In the history of education, the world has seen many great innovators, brilliant intellectuals, and daring pioneers, but surpassing them all stands the unique Person who exclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. The Lord’s certificate to teach bore the divine endorsement of the Father, “This is my beloved Son … hear ye him”, and millions of people bear testimony to His consummate vision and skill.
It is possible, however, to overlook and partially to disregard the great significance of the teaching aspect of the Lord’s life and work. We may forget that the original mission was to make men aware of “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach”. Acts 1. 1.
Our task in this and subsequent articles is to summarize some of the more obvious aspects of the Lord’s teaching ministry, and the features under discussion will be:
It will be appreciated that the above are somewhat loosely separated topics, and that occasionally certain observations will tend to overlap and repeat themselves.
Human recognition of the Lord as the Teacher came very late in His earthly life, and was often a slow and grudging admission. Thus, in the synagogue at Nazareth, on the occasion of His first public address, the worshippers said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”, Luke 4 22 They thereby implied that as the Son of the carpenter He had received no theological or philosophical instruction. They knew nothing of His eternal communion with the Father before the creation of the world nor even of what Whittier described as:
… Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above.
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee,
The silence of Eternity,
Interpreted by love.
Celsus, an early critic of Christianity, was similarly obtuse. He was intellectually offended by the fact that the Saviour was a mere carpenter, and therefore a low-grade craftsman statuswise. Celsus. like so many before and since, was strangely imperceptive of the role of the Lord.
Just as Saul of Tarsus was a tentmaker and a rabbi, in accordance with the Jewish regulation that scholars should possess a manual qualification, so the Lord was a carpenter and a Teacher. Our considerations will show that He was a rabbi, authorized, recognized and revered.
A glance at a concordance will show that four different Greek words are used to give the technical meanings of the word “teacher” in the Gospel records.
The Greek word didaskalos is used in a large number of places. This is the conventional word for teacher.
Again, the Lord is said to be a Superintendent or one who “stands over” or “supervises”. This word is epistates, and can be seen in: Luke 5. 5: 8. 24; 8. 45; 9. 33; 9. 49; 17. 13.
In Matthew 23. 8. 10. the Lord is described as Leader in a sense of instructing people, This word is kathegetes.
Lastly, there is the well-known word rabbi or rabboni which means teacher or my teacher. Examples of this may be seen in Matthew 26. 25, 49; Mark 9. 5; 11. 21; 14. 45; John 4. 31; 9. 2: 11. 8.
The above facts are commonly accepted, but their significance is often strangely overlooked. However, we shall consider some related aspects of the Lord’s official status.
(a) The Lord’s profession was recognized. Teachers have always found it difficult to disguise the nature of their occupation, but the Lord never sought to hide the fact that He was an established teacher. He was never embarrassed by anyone’s acknowledgement of Him. Instances of these moments of acknowledgement are very numerous in the Gospel records, and for this reason one has to be very selective.
It is small wonder that we read in Mark 1. 22, “And they were astonished at his doctrine (teaching): for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes”. (The word “astonished” in classical Greek is said to have been used of a pugilist’s knockout blow.) As one New Testament scholar has said. “He had no preaching licence from the Pharisees”. However, He possessed instead a personal and moral ascendancy. The Jewish leaders, it is said, “seemed to know all that men had said about God without having made His very close acquaintance themselves”. The Lord, on the other hand, was in constant close-touch with His Father, and the ordinary people could not but understand the secret of His power.
(b) Let us now consider the reasons for the Lord’s acceptance of the title of Teacher. These appear to be as follows:
(c) The Lord became a “teacher” because the Old Testament prophets had made ready the way.
From the darkness and silence of the centuries, John the Baptist came like a meteor from a black night sky. An ascetic, fierce man, John denounced and frightened his hearers But strange are the ways of God! The Jews had waited centuries for a prophet when, suddenly, he appears on the banks of the Jordan only to be imprisoned by Herod and subsequently murdered His decapitated body is buried by his devastated disciples.
However, John had pointed to the Lamb of God who would bear away the sin of the world, and. long before the Baptist, men had looked forward to God’s High Priest and Messianic King. His additional capacity was that of the long-foretold Prophet of God.
The Lord said to his hearers in Nazareth, “No prophet is accepted in his own country”, Luke 4. 24. Later in His ministry. He said, “it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem”, Luke 13. 33. Matthew 16. 14 shows that the common conception of the Lord was that He was “John the Baptist . Elias … Jeremias, or one of the prophets” The travellers to Emmaus described Him as “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”. Luke 24. 19. Peter declared in Acts 3. 22. “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you”, and these words of Moses were also quoted by Stephen in Acts 7. 37
Truly, the Lord combined in a remarkable sense all the distinguishing features of the Old Testament prophets. In Him was Amos’ passion for reality in religion, Hosea’s proclamation of God’s love. Jeremiah’s personal involvement in suffering, Micah’s zeal for righteousness and much more beside.
(d) The Lord was the Teacher because He came to reveal God.
The Saviour said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”, John 14. 9, and in that statement He crystallized the truth that as the Teacher He made the invisible God fully known.
For many long centuries, mankind had been groping in the gloom for God, and at last the Light of the world blazed through the darkness. He came, not merely to increase man s awareness of God, but He was Himself God manifest in the flesh. Men and women saw the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, 2 Cor. 4. 6.
All teachers are in some way revealers, declarers, explainers of some aspect of truth. By their words, their actions and their character, they are light-bringers. However, in two unique ways, the Lord is the Teacher.
Firstly. He embodies Truth, and all that Truth and its ultimate meaning involve. John said, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son. which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him”, John 1. 18.
Secondly, by his death at Calvary, the Lord gave the fullest and most exclusive revelation of the heart and mind of God. Truly, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”, 3 16
Inscribed upon the cross we see,
In shining letters, “God is love”.