grass is green (6:39) and John informs us there “was much grass in the place” (6:10). There is always lush vegetation in Galilee during the springtime, especially right before Passover. However, soon after Passover, the “hamsin” winds from the Arabian desert blow and kill off all the flowers and grass (cf. Ps. 103:15, 16; Isa. 40:6-8). If the Synoptic gospels are in chronological order at this point, and I believe they are, than the feeding of the 5,000 follows immediately after Jesus is informed of the beheading of John the Baptizer (Matt. 14:22). It also took place after the Twelve who had been sent out two-by-two to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” returned for their “debriefing”. Jesus wanted to spend time along with His disciples.

    Where did this event take place?

    This is the most difficult question to answer and scholars have had a field day trying to answer it. The gospel records give several clues that need to be reconciled. First, the Synoptic gospel writers say it was a “deserted place” (Matt. 14:13, 15; Mark 6:31, 32, 35; Luke 9:10, 12). Luke adds that this deserted place belonged to the city of Bethsaida (9:10). Second, John informs us that it was up on a mountain (6:3) and after the feeding of the multitudes, the disciples “went down to the sea” (6:16). Third, Jesus and His disciples went out by boat to this place (Matt. 14:13; Mark 6:32) and after feeding of the multitude, Jesus immediately made His disciples get into their boat and head for the “other side” (Matt. 14:22; Mark 6:45; John 6:16, 17).

    Mendel Nun, a retired fisherman from Kibbutz Ein Gev, has done an extensive survey of the ancient harbors and anchorages around the Sea of Galilee. Due to abnormally low water levels at times, he went out and located and documented 16 ancient harbors and anchorages. It would make sense that Jesus and His fisherman-disciples would anchor their boat in one of these harbors. Fourth, the multitudes came from the surrounding cities on foot. It would be impossible for such a large number of people to cross the Jordan River in such a short time, especially during the spring flood stage. Thus the multitudes would have to be either from the east side of the Jordan River or the west. Fifth, after the disciples got into the boat to head for Bethsaida and the “other side” (Mark 6:45), a strong east wind that was “contrary”, or “against them” (Matt. 14:24; Mark 6:48), blew them off course to the Land of the Gennessaret and Capernaum (Matt. 14:34; Mark 6:53; John 6:17, 21). This eastern wind storm, called a “Sharkia”, suddenly blew off the Golan Heights. This storm could not have been the westerly winter storm that brought rain because the fisherman-disciples were well aware of how to interpret the appearance of the sky (Matt. 16:1-3). “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening’.” The fisherman-disciples would not have ventured out on the lake if they knew a westerly or northerly (cf. Prov. 25: 23) rain storm was coming. However, the easterly windstorms arise suddenly, unexpectedly, when the sky is clear. This is the storm the fisherman of the lake fear most. These are the Biblical requirements for the location of the feeding of the 5,000.

    Gustaf Dalman, in his Sacred Sites and Ways (p. 173), places the miraculous feeding at Mika’ ‘Edlo, between Kursi and Ein Gev, on the east side of the lake. The late Father Bargil Pixner, a Biblical geographer who lived at Tabgha, follows the traditional identification of this event and places it at Tabgha.

    One of the earliest pilgrim’s accounts for this event is Aetheria (AD 390). He states, “Not far from there (Capernaum) one can see the stone steps on which our Lord stood. Just there, above the Lake, there is a plain rich in vegetation, which has plenty of grass and palm trees. Next to them are seven fountains, each of which pours forth much water. In this field our Lord fed the people with five loaves and two fishes. Moreover, the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has been made into an altar. Visitors take away small pieces of this stone for their welfare, and all find it salutary. The public road where the Apostle Matthew had his seat of custom passed close to the walls of this church. From there towards the mountains which stand nearby, is the raised piece of ground where, after climbing up to it, the Savior delivered the Beatitudes. Not far from here, however, is a synagogue which our lord cursed.” There are three geographical features that are known today. The “stone steps” are clearly visible today on the lake side of the Church of the Primacy. The “seven fountains” is a clear reference to Heptapegon. The “stone” is the altar area of the Church of the Multiplication of the Fish and the Loaves. Aetheria points out that the “seat of custom” was next to the church. However, geographically Matthew would have had his custom house either in Capernaum, or east of Capernaum toward Gaulanitis. The Sermon on the Mount is localized here as well. Even as early as the 4th century, several events from the gospels were localized in one area. More than likely, this was for the convenience of the pilgrims. The site was chosen because it was near the main highway, the seven springs would draw visitors because of its natural beauty and abundance of drinking water, and the area was sanctified by the memory of Christ and the Twelve. But was it the real site? The biggest draw back to this site, as well as Dalman’s, is that it does not belong to the territory of Bethsaida.

    A short digression should be made to discuss the identification of Bethsaida. Geographers of the Bible have hotly debated the identification of this site and whether there was one Bethsaida or two. Josephus describes Bethsaida Julias as the southern capital of Gaulanitis under the rule of Philip the Tetrarch (4 BC to AD 34). The Gospel of John states that Bethsaida, the meaning of which is “house of the fisherman”, was the home (apo) of Philip, one of the Twelve, and the birthplace (ek) of Andrew and Peter (1:44). He also states that Philip, the disciple, came from “Bethsaida in Galilee” (12:21). Is Bethsaida Julias the same city as Bethsaida in Galilee?

    More than likely, Bethsaida Julias is located at the site of et-Tell, east of the Jordan River and about two and a half kilometers from the lake, or at el-Mesadiyye, just southeast of Tel el-Araj.. According to Josephus, the border between Galilee, to the west, and Gaulanitis to the east, is the Jordan River. Bethsaida in Galilee should be located ay Khirbet el-‘Araj, named after a sacred zizyphus tree, and is also east of the present day Jordan River. Several scholars have suggested that the Jordan River ran east of the Khirbet el-‘Araj during the Second Temple period, thus putting the site in Galilee. If this is the case, it has far reaching implications for the identification of the location for the feeding of the 5,000. Luke places the event in a deserted place belonging to Bethsaida. Assuming Bethsaida in Galilee is being referred to, than the event took place on one of the hills west of the Jordan River, rather than on the Plains of Bethsaida east of the river. I would like to propose that the feeding of the 5,000 took place in the vicinity of present day Moshav Almagor.

    The three major Jewish cities on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee are Capernaum, Chorizin and Bethsaida of Galilee. These are the three cities that the Lord Jesus pronounces woes against. A careful examination of a topographical map reveals some very interesting data to help understand these cities and the territories that is under their control. Between Capernaum and Bethsaida there are three wadis (dry river beds) that drain into the Sea of Galilee. Moving from west to east is Wadi Korazeh that turns into Wadi el-Wabdah as it drains into the lake. The middle wadi is Wadi en-Nashef (Nahal Cah), and finally west of Bethsaida is Wadi Zukluk (Nahal Or). The fishing ground for Capernaum is Tabgha to the west of the city. The fishing grounds for Bethsaida of Galilee would be Kh. ‘Oshsheh (Aish), to the west. Both sites have ancient anchorages. The territory controlled by Capernaum would be everything west of Wadi Korazeh to include Tabgha. Chorazin would probably control the land between Wadi Korazeh and Wadi en-Nashef. Bethsaida would control the land from Wadi en-Nashef to the Jordan River. The elevated location of Moshav Almagor would be within the control of Bethsaida in Galilee.

    The Biblical accounts have Jesus going up a mountain and there feeding the multitudes. The site of Moshav Almagor has a commanding view of the entire area and a clear view down to Bethsaida in Galilee. An interesting side light, when Jesus saw the multitudes He turned to Philip and asked him where one could buy bread. Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, would have known where all the bakeries were just in the city just down the hill in which to buy bread. Jesus probably met His disciples in Capernaum in order to take them by boat to this deserted place. Wherever the deserted place was, they would have landed in one of the harbors or anchorages along the shore. The Kh. ‘Oshsheh (Aish) anchorage would fit the topography well. One could visualize the disciples walking down the hill to get to their boat that was left in the anchorage and head across the lake in an eastward direction. Most of the people in the crowd that Jesus preached to, and fed, were Galilean Jews. For them to travel on foot to Almagor would not have been that difficult. If the multitude had to cross the Jordan River at flood stage in order to get to the east side, this would have been more difficult. Dalman did not think this was a difficulty. He recalled, “On Oct. 10, 1921, I saw that it was almost possible to cross over the Jordan dry-shod, just where it enters the lake. An absolutely dry bar lay before the mouth.” It should be pointed out that the river would be low in October because the former rains had not begun, thus causing the river to overflow its banks (cf. Matt. 7:27; Luke 6:48, 49). Finally, Jesus commanded His disciples to get in the boat and head for Bethsaida, possibly el-Mesadiyya, in an eastward direction and the “other side”. The indication seems to be that they are headed in an eastward or southeastward direction toward the Decapolis area. This withdrawal would make good political sense. The crowd wanted to make Jesus king because of the miracle that He did (John 6:15). If word got back to Herod Antipas in Tiberias, he would send out a detachment of soldiers to arrest Jesus and His disciples for insurrection. Only a few weeks before, Herod had John the Baptizer beheaded because he did not like what he heard from him. The Lord Jesus, knowing His time was not yet come, wanted to avoid trouble and withdraw from Galilee. True, He was in Capernaum the next day, but soon after, He takes off for Tyre and Sidon. The disciples headed in an eastward direction but were met with a strong east winds off the Golan Heights. This wind blows them in the direction of the Land of Gennesaret, of which Capernaum is the easternmost part.


    In order to answer the question “why” Jesus fed this multitude, the “when” and “where” of the feeding of the 4,000 should be addressed.

    The focus of the ministry of the Lord Jesus toward His disciples changed somewhat after the feeding of the 5,000. He wanted to spend time alone with His disciples and to avoid the crowds. They traveled to Tyre and Sidon to escape the arm of Herod Antipas, but also to spend time together. After ministering to the Syro-Phoenician woman, they departed from the region and “came through the midst of the region of the Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee” (Mark 7:31). There, the Lord Jesus preformed a number of healing miracles for three days, primarily to a Gentile audience, and they “glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37). Toward the end of the third day the multitudes are fed with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. This event takes place on the east side of the lake, but where?

    Father Bargil Pixner places it at Tel Hadar and has even put up a marker to commemorate the site. This site, however, is north of the area of the Decapolis. The border between the Decapolis and Gaulanitis apparently was the Wadi Samak. I would like to propose that the feeding of the 4,000 took place at the Kursi Church and in fact, that is the event that is being commemorated, rather than the casting of the demons into the swine.

    There are several reasons for this suggestion. First, I have already suggested elsewhere that the demoniac event took place near the harbor of Gadara in the southeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee. The ancient harbor is located near Tel Samra on the property of Kibbutz Ha’on. Second, there is no indication from the mosaics on the floor of the church that it commemorates the demoniac event. Third, the early church sources and pilgrim accounts just state that the demoniac event took place on the east side of the lake, but are not specific as to where it was. Fourth, the mosaics seem to hint that this is where Jesus fed the 4,000.

    The mosaic floor is partially intact. Still visible are some of the plants and animals. Most of the animals were destroyed during an Islamic iconoclastic craze yet some can still be discerned. The fish that were partially destroyed interested me the most. Mendel Nun identified them as barbell fish, yet the gospel narrative states they were “small fish”, most likely the sardines that Wadi Samak is noted for. The other thing that interested me was the baskets. They contained handles which were mentioned in the gospel narratives of the feeding of the 4,000 (Matt. 15:37; 16:10; Mark 8:8, 20). One basket is similar to the basket on the mosaic floor at Tabgha. Unfortunately this floor was vandalized a few years ago. If this proposal is accepted, than the church would commemorate the feeding of the 4,000 rather than the demoniac event.

    To the southeast of the basilica, on the slopes of the Wadi Samak, is an ancient tower. According to the excavator, this is the “chapel of the miracle of the swine.” Some have suggested this was built over the tombs that the demoniacs lived in. Nothing in the chapel indicates to whom or what it was dedicated to. If my suggestion is accepted, it could possibly be dedicated to the healing events that took place just prior to the feeding of the multitudes. The text states that Jesus “went up on the mountain and sat down there.” For the convenience of the pilgrims, this chapel was placed just above on the slopes of the mountain. Kursi, interestingly enough, means “armchair, chair,” a place for sitting down.


    There are at least three reasons why Jesus performed this miracle. The primary reason was to teach the disciples a lesson in faith. Several months before this event, He had sent out His disciples on their own for the first time to preach the gospel to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel.” He gave them authority over unclean spirits, the power to heal diseases, and to raise the dead. Now they were returning from their preaching tour and Jesus wanted to hear what they did and the response they received to the gospel message. This time was sort of a “debriefing” session. As the Master Teacher, the Lord Jesus wanted to reinforce the lessons taught and learned. He challenged the disciples to continue using the power He gave them. Here was a teaching moment. The multitudes that were gathered needed to be fed. Yet it seems the disciples had a “laid back” attitude, i.e. “Well Lord, we’re with you now, we’ll let You do the miracles!” Jesus wanted them to get involved. After the supper, there were twelve baskets of leftover bread picked up, one basket by each disciple. I suspect that the Lord Jesus did this to “convict” each of the disciples of their lack of faith and to show them His power and provision.

    The second reason was to provide a setting for the gospel to be preached the next day in the synagogue in Capernaum. John informs us that he wrote his gospel for the specific purpose of setting forth seven (or eight, depending on how you count them) “signs” (miracles) to demonstrate that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you might have life through His name” (20:30,31). The crowd wanted to make Jesus king because He provided a “welfare program” that provided for their physical needs. The next day in the Shabbat service at the synagogue in Capernaum He expounded the real meaning of the miracle. He was the “Bread of life.”

    The final reason was to enhance the understanding of the disciples (Mark 8:21). Jesus appears to be trying to teach “kosher” disciples, who were always reluctant to have any association with Gentiles that salvation was for all, both Jews and Gentiles. Origen may have had a point when he allegorized the two accounts in this manner. [I must confess, I hate to admit he might be right!]. He suggested that the feeding of the 5,000 was to a Jewish audience, and the twelve baskets taken up represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Origen would be geographically correct if the feeding of the 5,000 took place at Moshav Almagor. The feeding of the 4,000 took place in the Decapolis area (assuming Kursi is the proper location). The seven baskets that were taken up would represent, according to Origen, the seven Gentile nations in the Land when Joshua entered it (Deut. 7:1; Acts 13:19).

    If Origen is correct, the lesson is clear, the offer of salvation is for all, both Jews and Gentiles, and the disciples of the Lord Jesus should remove the prejudices they have toward those who are not like themselves and share the gospel with all. The gospel was then, and is now, the good news of salvation for any and all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, because He was the One who died for all their sins and rose from the dead three days later to show sin had been paid for in full. God offers His righteousness to any and all who trust the Lord Jesus, and Him alone, and not their own works of righteousness (I Cor. 15:1-4; Phil. 3:9).

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Temple Tax

    By Gordon Franz

    “Does Your Teacher Not Pay the [Temple] Tax? ” (Mt 17:24-27)

    Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “… in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” What was said in 1789 is still true today. Franklin, however, was not the first to address these issues. The Lord Jesus spoke of the certainty of death (Luke 12:20; cf. Heb. 9:27; James 4:14, 15) as well as the certainty of taxes. He addressed the issue of the civil tax to the Roman government (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) as well as the religious tax, called the Shekalim, paid to the Temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 17:24-27).

    Matthew, the tax collector (Matt. 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32), was employed by the Roman government to collect civil taxes. He is the only gospel writer to record the incident of the Temple tax.

    This paper will explore several aspects of this saying. First, the saying will be put in its chronological setting. Second, the shekel will be examined in light of First Century Jewish use for the Temple tax. Third, fishhooks from the area of the Sea of Galilee will be analyzed. The kind of fish caught by Peter will be the next subject. Finally the purpose of this saying will round out our search.

    The Chronological Setting

    The Temple tax incident took place in Capernaum soon after the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus on Mount Hermon. This event occurred in September of AD 29, right before Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles). As the disciples walked back to Capernaum with the Lord Jesus, they engaged in a heated theological discussion among themselves, “Who is the greatest?” (Mark 9:33, 34). Before the Lord Jesus addressed that question, He demonstrated Biblical greatness by paying the Temple tax for Himself and Peter.

    The Shekel ( Stater)

    During the Second Temple period, the Temple institution collected a half- shekel tax annually. This tax was designated for the daily and Shabbat (festival) sacrifices, their libations, the omer, the two loaves of bread, the show bread, the communal sacrifices and other needs of the Temple ( Mishnah Shekalim 4:1-4). The rabbis linked the annual half- shekel tax to the half- shekel offering in the Pentateuch (Liver 1963: 184).

    This half- shekel was mentioned in Exodus 30:11-16. There seems to be a hint in the Bible that this tax became a permanent institution during the First Temple Period (Je(ho)ash – II Kings 12:4, 16 // II Chron. 24:4-13; Josiah – II Kings 22:3-7 // II Chron. 34:8-14). The one-third shekel seems to be the Persian equivalent of the half- shekel (Nehemiah 10:33, 34). Josephus, the First Century AD Jewish historian, likewise understood the Temple tax to be the same as the one decreed by Moses in the wilderness ( Antiquities 3:193-196; LCL 4:409-411; 18:312-314; LCL 9:181).

    A warning was given on the first day of Adar (around the month of March) that the half- shekel was due ( Mishnah Shekalim 1:1). On the 15th of the month, the tables were set up in the provinces in order to collect the tax.

    One might assume, since Capernaum was a major Jewish center in Galilee that one of the tables was in that city. By the 25th of Adar, the tables were set up in the Temple ( Mishnah Shekalim 1:3). If one chose to pay the tax in the Temple, there were 13 shofar-chests in the Temple court which were used to collect different offerings ( Mishnah Shekalim 6:5). One was inscribed “New Shekel dues: which was for that year. Another was inscribed “Old [ shekel dues]” in order to collect the tax from the previous year if it had not been paid.

    Every Jewish male, 20 years old and up, voluntarily paid this tax once a year. He was to pay the tax either in his province or in the Temple in Jerusalem ( Mishnah Shekalim 1:3). The tax was always paid in the Tyrian coinage ( Mishnah Bekhoroth 8:7; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushim 11b). These coins average 14.2 grams in weight and were minted with near pure silver.

    Leo Kadman describes an important discovery relating to these Tyrian shekels. He reports: “In the spring of 1960, a hoard of about 4,500 ancient coins was discovered near Isfiya on Mount Carmel; 3,400 of the coins were Tyrian Shekels, about 1,000 Half-shekels, and 160 Roman Dinarii of Augustus. The Shekels and Half-shekels are dated from 40 B.C.E. to 52/53 C.E. … the bulk of them from 20-53 C.E. … In the middle of the first century C.E., there was only one purpose for which the exclusive use of Tyrian Shekels was prescribed: the Temple-Dues of half a Shekel, which every male Jew of 20 years of age and above had to pay yearly to the Temple in Jerusalem. … The disproportion between the 3,400 Shekels and the 1,000 Half-Shekels is to be understood from the prescription of the Mishnah that each payment of a Half-Shekel for one person was liable to an agio1 of 4-8%, while the payment of a Full-Shekel for two persons was exempt from the agio. … The 160 Dinarii exactly represents the agio of 8% on the 1,000 Half-Shekel found in the hoard (1962:9, 10).

    This hoard of coins was probably from a community of 30,000 Jews living in Phoenicia. The coins were most likely hidden on Mount Carmel when the caravans realized they could not make it to Jerusalem in May AD 67, because the Romans controlled the road from Megiddo to Jerusalem (Kadman 1962:11).

    Those in authority approached Peter in September of AD 29 to inquire if he and Jesus were going to pay their Temple tax for that year. Apparently, Jesus did not pay the Temple tax the previous spring because the only time He was in Capernaum before Passover was on Shabbat (John 6:4, 59). As an observant Jew, He would not have handled money on that day. The Temple tax from Mesopotamia was due in September for Succoth (Kadman 1962:11). Those who received the Temple tax in Capernaum probably wanted to send what they collected since Passover along with the caravans going up to Jerusalem for Succoth that year.

    The Fishhook

    Only a few fishhooks have been discovered in archaeological excavations in the region of the Sea of Galilee. Two were found in the traditional “St. Peter’s House” in Capernaum (Corbo 1972:73, 74, fig. 26; 1975:83, photo 32). These fishhooks come from the destruction level of the fourth century structure and not the floor of the first century house. Most likely the hooks were placed there by pilgrims wanting to commemorate the event from the life of Peter (Taylor 1993: 278). Another fishhook, made of iron and measuring 2.5 inches long, was found at the site of et-Tell, identified by the excavators as Bethsaida (Kuhn and Arav 1991:102, 105, plate 1:13). The hook is most likely first century or earlier. However, in the first volume of the excavation report, there is no mention of this fishhook (Arav and Freund 1995:27, 28, Fig. 17, 244, 245).

    The Fish

    A tourist visiting Israel usually has an obligatory fish dinner at one of the fish restaurants around the Sea of Galilee. The fish usually served, head and all, is called the “St. Peter’s” fish, known as the Musht (or “comb” in Arabic, for its long dorsal fin) fish. Sometimes a modern shekel coin is found in the mouth by someone in the tour group, usually one of the children. Of course, the waiter put it in the mouth!

    Early Christian tradition says that the musht fish was the one caught with the hook by Peter (Sapir and Ne-eman 1967:7). One of its characteristics is that the mother fish carries the fertilized eggs in her mouth for three weeks until they hatch. For several days thereafter, the young fry swim near the mouth. Any sign of danger, the mother opens her mouth and the fry swim back inside the mouth for protection (Nun 1989:6, 7). This fish, the reasoning goes, has a big enough mouth to hold a shekel coin. The problem with this tradition is that the musht fish is a plankton eater and caught with a net and not a hook and line. The most likely reason this fish got the name “St. Peter’s” was because the local eating establishments, catering to the pilgrims to the Holy Land, found the name very marketable and good for tourism! (Nun 1989:46-48).

    Only two other fish are possible, the catfish and the barbell fish. The catfish, a scavenger, is possible because it feeds off the bottom of the Lake, and thus could pick up the coin. It can also be seen along the rocky shore near ancient Capernaum. If it was the catfish, the reason Jesus instructed Peter to open the mouth of the fish (Matt. 17:17) was because it was non-kosher (it has no scales, Lev. 11:9-12) and would have been thrown back by the fisherman without even looking inside (Matt. 13:48).

    Most likely, however, the fish caught by Peter was the Barbel fish. This fish, in the carp family, has barbs at the corner of its mouth, thus its name. It is a predator and “bottom feeder” and would go for a baited hook (Nun 1989:86). It is usually caught along the shore during the autumn (Dalman 1935:134), the chronological setting of this event.

    The Purpose of This Incident

    A lesson is most effectively taught if the teacher demonstrates the idea in a practical way. The Lord Jesus, the Master Teacher, demonstrated Biblical greatness before He answered the question put to Him by His disciples.

    In His omniscience, Jesus knew of the conversation between Peter and the individuals who received the Temple tax. They asked if Jesus paid the tax or not. Peter answered in the affirmative. When Peter entered the house, Jesus put the question to Peter whether the sons of the kings or strangers paid taxes to kings of the earth. Peter correctly responded that the strangers did. Jesus reinforced this fact by stating that the sons were free. Not wanting to offend the tax collectors though, Jesus instructed Peter to cast a hook in the lake and take a shekel that would be found in the mouth of the fish and pay the Temple tax for Him and Peter. Why did He do this?

    Jesus was demonstrating humility and servant hood, the true characteristic of Biblical greatness, to Peter and his fellow disciples (Mark 10:42-45). Jesus, following up on Peter’s great confession made at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:15-17), was God manifest in human flesh (I Tim. 3:16 NKJV). He did not have to pay the Temple tax because in the analogy that He made to Peter, He was the king’s son. The Temple was His Father’s House and He was greater than that Temple (Matt. 12:6; Matt. 21:12, 13; Mark 11:17), yet He voluntarily, and in humility, paid the tax. What a lesson in humility!

    Jesus demonstrated another principle of humility when He paid for Peter as well. He did not have to do this either, but He did. I suspect, but can not prove, that Jesus singled out Peter because he was full of pride after having seen the Transfiguration. I wonder if Peter was not the one who first raised the question, “Who is the greatest?” It is quite possible that this is the incident that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he described the humble “mind of Christ” when he wrote: “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 3:3, 4).

    Jesus exemplified humility when He paid Peter’s tax as well. These words were penned in the context of the Lord Jesus humbling Himself by His death on the cross of Calvary (Phil. 2:1-11).

    This event records the first time the disciples asked the question, “Who is the greatest?”, but it was not the last. On the way to Jerusalem for Passover in AD 30, they raised the question in Jericho (Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45). Later, just before Passover, Jesus addressed the scribes and Pharisees on this issue (Matt. 23:11, 12). The disciples, however, still did not understand the answer to the question. At the Last Supper they were still arguing the question (Luke 22:24-30). Jesus again gave a practical demonstration of humility by washing the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-20).

    These examples of humility finally broke through to Peter. Years later, as he reflected on them, he admonished his follow elders to … “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, … [not] being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (I Pet. 5:2, 3).

    Peter finally learned the lesson: God gives grace to the humble, but He will exalt the humble in due time (I Pet. 5:5, 6; cf. Prov. 3:34; 15:33).


    Arav, Rami, and Freund, Richard, eds.

    1995 Bethsaida. A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University.

    Bruce, A. B.

    1971 The Training of the Twelve. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

    Corbo, V.

    1972 The House of St. Peter at Capharnaum. Jerusalem: Franciscan.

    1975 Cafarnao. Gli Edifici Della Citta’. Jerusalem: Franciscan.

    Dalman, G.

    1935 Sacred Sites and Ways. London: SPCK.

    Danby, H.

    1985 The Mishnah. Oxford: Oxford University.


    1978 Jewish Antiquities. Books 1-4. Vol. 4. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loed Classical Library 242.

    1981 Jewish Antiquities. Books 18-19. Vol. 9. Trans. by L. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 433.

    Kadman, L.

    1962 Temple Dues and Currency in Ancient Palestine in the Light of Recent Discovered Coin-Hoards. Israel Numismatic Bulletin 1:9-11.


    1991 Seder Moed. Vol. 3. Shekalim. Jerusalem: Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora of the World Zionist Organization.

    Kuhn, H., and Arav, Rami

    1991 The Bethsaida Excavation: Historical and Archaeological Approaches. Pp. 77-106 in The Future of Early Christianity. Edited by B. Pearson. Minneapolis: Fortress.

    Liver, J.

    1963 The Half-Shekel Offering in Biblical and Post-Biblical Literature. Harvard Theological Review 56/3: 173-198.

    Nun, Mendel

    1989 The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kennereth Sailing.

    Sapir, B., and Ne’eman, D.

    1967 Capernaum. Tel Aviv: Historical Sites Library.

    Taylor, J.

    1993 Christians and the Holy Places. Oxford: Clarendon.

    1 An agio is a fee paid for exchanging money. One might call it a commission.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Jesus in the Region of Tyre and Sidon

    By Gordon Franz


    During the summer of 2005, while standing on top of the dump of Area A-5, I had a conversation with the director of the Hazor excavation, Dr. Amnon Ben Tor. He asked me why most Christian pilgrims and tourists visit Megiddo, but not Hazor. I responded that there were two reasons. The first reason is logistics. The pilgrim / tourist lands at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and spend the first night in either Tel Aviv or Natanya. The next day they head for Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. Megiddo is just off the road on the way to Nazareth, so they stop there. The second reason is its Biblical connection. Megiddo is mentioned in Revelation 16:16 as Armageddon. With that, Amnon said, “Find me a New Testament connection for Hazor!” I replied that I thought the Lord Jesus walked past the site on several occasions with His disciples. He said emphatically, “Write me an article!”

    As I contemplated and researched this assignment, I came to the conclusion that Jesus walked past the ruins of Hazor with His disciples on their way to the region of Tyre and Sidon. But I wondered, “Why did Jesus take His disciples to the region of Tyre and Sidon?” There might have been a handful of Jewish people living in this predominately Gentile area that was outside the territory of Galilee. In fact, Josephus, the First Century Jewish historian comments that “among the Phoenicians the Tyrians, are notoriously our bitterest enemies” ( Against Apion 1:70, 71; LCL 1:191). That does not sound like a nice neighborhood to visit!

    The accounts of this visit to Gentile territory can be found in Matt. 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30.


    The Syro-Phoenician woman is used by the Lord Jesus as a test case to expose prejudice in the lives of the Twelve and then teach them a very valuable lesson concerning prejudice. The lesson is this: an exclusive mentality caused by pride; one that says we’re better than you, economically, ethnically, physically, religiously, can result in prejudice and could lead to partiality and discrimination.

    Just prior to Jesus’s departure from the Sea of Galilee, He addressed the issue of defilement. His disciples asked Him about His comments. He answered them, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23). Jesus then gave a vivid lesson to His disciples about pride that came to fruition as prejudice.

    Matthew and Mark are the only gospel writers that record this event. Mark, hearing this account from Peter, would have recorded it because this was a lesson Peter had to learn the hard way. Even though he was an apostle to the circumcision, Peter came to realize that salvation was for all, both Jews and Gentiles. Mark was also writing to a Jewish audience in Rome. Both record this event because they may have included this event in order to provoke their Jewish audience to jealousy when they realize Gentiles can be part of the Kingdom of God as well (Rom. 11:11, 12).

    The Geographical and Historical Setting

    Matthew and Mark both record that Jesus and the Twelve departed to the “region of Tyre and Sidon” (Matt. 15:21; Mark 7:24, 31). Commentators are divided as to whether Jesus and His disciples actually visited these Phoenician cities or they just stepped out of Galilee into the region of Tyre. If it’s the latter, they could have gone up the Hulah Valley, just past the ancient city of Hazor and headed up the hill toward Kedesh of Naphtali. Josephus says that Kedesh, or Kedasa, as it was known in the First century, was “a Tyrian village” ( Wars 2:459; LCL 2: 503). The fact that Sidon is mentioned by the gospel writers seems to indicate that they went deeper into Tyrian territory than just stepping outside of Galilee.

    I assume that Jesus either visited the city of Tyre, or He and His disciples were very close to it. Strabo, a Greek geographer, wrote a description of the city of Tyre sometime at the beginning of the First Century AD stating: “Tyre is wholly an island, being built up nearly in the same way as Aradus; and it is connected with the mainland by a mole, which was constructed by Alexander when he was besieging it; and it has two harbours, one that can be closed and the other, called ‘Aegyptian’ harbour, open. The houses here, it is said, have many stories, even more than the houses at Rome, and on this account, when an earthquake took place, it lacked but little of utterly wiping out the city. The city was also unfortunate when it was taken by siege by Alexander; but it overcame such misfortunes and restored itself both by means of the seamanship of its people, in which the Phoenicians in general have been superior to all peoples of all times, and by means of their dye-houses for purple; for the Tyrian purple has proved itself by far the most beautiful of all; and the shell-fish are caught near the coast; and the other things requisite for dyeing are easily got; and although the great number of dye-works makes the city unpleasant to live in, yet it makes the city rich through the superior skill of its inhabitants. The Tyrians were adjudged autonomous, not only by the kings, but also, at small expense to them, by the Romans, when the Romans confirmed the decree of the kings. Heracles is paid extravagant honours by them. The number and size of their colonial cities is an evidence of their power in maritime affairs. Such, then, are the Tyrians” ( Geography 16.2.23; LCL 7: 267, 269).

    Pliny the Elder, writing later in the First Century AD, describes Tyre in these terms: “Next Tyre, once an island separated from the mainland by a very deep sea-channel 700 yards wide, but now joined to it by works constructed by Alexander when besieging the place, and formerly famous as the mother-city from which sprang the cities of Leptis, Utica and the great rival of Rome’s empire in coveting world-sovereignty, Carthage, and also Cadiz, which she founded outside the confines of the world; but the entire renown of Tyre now consists in a shell-fish and a purple dye! The circumference of the city, including Old Tyre on the coast, measures 19 miles, the actual covering 2 ½ miles” ( Natural History 5:76; LCL 2:279). For a history of Roman Tyre, see also Fleming 1915:70-73 and Bikai 1992:61-68.

    Strabo briefly mentions Alexander the Great building a causeway from the mainland to the island of Tyre. The full history is very interesting. Alexander the Great thought himself to be Heracles. The oracle of Delphi instructed him to offer a sacrifice in the temple of Heracles in Tyre. When he approached Tyre on his way down the Phoenician coast in July, 332 BC, he asked to sacrifice at Tyre. The people of Tyre refused him entrance. [Memo to people of Tyre: When Heracles comes knocking at your door and wants to sacrifice to himself, you let him in … or else!]. Alexander built the causeway to the island in order to conquer the city, thus fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy made several hundred years before. “They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timbers, and your soil in the midst of the water (26:12).”

    The Greek god Heracles, known as Melkarth to the Phoenicians, was the main deity of Tyre. Yet he was not the only god worshipped in this city. An inscription was discovered in the necropolis of Tyre that dated the dedication of a temple to the god Apollo to around AD 28/29 (Rey-Coquais 1977:1-3, Plate 50; Bikai, Fulco, and Marchand 1996). This event took place around the time of the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman.

    From the accounts of Strabo and Pliny the Elder, we learn that the people of First Century AD Tyre excelled in two areas. First, they were master seamen. They were the best mariners in the Mediterranean world, plying their ships and trading as far as Spain, if not beyond. Second, they were skilled dye workers that manufactured a famous red-purple dye that was given the name Tyrian purple. This dye was extracted from a certain gland of the spiny dye-murex (Ziderman 1990). This product brought great wealth to the city.

    The extraction of the dye from live snails and discarding them to rot, as well as the whole dyeing process did not leave the best fragrance in the city. For some young men of Tyre, a career choice might have been a difficult decision to make. “Do I stay in the polluted city of Tyre and make a lot of money, or do I sail on the Mediterranean and enjoy the fresh sea breeze?!”

    The Theological / Chronological Setting

    The journey to Tyre and Sidon took place around the time of Passover, AD 29. In order to understand the significance of this journey, a brief review of key events in the ministry of Jesus to the disciples must be recounted.

    In the spring of AD 28, sometime after Passover, Jesus is at the height of His popularity. The crowds are following Him, listening to His messages, seeing people being healed and demons being cast out of people. The gospel writers state that the people were from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Perea and Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:6-12; Luke 6:17-19). This raises the possibility that this Syro-Phoenician woman had already heard Jesus and seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons in Galilee before He came to Tyre. Or, she had heard about Jesus’ mighty works from family or friends that had gone to Galilee. Most likely the former is the case because the woman expressed her faith in the Lord Jesus and had a correct theological understanding as to who He was (Rom. 10:9-17).

    Later in the spring, Jesus healed a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). According to Eusebius, a 4th century Church Father, this woman was a Gentile from Caesarea Philippi ( Ecclesiastical History 7.18; LCL 2:175,177).

    In the fall of that year, the religious leaders accused Jesus of doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). At this point in time, Jesus made a major shift in the focus of His ministry. He decided to take His disciples over to the “other side” to the Decapolis city of Gadara, a pagan / Gentile city where they ate non-kosher food and worshiped pagan deities. One could go into a deli at Gadara and purchase a ham and cheese sandwich, or go to the fish restaurant at the harbor of Gadara on the Sea of Galilee and have a meal of catfish and chips!

    One of the disciples baulks at this venture and makes the excuse, “Let me first go and (re)bury my father.” Jesus rebukes him with the words, “Follow Me. Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:18-22; Franz 1992:54-58). This was the first recorded time in Jesus’ public ministry that He goes to Gentile territory.

    Upon returning to Galilee, Jesus is rejected a second time by His family and the people of Nazareth (Matt. 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6). In the winter he sends out His disciples, two-by-two, with instructions: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritan. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons” (Matt. 10:5-8).

    Just before Passover of AD 29, the disciples returned from their preaching tour and met Jesus at Capernaum for a debriefing time. He wanted to hear how their tours went so He took them to a “desert place” near Bethsaida. The crowds, however, followed Him. Jesus took this opportunity to use the crowd as a “test” for the disciples. Would they be able to demonstrate the power the Lord Jesus gave them at the beginning of their preaching tour and feed the multitudes? The disciples passed up the opportunity to feed the multitudes and let Jesus feed the 5,000 men plus women and children (Matt. 14:15-33; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). When the leftover food was picked up, there were twelve full baskets. Each disciple held a circular basket and realized that the score of their “final exam” was just like the edge of the basket … a big fat zero! They flunked the exam.

    The day after the feeding of the multitudes, the Lord Jesus gave a discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum on the Bread of Life (John 6:22-39). Many of His disciples thought that some of what He said was a “hard saying” and they “walked with Him no more” (John 6:60-66). Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to leave as well. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68, 69).

    After these events, the Lord Jesus took His disciples to Tyre and Sidon. Why does He do this? I think it is safe to say, they were not going for the Grand Opening and dedication of the new Temple to Apollo! However, there are at least three reasons for this trip. First, the Lord Jesus knew He had one year to instruct His disciples in sound doctrine and how to reach the world with the gospel before He returned to Heaven. The focus of His ministry now is no longer the multitudes, but rather, His disciples. He wanted to spend quality time instructing them in the word of God. Second, He wanted to avoid Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. After Jesus fed the multitudes, they wanted to make Him king (John 6:15). Antipas would have seen this as an insurrection and a threat to his throne, and wanted Jesus arrested. The third reason is Jesus is now going to initiate another test for His disciples and teach them a valuable lesson about prejudice after exposing this sin in their lives.

    The Test to Reveal the Disciples’ Prejudice Against Gentiles

    The Lord Jesus departed from the area of the Sea of Galilee and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21; Mark 7:24). Most Bible geographers trace the route of this journey via Safat and Gush Halav (Jish) in Upper Galilee and then down through Lebanon to Tyre. For example, see the Carta Bible Atlas, map 234. That road, at points, is very steep and reaches a high elevation. An easier, more convenient route was up through the Hulah Valley past Hazor and then up into the hills past Kedasa and continues north to meet the east-west Roman road. This road went from Paneas (Banyas) to Tyre (Aviam 2004: 133-135) and was called the “Way of the Sea” by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 9:1; Rainey 1981; 1989). It was a little bit longer, but had a more gradual incline and was not as high in elevation as the road over Upper Galilee.

    Mark adds the detail that He entered a house. Were they in Tyre? If so, were they trying to get away from the rotten stench of the city? The text says He did not want anybody to know He was in town. Yet He could not be hidden (Mark 7:24). Apparently some of the Phoenicians who heard him in Galilee recognized Him as He came into town.

    A woman (Matthew identifies her as a Canaanite, cf. Gen. 10:6, 15; Mark says a Greek, a Syro-Phornicain by birth) came to Jesus in the house and cried out to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord ( kurie), Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed” (Matt. 15:22; Mark 7:25, 26). She apparently heard from others that Jesus was in town and knew that He had cast out demons in Galilee. She may have thought, “This is the Man that could take care of my daughter’s problem.”

    Notice in her cry to Jesus how much she knew of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. She cried for mercy because as a Canaanite, she was not part of the covenant community, yet she knew that Jesus was the God and King of the nation of Israel. She calls Him Lord ( Kurios) and Son of David. This is the first time in her conversation that she will call Him Lord and could be using it in the sense that Paul wrote about in Romans 10:9-13. This was her confession of the Jesus as Lord (Yahweh): “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD (Jesus as Yahweh) shall be saved'” (10:13).

    Jesus seemingly does not answer her plea. He is silent. Some have accused Jesus of being rude by ignoring this woman. But in His omniscience, He knew of her faith in Him and He wanted her to express that faith so that His disciples could see it. This was a test for the disciples in order to see if they were prejudice. Unfortunately the disciples failed this test as well. They misinterpret His silence as a rejection of her. Their nationalistic pride led to a prejudice against this woman, so they discriminated against her by saying to Jesus, “Get rid of her! She is harassing us as well.”

    Jesus answered the disciples (implied in the context): “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). “[The] ‘Lost sheep of Israel’ does not mean the lost sheep among Israel, as though some were lost and others not. The expression indicates the lost sheep who are Israel” (Wilkins 2004: 539).

    The phrase “lost sheep of the house of Israel” should have caused the disciples to recall the instructions that Jesus gave when He sent them out on their preaching tour a few months earlier. When He instructed them about the “lost sheep”, He also said not to go in the “way of the Gentiles”. In essence, He was saying, do not walk on the Roman roads. What had they just done? They walked down the Paneas – Tyre Roman Road to this city! They were now in Gentile territory and should have realized that the instructions Jesus had given the disciples before were not valid at this point.

    The Canaanite woman, on the other hand, probably caught the irony, absurdity, and maybe even the humor of the statement. She said to herself: “What are you doing here? This is Phoenicia! You are outside the Land of Israel. It’s Gentile territory! There are very few lost sheep of the House of Israel here anyway.” She came to the realization that Jesus was on her side, so she fell at His feet (Mark 7:25), worshipped Him (Matt. 15:25) and said, “Lord, help me!” This is the second time this woman calls Jesus Lord ( kurie).

    Jesus responds to the woman, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (puppy dogs)” (Mark 7:27).

    Some people may not like dogs, but everybody loves puppy dogs. The Jewish people considered dogs unclean animals and most likely would not keep them as pets. On the other hand, however, in the Roman world they were good pets. Children enjoyed playing with puppy dogs. There is a marble funerary altar on display in the newly reopened Greek and Roman wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The altar has a little boy on the side in high relief with his pet dog wagging his tail at his feet. The provenience is unknown, but it dates to the first half of the first century AD. It was dedicated to a deceased child named Anthus, and called “sweetest son” by his father Lucius Iulius Gamus.

    In His statement, the Lord Jesus points out the priority of the gospel. The little children (the lost sheep of the House of Israel) are filled first (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:11-16, 26-29; 3:9; 16:26; Isa. 42: 5-7). While it may not be proper manners to feed pets under the table, it is hard to stop the little children from dropping crumbs to the puppy dogs under the table.

    In her response, the woman acknowledges the priority of the gospel to the Jewish people first. She said, “True Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matt. 15:27). This is the third time she calls Jesus Lord. In essence she is saying, “Gentiles may not be part of the covenant community, yet there were some dogs at the Master’s table, i.e. part of the family. People may look upon her as a puppy dog, yet she was under the table, a Gentile who had believed in the Lord Jesus.”

    Jesus successfully got her to express her faith in Him. He says, “Oh woman, great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:28). As a result of her faith, her daughter was healed of the demon possession. Interestingly, there was one other person commended for his great faith in the Lord Jesus and that was the Gentile centurion in Capernaum (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9).

    The disciples had flunked the prejudice test, yet Jesus turns this into a teaching opportunity. He reinforces what He has been saying all along: Gentiles are included in God’s program of salvation. Jesus knows that if His disciples can begin to grasp this lesson with one Gentile, they will be able to handle 4,000 of them when they get to the Decapolis in a few weeks (Matt. 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-8:9).

    Personal Application

    If we are honest with ourselves, we are all prejudice to one degree or another. This prejudice leads to partiality and discrimination (James 2:1-9). It is sin and must be confessed to the Lord and forsaken (James 2:9; I John 1:9).

    The believer in the Lord Jesus must see this world from God’s perspective. He is not a respecter of persons and shows no partiality towards individuals (Acts 10:34, 35; Deut. 10:17; Rom. 2:11, cf. Rom. 3:29-30; 10:12-13). The believer’s attitude should be based on John 3:16. If God loves the world (and He does) and the Lord Jesus Christ died for all our sins (and He did), then I must view the world from that perspective. Each individual, whatever their ethnic or economic background, however they look, whatever may be their faults, is a person who God loves and the Lord Jesus paid for all their sins of the Cross and rose again from the dead three days later and offers the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God (Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9).


    Aviam, Mordechai

    2004 Two Roman Roads in the Galilee. Pp. 133-138 in Jews, Pagans and Christians in the Galilee. Rochester, NY: Institute of Galilean Archaeology, University of Rochester.

    Bikai, Patricia

    1992 Classical Tyre. Pp. 61-68 in The Heritage of Tyre. Edited by M. Joukowsky. Debuque, IA: Kendall / Hunt.

    Bikai, Patricia; Fulco, William; and Marchand, Jeannie

    1996 Tyre: The Shrine of Apollo. Amman, Jordan.

    Burkill, T. A.

    1966 The Syrophoenician Woman: The Congruence of Mark 7:24-31. Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 57: 23-37.

    1967 The Historical Development of the Story of the Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-31). Novum Testamentum 9: 161-177.

    1968 The Syrophoenician Woman: Mark 7:24-31. Pp. 166-170 in Studia Evangelica, Vol. 4. Edited by F. L. Cross. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

    Cholmondeley, F. G.

    1901-1902 Christ and the Woman of Canaan. Expository Times 13: 138, 139.

    Davies, W. D.; and Allison, Dale

    1991 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

    Derrett, J.

    1973 Law in the New Testament: The Syro-Phoenician Woman and the Centurion of Capernaum. Novum Testamentum 15/3: 161-186.


    1980 Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 2. Trans. by J. Oulton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 265.

    Fleming, Wallace

    1915 The History of Tyre. New York: Columbia University.

    Franz, Gordon

    1992 “Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead” (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60). Archaeology and Biblical Research 5/2: 54-58.

    Gibbs, James M.

    1963-1964 Purpose and Pattern in Matthew’s Use of the Title of “Son of David”. New Testament Studies 10: 446-464.

    Goodchild, R. G.

    1941 The Coast Road of Phoenicia and Its Roman Milestones. Berytus 9: 91-127.

    Gould, Ezra

    1955 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

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    1989 Word Biblical Commentary. Mark 1:8:26. Vol. 34A. Dallas, TX: Word Books.

    Harrisville, Roy A.

    1966 The Woman of Canaan. Interpretation 20: 274-287.

    Hasler, J. Ireland

    1933-1934 The Incident of the Syrophoenician Woman (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). Expository Times 45: 459-461.


    1976a The Life. Against Apion. Vol. 1. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 186.

    1976b Jewish Wars. Books 1-3. Vol. 2. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.

    Lachs, Samuel

    1987 A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav.

    Mann, C. S.

    1986 The Anchor Bible. Mark. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, MY: Doubleday.

    Pritchard, James B.

    1972 Sarepta in History and Tradition. Pp. 101-114 in Understanding the Sacred Text. Edited by J. Reumann. Valley Forge, PA: Judson.

    Rainey, Anson

    1981 Toponymic Problems (cont.). The Way of the Sea. Tel Aviv 8/2:


    1989 Identifying the “Way of the Sea”. Bible Review 5/2: 13, 14.

    1996 Who Was A Canaanite? A Review of the Textual Evidence. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304: 1-15.

    Rey-Coquais, Jean-Paul

    1977 Inscriptions de la Necropole. Vol. 1. Bulletin du Musee de Beyrouth 29.

    Smart, James D.

    1938-1939 Jesus, the Syro-Phoenician Woman – and the Disciples. Expository Times 50: 469-472.

    Smith, D.

    1900-1901 Our Lord’s Hard Saying to the Syro-Phoenician Woman. Expository Times 12: 319-321.


    1995 The Geography of Strabo. Books 15-16. Vol. 7. Trans. by H. L. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 241.

    Torrey, Charles T.

    1948 The Exiled God of Sarepta. Berytus 9: 45-49.

    Trueblood, Elton

    1964 The Humor of Christ. New York: Harper and Row.

    Ward, B. Horance

    1901-1902 Our Lord’s Hard Saying to the Syro-Phoenician Woman. Expository Times 13: 48.

    Wilkins, Michael

    2004 The NIV Application Commentary. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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    1994 Women in the Ministry of Jesus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University.

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    1990 Seashells and Ancient Purple Dyeing. Biblical Archaeologist 53/2: 98-101.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah

    By Gordon Franz

    Two friends of mine, Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus living in Israel, shared the excitement of the impending birth of their firstborn. I inquired as to the due date of the child. The proud father-to-be replied, “The doctor said the child is due December 25.” I lamented, “The poor child will only receive one set of gifts for Christmas and his or her birthday.” Yisrael, half-jokingly responded, “That’s no problem; we’ll celebrate Hanukkah instead!” We had a good laugh, but I thought to myself, “The Lord Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, celebrated the festival of Hanukkah, yet there is no record in the Gospels of Him celebrating Christmas!”

    The Origin Of Hanukkah

    Hanukkah is a festival which commemorates the purification and rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus on Kislev 25, 165 bc (usually in December). Three years prior, Antiochus IV, the Seleucid (Syrian) king, defiled the Temple by erecting an idol to Baal Shamen (Zeus), sacrificing a pig on the altar, and proclaiming himself to be a god. Some of the coins he minted had his features on the face of Zeus along with the words “Epiphanes” meaning “the god manifest.” He also decreed that Torah (the Law of God) could not be studied under penalty of death, circumcision was forbidden, and the Sabbath was not to be kept. This brought an internal struggle within Judaism out in the open. On the one hand there were the observant Jews who wanted to keep Torah, and on the other, the Hellenized Jews who wanted to assimilate into the Greek culture around them and become “born again” Greeks.

    Antiochus sent troops from village to village with a statue of himself, ordering people to bow down to it. One day they arrived in the village of Modi’im. An elderly man stepped forward to comply with the order, but an observant priest, Mattathias of the Hasmonean family, thrust him through with a spear and also killed one of the Seleucid soldiers. Thus began the Maccabean revolt. Mattathias, his five sons and others fled into the Gophna Hills and conducted a guerrilla war against the Seleucids for three years. Eventually Jerusalem was liberated, yet the Temple was defiled. The history of this revolt is found in First Maccabees 1 and 4 and Second Maccabees 6 and 10. While these books are not inspired, they record important historical information.

    The Rabbis recount the miracle of Hanukkah in these terms, “On Kislev 25 begin the Hanukkah days, eight of them…When the Greeks entered the Temple Sanctuary, they contaminated all the oil. When the Hasmoneans defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil bearing the High Priest’s seal. The cruse had enough oil for only one day’s burning, but a miracle came to pass and it lasted eight days. The following year, these days were declared a holiday to be celebrated with the saying of Hallel and thanksgiving prayers” (Megillat Taanit).

    The centerpiece of the celebration is a nine-branch candelabrum. The first candle is called the “servant” candle and is used to light one additional candle each night to commemorate the eight days of the miracle.

    Jesus Celebrates Hanukkah

    The Lord Jesus observed the celebration of Hanukkah in the Temple during the winter of ad 29 (Jn. 10:22-39). Just prior to this account, two “illustrations” (10:6) of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (10:1-5 and 10:7-10) were given, and then Jesus’ interpretation of these parables (10:11-18). The Jewish reader would immediately pick up the messianic connotation of this discourse. The Davidic Messiah would be a Shepherd (Ezek. 34).

    As He walked through Solomon’s porch on the east side of the Temple enclosure, some Jews approached Him and asked Him point blank, “Are you the Messiah?” (10:24). Jesus had to be careful how He answered that question. During the festival, throngs of Jews caught up in the nationalistic fever, were visiting Jerusalem. The word “Messiah” might spark off riots because of its heavy nationalistic and political overtones.

    Roman intelligence, headquartered in the Antonia’s Fortress to the northwest of the Temple, was aware of a popular song entitled “A Psalm of Solomon, with Song, to the King.” In this song, composed during the mid-first century bc by a Pharisee, the Lord was acknowledged as King and a Davidic ruler would reign forever. He describes how the latter Hasmonean rulers led the people away from Torah and the Romans under the leadership of Pompey punished the people. The Pharisee prays that the Lord will raise up a king, the Son of David, to rule over Israel. In so doing, this king would “destroy the unrighteous rulers,” “purge Jerusalem from Gentiles,” “drive out the sinners,” “smash the arrogance of sinners,” and “destroy the unlawful nations!” Their king, the Lord Messiah, would do all this! (Psalm of Solomon 17). If Jesus answered the question “yes,” the Roman authorities could have arrested Him on the spot for insurrection.

    Jesus does, however, answer the question in the affirmative, but not directly. When He answers, He is careful not to use the contemporary term and understanding. After pointing out the security which a believer in the Lord Jesus has because of faith in Him, He says, “I and My Father are one!” (10:30). That statement had heavy religious overtones for the festival which they were presently celebrating. Those gathered on the Temple Mount recalled the events nearly 200 years before on the very mount where, Antiochus IV, a mere man, proclaimed himself to be god. Jesus, God manifest in human flesh, made the same claim but His claim was true. The Jews picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy because, in their thinking, He was a man who made Himself God (10:31-33). Jesus declared that He was the fulfillment of Hanukkah by saying the Father “sanctified” the Son of God and sent Him into the world (10:34-36). The Father was in Him and He in the Father (10:38). If the Greek word “sanctified” were translated into Hebrew, it would be “dedication” or Hanukkah!

    A Biblical Perspective

    John writes his Gospel primarily to a Jewish and Samaritan audience. One of the unique things about John’s Gospel is his emphasis on the Jewish and Samaritan festivals and his indication that Jesus was the fulfillment of these holidays. Hanukkah was the rededication of a defiled Temple. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then the Jews said, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days? But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (2:19-21). A wicked and corrupt priesthood had defiled Herod’s Temple. The sinless Lord Jesus was “sanctified” by His death, burial, and resurrection. He is the New Temple.

    The Apostle John selected “signs” (miracles) and events, when he penned his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to convey two purposes (20:30-31). The first was to present the deity of the Lord Jesus. John skillfully selects the Hanukkah event because of the festival impact on the crowd. In contrast to the arrogant and blasphemous statement by Antiochus IV, Jesus truly is God manifest in human flesh. The second purpose was to challenge people to put their trust (believe) in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died for their sins and rose again from the dead. When they trust Him, God gives them the gift of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and a home in Heaven. There seems to be a marked contrast between the response of the Jews on the Temple Mount (10:37-39) and those “beyond the Jordan” who believed on Him (10:40-42). What is your response? Have you trusted the One who is the fulfillment of Hanukkah?

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Greatest Fish Stories Ever Told

    By Gordon Franz

    As the calm waters reflected the slowly rising sun over the Sea of Galilee, a lonely figure walked from Capernaum along a path near the rocky shore of the lake. On this spring day, He noticed the flowers, with their hue of diverse and plentiful colors, in full blossom along the shore and delighted in the birds flying overhead, singing their melodious songs. Yet His heart was still heavy. A few weeks before His family and friends rejected Him in His hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).Since then He had spent the last several Shabbats teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, the largest Jewish city along the northern shore of the lake (Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:31). Later that day, as the sun would set over the mountains of Lower Galilee, another Shabbat would begin. Yet before this day was over, the vocation of four Galilean fishermen would be changed forever.

    “Follow Me, I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20)

    The Seven Springs (today called Heptapegon, or Tabgha) are approximately 2 ½ kilometers to the west of Capernaum. Warm water flowed from these springs, loaded with organic matter that attracted fish during the winter and spring months. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, called the largest spring at this location the “well of Capernaum” ( Wars 3:519; LCL 2:723). It was here that the lonely Man spotted several Capernaum fishermen. Simon, later called Peter, and Andrew were wading in the shallow waters using their cast nets. This circular net, usually 6 to 8 meters in circumference with small stones attached to the edge, was carefully folded so that when the fisherman cast it forth it would open like a parachute and fall over the shoal of fish. The fisherman would dive down, gather the small stones on the edge of the net in order to entrap the fish inside the net, and drag the net to shore to sort out their catch.

    The lonely Man called out from the shore, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” This was not the first time these fishermen had encountered the Lord Jesus. More than a year and a half prior, Andrew, a follower of John the baptizer, heard his mentor proclaim with excitement: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the process of leaving the Baptizer, Andrew found his brother Simon and told him: “We have found the Messiah” and brought him to Jesus and both followed Him (John 1:29-42).

    Three days later, Jesus and His new found followers were attending a wedding, probably a relative of Nathanael’s (John 1:45; 21:2), in Cana of Galilee. It was here that the Lord Jesus performed His first miraculous sign by turning water into wine, thus revealing His glory. His disciples (students) put their trust in Him for their eternal salvation (John 2:1-11; cf. 20:30, 31). On several occasions they journeyed to Jerusalem with Jesus and other pilgrims for the various festivals. On the Passover of the next year the Lord Jesus shared with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, his need to be born from above by the Spirit of God, as well as God’s tremendous love for the world in sending His Son to provide salvation to all who put their trust in Him (John 3:1-21). On another occasion the following winter, while returning to Galilee, the Lord Jesus stopped with his disciples at a well near Sychar in Samaria. Here He offered a sinful Samaritan woman living water, eternal life. He then challenged His disciples to “… look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:1-42). A month later, following up on this challenge, Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Simon and Andrew left their nets to follow this lonely Man (Matt. 4:19, 20; Mark 1:17, 18).

    Further along the shore, the Lord Jesus spotted two brothers, James and John, mending their trammel nets in their father’s large boat which was moored in the harbor near the Seven Springs. He called them as well and they left their father, Zebedee, and his servants and followed Him (Matt. 4:21, 22; Mark 1:19, 20).

    That evening, Jesus and His new found “fishers of men”, returned to Capernaum for Shabbat. Jesus began training His new followers in the art of “fishing for men” by casting a demon out of a man in the synagogue and healing Simon’s mother-in-law. These demonstrations of power provided two powerful lessons; “fishing for men” included meeting both the spiritual, as well as the physical needs of people (Mark 1:21-35). Early on the morning after Shabbat, Jesus slipped out of town to a quiet place to pray. Later, Simon searched for, found, and informed Him that everybody was looking for Him. He continued His lessons of fishing for men by taking His disciples along as He preached in the synagogues throughout Galilee (Mark 1:35-39).

    “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:1-11)

    Discipling people is not an easy task. It takes time and effort because those being discipled do not grasp the lessons being taught or the seriousness of their decision to follow the Lord Jesus. Jesus must have been frustrated with Peter at times, yet He was ever so patient with him.

    After several months of following Jesus around and listening to Him preach in the synagogues of Galilee, Peter decided to go back fishing. This decision had an adverse effect on the other disciples because several of them went back as well. Jesus needed to get them to understand who He was and that He could be trusted to provide their daily needs.

    Peter and his fishing partners had fished all night and caught nothing. They had moored their fishing boat in the harbor of the Seven Springs and were washing their nets in the small waterfall near the shore. Jesus borrowed Peter’s boat and used it as a floating pulpit to preach to the multitudes which were gathered to hear the words of the famous Teacher. When He had finished teaching, He again turned His attention to His wayward disciples. Instructing Peter, He said: “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter protested for a minute because he and his partners had fished all night and caught nothing. Something else was in the back of Peter’s mind, the trammel net which he was instructed to let down was used only at night and close to shore! Jesus was asking him to do the absurd.

    The trammel net was 200-250 meters long (656-820 feet) and consisted of three layers of net, a fine meshed net sandwiched between two large meshed outer nets. The fish swim through one of the large meshed outer nets and into the fine meshed middle net and through the other outer net. When the fish tried to escape, it gets hopelessly entangled in the nets. These nets are used only at night because the fish can see the nets in daylight. Peter must have questioned Jesus’ thinking in giving these instructions and was probably secretly daring Jesus to do something, yet he obeyed His words. Much to Peter’s amazement, there was a miraculous catch of fish and the nets began to break. He called for assistance from his partners on the shore. When they came to help, they filled the boats and began to sink. Peter fell down before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

    Peter realized that he failed to learn the lesson that Jesus taught the day before while preaching on the mountain (Matt. 5-7). The sermon, addressed primarily to those who already trusted the Lord Jesus for their salvation and decided to follow Him, touched on the issue of the disciples daily provision for food, drink and clothing. The Lord Jesus promised He would take care of these daily needs if they sought first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. If they did, all these things would be provided (Matt. 6:25-34). Peter failed miserably at this point. Rather than seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting the Lord for his daily needs, he went back fishing to provide for himself and his family. The goodness of God led him to repentance (Rom. 2:4) when he realized he was being discipled by the Lord of all Creation whom he could trust for his daily needs. Jesus reassured Peter that he was forgiven for not learning the lesson taught the day before with the words, “Do not be afraid” (5:10). When Peter came to a realization that Jesus was the Lord of Creation and that He was personally interested in him and could love and forgive him, in spite of his lack of attention the day before, he left everything and followed the Lord Jesus. This act was no small decision for Peter because he had a house, a boat and a very profitable fishing business (5:11). Yet this is what Jesus wanted of His disciples.

    “Does your Teacher not pay the Temple Tax?” (Matt. 17:24-27)

    One subtle danger that faces a disciple is spiritual pride. For more than a year now, Jesus had taught and trained these twelve men to be fishers of men. Three had seen Him transfigured before them just a few days before. As they left Mount Hermon and wandered back to the Sea of Galilee a heated theological discussion developed. The issue at stake was: Who would be the greatest in the Kingdom? Their concept of the Messiah was of one of a military warrior overthrowing the oppressive Roman authorities and establishing His Kingdom on earth. Yet on two prior occasions, Jesus predicted He would suffer and die in Jerusalem, and be raised from the dead three days later (Matt. 16:21; Matt. 17:22).

    In response to the discussion on greatness, Jesus demonstrated humility, true Biblical greatness, before He addressed the issue. Jesus, God manifest in human flesh (I Tim. 3:16) and greater than the Temple (Matt. 12:6), did not have to pay the Temple tax. After all, it was His Temple!

    In order not to offend others, He instructed Peter to go to the harbor of Capernaum and let down his fishing line. The first fish that he caught, a barbell fish, would have a Tyrian shekel in its mouth. This would be sufficient to pay the Temple tax for both of them. Jesus exemplified the words which the Apostle Paul would pen years later: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4).

    For a more complete discussion of this passage, see Franz 1997: 81-87.

    Word Pictures from Fishing Life

    Good teachers use word pictures or illustrations with which the student is well familiar to convey truth. Jesus, the Master Teacher, used fishing illustrations on several occasions to teach His disciples spiritual lessons. When Jesus wanted to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, He used the analogy of the dragnet. This net was usually 400 meters long (1,312 feet) and had a fine mesh. The top of the net floated on the surface by means of corks while the bottom hung down with lead weights. The net was laid out in a large semicircle by a crew of fishermen in a boat while another crew held the other end on the shore. After this was done, the net was pulled to shore and the fish were sorted, the good fish from the bad fish. The observant Jewish fishermen would throw the non-kosher catfish away. This scavenger fish had fines, but no scales (Lev. 11:9-12). By analogy, when the end of the age came, the angels would separate the wicked from the righteous (Matt. 13:47-50).

    On another occasion, Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler inquiring what he had to do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-31). Jesus, using the Mosaic Law lawfully, sought to point out to this man that he was a sinner by listing some of the Ten Commandments. Yet He deliberately left out one, “Thou shall not covet.” In order for this man to see he had not kept the Law perfectly, Jesus instructs him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. This self-righteous religious person went away sad. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man trusting his riches to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:22-24). The fishermen-disciples would immediately remember the needles which they used to mend their sails and they realized the impossibility for a rich man trusting his riches to be saved, yet it was possible with God because the Spirit of God would convict wealthy individuals of their unbelief and need for a Savior (John 16:5-11).

    “Children, Did You Catch Any Fish?” (John 21:1-14)

    A historian once said, “History repeats itself, yet we never learn the lessons of history!” This axiom holds true even in the spiritual realm.

    After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, He told His disciples He was going before them to Galilee and would see them there (Matt. 28:7; Mark 16:7). They went back to Capernaum and waited … and waited … and waited. Finally Peter, not noted for his patience, declared, “I’m going back fishing! Who is coming with me?” Six other disciples, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John and two unnamed disciples, decided to go with him. They went back to their favorite fishing spot near the Seven Springs and experienced a fruitless night of fishing. As the sun slowly rose over the Lake, a lone figure on the shore asked if they had caught any fish. The reply was negative. He instructed them to throw their net on the right side of the boat. Heeding this advice, the net produced a large catch of musht fish. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, said that the figure on the shore must be Jesus. Peter jumped into the Lake and swam for shore.

    Jesus had breakfast prepared for them, yet even this was used to reinforce a lesson. On the coals of fire were sardines (“small fish”) and bread, a meal which was served by the Lord Jesus twice before. The first time was the spring before when He fed the 5,000 men plus women and children, mostly Jewish (Matt. 14:13-21 // Mark 6:30-44 // Luke 9:10-17 // John 6:1-14), and the second time was the previous summer when He fed 4,000 Gentiles in the Decapolis region (Matt. 15:32-39 // Mark 8:1-10). These two feedings demonstrated to the disciples that He alone was sufficient for their provisions and He had the power to provide for their daily needs (John 6:22-59). It also showed that the Kingdom included both Jews and Gentiles (Mark 8:13-21; Matt. 16:5-12).

    To reinforce the miracle which just occurred, Jesus purposely asked Peter for some of the sardines that were just caught. After dragging the net to land, Peter sheepishly admits that there were 153 large musht fish, not sardines! Peter’s mind must have gone back to the events after his Master preached on the mountain and realized he failed to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33; Luke 5:1-11). Then, as now, the Lord Jesus used the goodness of God to bring Peter to repentance.

    Breakfast was by a “fire of coals” (John 21:9). Interestingly, that word is used only one other place in the gospels. In John 18:18, Peter denies the Lord Jesus three times by the “fire of coals!” An attentive reader would make the connection between these two events.

    After breakfast, Jesus probably pointed to the fish, nets, boats, and disciples and said, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Three times the Lord asked Peter if he loved Him, three times Peter answers in the affirmative and three times the Lord Jesus charged Peter to feed His lambs and sheep. The Lord Jesus in love and grace showed Peter that He had forgiven him for the three-fold denial by the fire of coals. Peter, as well as the other fishermen, never went back fishing for musht, sardines or barbell fish, but rather went fishing for the souls of men and women. The Lord Jesus used them to teach their own world and beyond with the gospel.


    Peter never forgot his former occupation of fishing even while he was preaching the gospel. When he penned his first epistle, he used three word-pictures from his former trade. The first, he wrote to “gird up the loins” of your mind (1 Peter 1:13 NKJV). The second, was “all deceit” (1 Peter 2:1) used of a fish hook with bait that deceived the fish. And finally, after writing about the believers suffering for the glory of God, he penned a benediction, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). The word “perfect” is the same word used for mending nets in Mark 1:19. Even though believers were suffering persecution, God was mending them, just like the fisherman mends his nets.

    I trust believers in the Lord Jesus will be encouraged as we fish with the Lord Jesus for the souls of human beings.

    Further Reading

    Franz, Gordon

    1997 “Does Your Teacher Not Pay the [Temple] Tax?” (Mt 17:24-27). Bible and Spade 10/4: 81-87.

    Nun, Mendel

    1989 The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    1993 Cast Your Net Upon the Waters. Fish and Fishermen in Jesus’ Time. Biblical Archaeology Review 19/6: 46-56, 70.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Jesus Celebrated Purim

    By Gordon Franz

    Purim is one of the most festive and joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar. The book of Esther commands that it be celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of Adar and was to be a time of “feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22). This holiday commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over their enemies that tried to slaughter them as a result of the decree by the Persian Prime Minister, Haman, in the book of Esther. Today the Jewish people still celebrate this festival and remember the past anti-Semitic individuals who tried to exterminate them as well as the present ones.

    The Celebration of Purim

    On Purim, a Jewish person goes to the synagogue for the reading of the Megillah, the scroll of Esther (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 1a). The first year I studied in Israel, I had a class in Biblical Hebrew. In the spring semester we were translating the book of Esther. One of our class assignments was to visit a synagogue for the reading of the Megillah at Purim. What an experience that was! When the cantor came to the name Mordecai, the protagonist in the story, the people shouted, “Blessed be Mordecai.” When the name Haman, the antagonist, was read, everybody stomped their feet on the floor, made noise with their noisemakers called groggers, and shouted, “Cursed be Haman.”

    I did not participate in another Purim custom. The rabbis say that a man should “mellow himself [with wine] on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordecai’” (BT Megillah 7b). In other words, this was the only day they were permitted to get drunk!

    Children, and even adults, get dressed up in costumes and have a Purim party or parade. Usually the costumes are of the Biblical characters such as Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus or Haman. Today people will dress up or wear masks of modern day anti-Semitic people who would like to exterminate the Jewish people, such as Yasser Arafat, Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Huessin. This holiday is sort of like a Jewish Halloween and New Years all rolled into one, but without the occultic overtones.

    Jesus and Purim

    Most people are unaware of this, but Jesus celebrated the feast of Purim! In John 5, the Lord Jesus is up in Jerusalem for an unnamed feast. Scholars have debated whether the feast was Passover, Purim, Succoth or even Pentecost (Bowman 1971). Some have objected to Purim because it is a “minor” feast and not one of the three “major” pilgrimage festivals (Deut. 16:16). That argument is irrelevant because Jesus also celebrated another “minor” holiday, Hanukkah (John 10:22; Franz 1998:25,26). Chronologically, the only feast that makes sense is Purim in AD 28. The feast of John 5 fell on a Sabbath (5:9). The only feast day to fall on a Sabbath between AD 25 and AD 35 was Purim of AD 28 (Faulstich 1986). The Spirit of God intentionally left out the name of the feast because the Lord’s name was deliberately left out of the Book of Esther. In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had an infirmity for 38 years near the Pools of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). It is also the first time in His public ministry that He declared that “God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:18). He also said that He was the “Son of God” (5:25) and the “Son of Man” (5:27).

    Did Jesus get dressed up in a Purim costume? Did He eat the “Haman’s ears”? Did He stomp His feet and say, “Blessed be Mordecai” or “Cursed be Haman” when their respective names were read? I do not know. Did Jesus get drunk? No, even though He was accused of being a “winebibber” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). He did observe the commandment to give gifts to the poor. I’m sure He also attended the reading of the Scroll of Esther in one of the synagogues of Jerusalem and contemplated the message of the book of Esther. The theme of the book is this: “God’s preservation of His unbelieving people, and the celebration of that event in the feast of Purim” (Shepperson 1975:26).

    The Theme of the Book of Esther

    This theme is crucial for understanding the book of Esther and why John included this “sign” in his gospel. This theme explains why the Name of God is not mentioned in the book and why prayer is never mentioned. Also why Mordecai is still in Susa on the 13th of Nisan when he should have been back in Jerusalem for Passover on the 14th (Esther 3:12; Lev. 23:5; Deut. 16:16). It also addresses why there is a “lack of spiritual awareness in Esther and Mordecai, and the vengeful spirit so apparent at the end of the book” (Shepperson 1975:25).

    Esther and Mordecai were out of the will of God and in unbelief. The expression of faith for an Israelite was for them to “Flee the Chaldeans” (Isa. 48:20,21; 52:7-12; Deut. 28:64-67) and return to Zion when Cyrus made the decree for the people to return to Zion (Ezra 1:1-4). Yet a large number of Israelites and Judeans chose to remain outside the Land of Israel, in Babylon and Susa, rather than return to Zion. When a person is out of God’s will, the last Person they want to talk about is the Lord. Thus the Name of God is not mentioned. Sometimes a person in unbelief or out of the will of God will perform religious rituals, just as the Jewish people did in Susa. They fulfilled their religious ritual by fasting for three days, but they did not pray to Him who should have been the LORD their God (Esther 4:16,17; cf. Isa. 58:1-7). They were still part of God’s covenant people, but they were in unbelief.

    The Lord used Mordecai and Esther, outside the land of Israel in unbelief, in order to preserve the Messianic line that had already returned to Judah in faith during the First Return. The Messianic line returned in the person of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Matt. 1:12, 13 or Luke 3:27). Haman’s decree to annihilate all the Jews affected the Jews living in the land of Judah (Esther 3:12, 13; 4:3; 8:5, 9, 13). This was God’s hand of providence at work.

    Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda

    The Lord Jesus took advantage of the Feast of Purim to teach His disciples about Himself and to fulfill the commandment to give gifts to the poor.

    John tells us that by the Sheep Pools is a place called Bethesda. The word “Bethesda” is made up of two Hebrew words, “beit” and “hesed”, meaning “house of mercy.” The two words give the distinct impression that there was a “house” or temple where merciful acts were carried out. Archaeological excavations in the area of the St. Anne’s Church north of the Temple Mount have demonstrated that there was a healing shrine to the Greek god of healing, Asclepius (Jeremias 1966; Franz 1989).

    In the shadows of this shrine, there was a sick man who had been lying on his bed for thirty-eight years. The Lord Jesus approached him to offer him a Purim gift, i.e. good health. He said, “Do you want to be made well” (John 5:6)? The man responded in the affirmative but he added that he had nobody to place him into the pool when the water was stirred up (5:7). The Lord Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (5:8). The man accepted the gift and he was healed instantly.

    The Significance of this “Sign”

    John’s two-fold purpose in writing this gospel is to present the deity of the Lord Jesus and the condition for salvation, faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (John 20:30,31).

    In the account in John 5, there is a confrontation between deities. Who really is God? Is it Asclepius or the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord Jesus won this confrontation “hands down”. He did not need a shrine to heal this man. He did not need an “angel” (probably a demonic being, Matt. 25:41; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 19:20) or the superstition of the “stirring of the water” (John 5:4). All He did was speak the word and the man was healed.

    This is significant for the Purim story because the Jews of Susa were probably worshipping different Babylonian and Persian deities (cf. Isa. 46:1-7: Deut. 28:64). In Isaiah 46:1, Bel is another name for the god Marduk! Mordecai’s name comes from the pagan deity Marduk. Esther, even though she had a Hebrew name – Hadassah, used her Persian name that is the same as the goddess Ishtar (Esther 2:7; Goodman 1980:6).

    When Mordecai found out about Haman’s decree to annihilate all the Jews (Esther 3:12,13; 4:3), he forced Esther to go into the courts of Ahasuerus to plea for her people. Up until this point in the story, Esther had not revealed to Ahasuerus that she was Jewish (Esther 7:3,4). Mordecai had instructed her to keep this a secret (Esther 2:10, 20). Mordecai blackmailed her by saying, “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:13,14)? What Mordecai is saying is this, “Esther, if you do not go in and plead with the king, I will rat on you and tell him you are Jewish. You would be included in Hanan’s decree. If you are silent, we will deliver ourselves some other way, perhaps by relying on some pagan deity or our own resources.” Esther suggested a religious ritual, fasting for three days, and then gave her fatalistic statement, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16)! There is no expression of trust in the LORD in either Mordecai or Esther’s statements.

    The sick man that was lying at the “House of Mercy” was hoping for a cure from Asclepius, but not the LORD. Likewise, Mordecai and Esther were relying on other means for deliverance, but not the LORD.

    The Significance of the “thirty-eight years”

    The Lord Jesus selected this man because He was using him as an object lesson.

    Several times in John’s gospel the Lord Jesus refers to events in the Wilderness Wanderings. He refers to the serpent in the Wilderness (3:14-16; cf. Num. 21:9), the manna in the Wilderness (6:31-40; cf. Ex. 16:15; Num. 11:7; 1 Cor. 10:3). At the end of His discussion with the religious leaders, the Lord Jesus said that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:45-47).

    I would like to think that Jesus explained the significance of this miracle this fashion. The number thirty-eight is used only one other place, by implication, in the Scriptures. After the incident of the bad report by the ten spies, the children of Israel wandered for thirty-eight more years from Kadesh Barnea to the Promised Land because of unbelief. (Num. 12 and 13; 14:29-34). Hebrews 4:19 says that that generation did not enter into the Land because of unbelief!

    In the account in John 5, the sick man was a picture of the nation of Israel. They had a decision to make. Would they trust the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, or reject Him? This man trusted the Lord Jesus and he was healed and his sins were forgiven (John 5:14). The religious leaders, on the other hand, rebuked the man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath (John 5:10). They were so caught up in the ritual of Sabbath keeping that they could not rejoice with this man when the Lord healed him. Remember Mordecai and Esther’s ritual of fasting?

    The Lord Jesus pointed out to the man that he had the infirmity because of sin in his life, and warned him that a worst thing would come upon him if he continued in his ways (5:14). Judah had gone into the Babylonian captivity because of sins (2 Chron. 36:14-21; Lev. 26:33-35).

    In the conversation the Lord Jesus had with the religious leaders after He healed the infirmed man, He says “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me” (5:43a). Mordecai and Esther did not receive the Father so they did not mention His name in the book of Esther. Like Mordecai and Esther, the religious leaders did not accept the Father’s name.

    God’s Purim Gift to Us

    On Purim, Jewish people are commanded to give gifts to the poor. The Lord Jesus gave this sick man the gift of physical health and presumably eternal life. What great Purim presents to receive!

    Several months earlier, the Lord Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman by a well near Sychar. In this conversation He describes the “gift of God” as “everlasting life” (John 4:10,14). The Lord Jesus offered the man at Bethesda healing shrine more than the gift of physical health; He also offered him eternal life.

    Each individual who has ever lived, or will ever live, is a poor sinner before a Holy God. The Bible says that the “wages of sin in death [separation from God for all eternity in Hell], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The only thing a person has to do, in fact, the only thing a person can do is to trust the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died for their sins and rose again from the dead. There is no righteous deeds, good works, or rituals that we can do to please a Holy God, the only thing that does is faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus (Isa. 64:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 5:15-18; Eph. 2:8,9).

    God, in love, sent His Son to die on the Cross to pay for all our sins and offers us His righteousness, by faith in His Son, so we can stand before a Holy God forgiven of all our sins (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-8; Phil. 3:9; 2 Cor. 8:9; 9:15). Have you accepted God’s Purim gift to you, His Beloved Son? It is the most important decision you will ever make. Trust Him today.


    Bowman, J.
    1971 Identity and Date of the Unnamed Feast of John 5:1. Pp. 43-56 in Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

    Faulstich, E. W.
    1986 Computer Calendar: IBM Software. Spencer, IA: Chronology Books.

    Franz, G.
    1989 Divine Healer: Jesus vs. Eshmun. Archaeology and Biblical Research 2/1: 24-28.

    ______1998Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah. Uplook 65/9: 25,26.

    Goodman, P.
    1980 The Purim Anthology. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America.

    Jeremias, J.
    1966 The Rediscovery of Bethesda. Louisville, KY: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    Shepperson, G. E.
    1975 The Role of the Book of Esther in Salvation History. Unpublished ThM thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary. Dallas, TX.

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