Final Period of the Galilean Ministry
This is sometimes called the Period of Retirement. It begins with the withdrawal of Jesus into Northern Galilee and ends with His final departure for Jerusalem. It covers roughly Matthew 15-18; Mark 7-9; Luke 9; and John 7-8. This trip took Jesus all the way up to the borders of Phoenicia, where He had the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman. Some of the notable events during this period were the Feeding of the Four Thousand, the important encounter with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Peter’s confession of the Deity of Christ, Christ’s prediction of the Millennial Church, the Transfiguration, the discourse on Little Children, predictions of Christ’s betrayal and death, the woman taken in adultery, Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, and His two discourses on the Light of the World and True Freedom.
1. Children and Dogs, The Syrophoenician Woman
References: Matt. 15:21-28; Mk. 7:24-30
The story of the Syrophoenician woman is one of the most definitive dispensational elements in the Gospel accounts, for it shows with unmistakable clearness the relative positions of Jews and Gentiles in relation to the earthly ministry of Christ. It shows the priority of the Jews over the Gentiles in the prophetic Kingdom purpose of God. It explains the order in which the blessings of the Kingdom were to be bestowed upon Israel and the nations.
Jesus had withdrawn from Galilee and had gone to the northwest into the area around Tyre and Sidon. These two cities are mentioned numerous times in the O.T. In time these cities and kingdoms fell under the judgment of God as depicted in Ezek. 27 and 28. Jesus declared it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for the cities of Israel wherein He had done His mighty works (Matt. 11:21,22). These two cities are located a little to the south of modern Beirut in Lebanon.
Matthew calls the woman “Canaanitish,” and Mark refers to her as Greek, a Syrophoenician by race. The woman’s little daughter was grievously possessed by an unclean demon spirit and she came crying for Jesus to help her by curing her daughter, but Jesus answered her not a word. The disciples seemed embarrassed and asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus replied, “I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman fell down and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answered: “Let the children first be filled; it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” It is clear that Jesus was referring to Israelites as children and to Gentiles as dogs. Dogs were unclean animals, and He contrasts them with sheep, clean animals. It is also clear that God’s order was for Israel to first be filled with her blessings before the Gentiles were to receive any blessing. In fact, the prophetic kingdom program was that the Gentiles were to be blessed through Israel; therefore, Israel must first be blessed before she could in turn pass on the blessings to the Gentiles. It is axiomatic that wherever the message is to Israel only, or to Israel first, the ministry is that of the Messianic Kingdom. This is in direct contrast to the dispensational order today, when Israel has been blinded and cast aside, when no nationality has the priority. The very name of the present dispensation: the dispensation of the grace of God, prohibits any such discrimination.
The woman in our story apparently understood that as a Gentile she had no claim upon Christ, since she was a stranger from the covenants of Israel, and she took her place as a dog and replied to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, it is true that it is not right to cast the children’s bread to dogs, but do not the little dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs?” Even though Jesus as yet had no ministry for the Gentiles, this expression of great faith prompted Him to make an exception to the rule, one of the two recorded exceptions, and He granted the woman’s request and her daughter was freed of the demon spirit. This is the only record of His ministry in this region of Tyre and Sidon.
2. Return to Decapolis
References: Matt. 15:29-31; Mk. 7:31-37
Matthew tells of multitudes of lame, blind, deaf, maimed and others being healed as Jesus passed through the cities of Decapoils. Mark singles out one deaf man who had a speech impediment, whom Jesus took aside privately and healed. The healing was unique in that Jesus put His fingers in his ears and spat and touched his tongue and said, “Ephphatha,” Aramaic for, “Be opened,” and immediately his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed so that he spoke plainly. The multitudes marvelled and glorified the God of Israel. Although he charged those who were healed to tell no man, the more He charged them the more they publicized the miracles.
It should be noted that Jesus used great variety in His healing miracles. For some He simply spoke the word, others He laid His hands upon them, some simply touched His garments, others such as this man and the blind man upon whose eyes He applied clay made from spittle, He used outward means. This variety illustrates the variety God uses in the spiritual realm in the work of salvation. Some are saved simply by reading the Word, others pass through some great crisis; some are saved through personal witness, and others are converted in evangelistic services. There are those who argue that a person is not genuinely saved unless he has gone through their particular conversion experience. These facts should be a sufficient answer to such claims.
3. The Feeding of the Four Thousand
References: Matt. 15:32-38; Mk. 8:1-9
This miracle was very similar to the feeding of the five thousand, the only differences being in the numbers involved. In the former there were five thousand men, the disciples had five loaves and two fish, and they picked up twelve baskets of fragments. In this miracle, there were four thousand men, seven loaves and four fish, and they picked up seven baskets full.
There are those who believe that every number in Scripture has spiritual significance. While certain numbers in Scripture do seem to have spiritual significance, there is always the danger of speculation. We believe that God gave His revelation so that ordinary people could grasp its message without going into complex mathematical problems, such as counting the numerical value of the letters of every word in the book and finding a secret meaning between the lines, to be known to only a select few. We doubt that God intended some hidden spiritual significance for every mention of a number in Scripture.
4. Encounter With Pharisees and Sadducees
References: Matt. 15:39-16:12; Mk. 8:10-21
After feeding the four thousand Jesus dismissed the multitude and entered a boat bound for Magdala or Magadan, according to Matthew, and Dalmanutha, according to Mark. These two areas were probably contiguous. Their exact location is in doubt. There He encountered some Pharisees and Sadducees who tempted Him, asking to see a sign from heaven. He rebuked their spiritual blindness by stating that although they could discern the signs in the atmosphere concerning the state of the weather, they were blind to the signs of the times. People today who are always clamoring for signs should remember what Christ told these Jews: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign,” and in their case no sign was to be given but the sign of the prophet Jonah. This reference to Jonah by the Lord surely supports the historicity of the story of Jonah in the O.T. If Jonah was not three days and nights in the whale’s belly, Christ was not three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus had no more to say to these who had closed their eyes to the truth, so He left them and departed to the other side of the lake with His disciples.
The disciples had forgotten to take food with them and while they were discussing the problem Jesus told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (and Mark adds, of Herod). The disciples supposed He was rebuking them for not bringing bread with them for the trip. But Jesus was rebuking them for their unbelief and lack of spiritual perception, recalling to their minds the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand. Why should they ever worry about lack of food in the light of such experiences? Here again we see a distinction in dispensations. Whereas the disciples were supernaturally fed while Christ was with them in the flesh under the Kingdom program, later under the Church program we find the great Apostle Paul oftentimes hungry, thirsty, naked and cold (1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27; Phil. 4:12). Israel was promised physical blessings for obedience (Deut. 28:1-4), but we have no such promise as members of the Body of Christ. He will supply our needs, thank God (Phil. 4:19), but that is different from the riches promised to Israel.
5. The Blind Man at Bethsaida
Reference: Mk. 8:22-26
We referred to this healing a few paragraphs back in discussing the healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment. For a reason not given, Jesus led this blind man by the hand outside the village, and there, spit on his eyes and laid His hands on him. At this point the man’s sight was partially restored, so that he saw men as trees walking. Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again and his sight was completely restored. God sometimes does things instantaneously and at other times He does things gradually through a longer or shorter process. No two people have identical experiences. No doubt in this case Jesus chose to work through a process to meet a particular spiritual need of this man. Or perhaps this gradual healing was indicative of the slowness of the disciples to gain spiritual vision.
After seeing so many miracles they still did not perceive. Jesus then sent the man home and warned him not to even enter into the village. We saw in Matt. 11:21 that Christ pronounced woe upon Bethsaida because of their unbelief, and one of the judgments of unbelief is enforced judicial blindness. Because of their unbelief, Jesus withheld from the inhabitants the testimony of this healing miracle, performing the miracle outside the village and forbidding the man to return to it.
6. Peter’s Confession and the Millennial Church
References: Matt. 16:13-20; Mk. 8:27-30; Lk. 9:18-21
All three Synoptics record the same confession by Peter of the identity of Christ, but Matthew, being the Kingdom Gospel, gives the further details of the keys of the Kingdom and the Church which Christ will build in relation to that Kingdom.
The confession was called forth by Christ’s own question: “Who do men say that I am?” Some speculated that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life, or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the old prophets risen from the dead. Then Jesus directed the question to the disciples: “But who say ye that I am?” Peter answered for the group: “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus declared that Peter did not learn this fact from any human source but that it was revealed to him by the Father in heaven. Here we have what is perhaps the clearest claim of Jesus Himself to His Messiahship and His unique relation as the Son of God. He not only claimed it for Himself but declared that God the Father was the originator of this revelation. Men who have not had this truth revealed to them by the Father may deny His title as the Anointed One or as the Son of God, but they cannot deny that Jesus claimed this for Himself.
There follows after this a statement by Jesus which is one of the most misunderstood of all of His sayings: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Rome uses this passage as proof of the Papacy: The Church built upon Peter with the power to forgive and to bind sin. Protestants have used all manner of interpretations to try to deny these claims of Rome. Some argue that Peter’s name means a little pebble, but the rock upon which the church is to be built means bedrock foundation, and that foundation rock is not Peter but Peter’s confession. Others argue that Peter had no more authority to forgive sin than the humblest believer and that all Jesus meant to say was that when we preach the gospel we are using the keys to the kingdom, so that we can say when a man believes his sins are forgiven, and when he doesn’t they are retained. And Rome further uses the statement about the gates of hell to claim infallibility for the Church: the Devil will never be able to prevail by bringing false doctrine into the Church. And of course, Catholics and Protestants alike agree on one point, and that is the Church of which Christ spoke is our present Church, the Body of Christ.
If we could only stop for a moment and put Scriptures in perspective, we would be saved from all of this controversy and confusion. The first fact is Paul’s plain teaching that the Church of which he was made the revelator and minister was a secret truth hidden in God and never before revealed to the sons of men in past generations (Eph. 3:3-9; 5:32). The other fact is that the Church of which Jesus spoke is associated with the Kingdom of the heavens, which as we have seen, is the long promised Messianic Kingdom predicted by all of the prophets, which will be established here on earth when Jesus returns as King of kings. To make this church identical with the Church of our present dispensation we must either say Paul was mistaken about our Church being a previously unrevealed secret, or we must say that the term “kingdom of heaven,” has suddenly taken on an entirely different meaning from the way it has been used previously in Matthew’s Gospel. But if we let Scripture speak for itself and recognize that Christ is going to have a great congregation or church (ekklesia) in the Millennial Kingdom (cf. Heb. 2:12 which is quoted from Ps. 22:22), the meaning becomes perfectly clear.
Christ told Peter and the other Eleven that they would sit on thrones in that Kingdom judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). It makes little sense to argue that a judge sitting upon a throne exercising his authority has no more authority than the humblest believer. Why do we have to resort to an interpretation which completely nullifies the words of Christ to try to answer the claims of Rome? Rome is correct in delegating authority to Peter, but wrong in making the Millennial Church to be the Church in the world today. Rome is wrong in limiting this authority to Peter, for Christ gave this same authority to all Twelve of the Apostles, for all of them are to sit as Judges in that Kingdom (John 20:23).
Many people have the mistaken idea that the Church is something that is limited to the New Testament and is separate and distinct from Israel. This is true of the Church, the Mystery, the Body of Christ, but the word “church” (ekklesia) appears over 40 times in the LXX (the Greek translation of the O.T.). There was definitely a church before the death of Christ, as seen from Christ’s instructions in Matt. 18:17. That church was entirely Jewish and was the nucleus of the Kingdom Church. The church of our dispensation is a joint body of Jews and Gentiles, where all such nationalistic distinctions have disappeared.
There is misunderstanding also about the meaning of the gates of hell not prevailing against this millennial church. Hell here is the Greek Hades, the place of the dead, the unseen world, and sometimes translated “grave.” Hell as the lake of fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels, is an entirely different word. Christ had predicted that many of His followers, who were members of His church, would suffer martyrdom, and what He is saying here is that the gates of death will not prevail against His church, for He will conquer death and bring all of these back to life to take part in that Church.
It is altogether possible that Christ spoke these words in Aramaic and not in Greek, and if so, there is no possibility of making the distinction between Petros, a little stone, and petra, a foundation stone, in the Aramaic language. In every dispensation God has given special authority to certain men. Surely Moses and Aaron, David and Paul were men of special authority. Why take it away from Peter in the government of the Messianic Kingdom? If we understand this passage correctly, it refers to the yet future millennial Church, the program of which was interrupted and temporarily set aside because of Israel’s rejection of Christ and their choice of Caesar rather than Jesus as their King. It has no reference to the Church of this dispensation, of which Paul is the master-builder (1 Cor. 3:10).
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)