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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Forsaking All

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FORSAKING ALL

ἀφιεναι, Matthew 4:20; Matthew 4:22 = Mark 1:18; Mark 1:20; Luke 5:11; Matthew 19:27; Matthew 19:29 = Mark 10:28-29 = Luke 18:28-29; ἀποτάσσεσθαι, ‘renounce,’ Luke 14:33. In Luke 9:61 ἀποτάξασθαι τοῖς εἰς τὸν οἶκον μου may mean either ‘bid farewell to those in my house’ (cf. Mark 6:46, Acts 18:18, 2 Corinthians 2:13), or ‘renounce the things in my house,’ renunciare negociis domesticis (Erasm.).

Jesus had two classes of disciples. First there was the multitude of those who believed on Him; and, while He required that they should give Him the chief place in their affection and shrink from no sacrifice for His sake, He allowed them to remain where He had found them, prosecuting their old avocations, yet rendering no small service to the Kingdom of Heaven by testifying to His grace and confessing what He had done for their souls. Then there were the Twelve, whom He required to be always with Him, following Him wherever He went, sharing His lot, and entering by daily intercourse and discipline into the myssteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, that they might be fitted for the task of carrying on His work when He was gone. Some of the former, like the Gerasene demoniac, would fain have attached themselves to Him and joined the fellowship of His comrades; but He refused their offer. He had other work for them to do. ‘Away to thine house unto thy people, and proclaim to them what great things the Lord hath done to thee, and how he had pity on thee’ (Mark 5:19 = Luke 8:39).

In every instance He laid it down as the inexorable condition of admission to His inner circle that the man should forsake all—home, kindred, and possessions. ‘Come after me,’ He said to Simon and Andrew when He called them on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ And it is written that ‘they immediately left their nets and followed him.’ Then He called James and John, and they also ‘left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went away after him’ (Mark 1:16-20 = Matthew 4:18-22). And in His commission to the Twelve, when He sent them forth two by two to preach and heal, He reiterated this condition of Apostleship. He laid His hand on the tenderest of human affections and claimed for Himself a prior devotion: ‘He that loveth father or mother above me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter above me is not worthy of me. And one who doth not take his cross, and follow after me, is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:33; Matthew 10:38).

Of course it was inevitable that those who followed Jesus wherever He went should share His homeless and desolate lot; but He had a special reason for His emphatic insistence on this condition. The men of His generation cherished a secular ideal of the Messiah. They looked for a king of David’s lineage who should appear in might and majesty and, driving out the heathen, set up the fallen throne in more than its ancient splendour. Even the Twelve shared this ideal, and they clung to it to the last, reconciling themselves to the lowliness of their Master by the theory that it was only a temporary veiling of His glory, and that He would presently fling off His disguise and flash forth in His proper majesty. They had left all that they might follow Him, but they consoled themselves with the anticipation of a speedy and overflowing recompense. ‘Behold,’ said St. Peter after the young ruler’s refusal to make the sacrifice which Jesus demanded, ‘we have left all and followed thee: what then shall we have?’ It was towards the close, and the Twelve were beginning to fear that they had been hugging a false hope, and would have no such recompense as they dreamed of. ‘Verily I tell you,’ answered Jesus, pitying their discomfiture yet resolute to correct their error, ‘that ye that have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, shall yourselves also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who hath left brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, or houses, for my name’s sake, shall receive manifold more, and shall inherit eternal life. But,’ He added significantly, hinting at a reversal of their expectation, ‘many last shall be first, and first last’ (Matthew 19:27-30 = Mark 10:28-31 = Luke 18:28-30). They were right in expecting a recompense, but their recompense would be other than they conceived.

As time passed and He still trod the path of humiliation, they fretted at His inexplicable procrastination; and, as the darkness deepened, and the toils closed about Him, they reasoned that the inevitable dénouement could be no longer deferred. During His last progress to Jerusalem, with His intimation of the Passion in their ears, they were dreaming their worldly dream. He was going up to the sacred capital, and, they assured themselves, it could be for naught else than the claiming of His crown; and James and John, conspiring with their mother Salome, approached Him and essayed to extort from Him a promise that they should be awarded the chief places beside His throne (Matthew 20:20-28 = Mark 10:35-45).

Such was the Messianic ideal which dominated the minds of our Lord’s contemporaries; and it was fraught with mischief, hindering more than aught else the recognition of His claims. In truth the marvel is not that so few accepted Him, but that with such an expectation any accepted Him. They were looking for a glorious Messiah, a king with a crown on his head and an army at his back; and Jesus presented Himself, the Son of man, meek and lowly, the very antithesis of what, they believed, the Messiah should be. He lost no opportunity of protesting against the unspiritual ideal, and not the least striking of His protests is this condition which He constantly and emphatically placed before those who desired to attach themselves to Him. A scribe once came to Him and said: ‘Teacher, I will follow thee wherever thou goest.’ What was his notion? He had been convinced of the Messiahship of Jesus, and, sharing the prevailing expectation, thought to reap a rich harvest of honour and emolument in the new era which would presently be inaugurated. Certainly, he argued, when Jesus won His own and rewarded His faithful followers, He would award the foremost place to one so distinguished by rank and learning.* [Note: So Chrysost., Jerome.] And how did Jesus answer? ‘You are expecting,’ He said, ‘office and honour in an earthly kingdom. Realize the fact. If you follow me wherever I go, you must forsake all and share my lowly and painful lot. The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay down his head’* [Note: τεῦ τὴν κεθαλην κλίεκ cf. John 19:30κλίνας τὴν κεθαλήν. Jesus never rested till, His work being finished, He rested on the cross.] (Luke 9:57-58 = Matthew 8:19-20).

Again, when He was travelling through Galilee on His last journey up to Jerusalem, He was followed by an enthusiastic throng. Knowing whither He was bound, they concluded that He was going to declare Himself king of Israel, and they were for following Him all the way and sharing in His triumph. Suddenly He wheeled round (στραφείς) and addressed them: ‘If any man cometh after me, and doth not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, moreover, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.’ Then He added two parables,—the Unfinished Tower and the Two Kings,—warning against the folly of embarking upon an enterprise which one is incapable of carrying through. ‘So, therefore,’ He concluded, ‘if ye would follow me, understand the condition. Count the cost, and determine whether you are prepared to meet it. Every one of you Who doth not renounce all that he hath cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:25-33).

David Smith.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Forsaking All'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/forsaking-all.html. 1906-1918.

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