Here is a monograph I wrote back in 2007 concerning what we can learn as teachers from Jesus' pedagogy.
by Anthony W. Foster
March 15, 2007
JESUS AS MASTER TEACHER
Teachers teach. This is the first and foremost thing teachers, college or otherwise, do. But biblically speaking, what does it mean to “teach”? As a starting point in determining this basic concept, Roy Zuck has presented a study of the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “teach” and has written,
“Based on these nine Hebrew words, Christian teaching is (a) making others familiar with divine truths, (b) giving discernment, (c) warning, (d) imparting knowledge, (e) correcting, (f) guiding, (g) training, (h) giving wisdom and insight, and (i) inculcating…. The Hiphil form may also show that teaching is helping pupils be what he teacher already is, and helping pupils know what the teacher already knows. In other words, a teacher cannot get his pupils to gain in discernment, knowledge, and insight if he himself does not possess that discernment, knowledge, and insight” (Zuck 1964, 235).
This study of nine Hebrew words for “teach” suggests several key principles for the Christian context of education. The causative form of these Hebrew words indicates that in regard to Christian teaching, the Bible places the emphasis helping to learn or causing to learn.
In a companion piece related to Greek words, Zuck clarifies that
“Teaching ‘the things of the Lord’ (Acts 18:25) is to result in godly living. The aim of sound doctrine is upright practice. Knowledge acquired is to be experienced in the life. A disciple of the Lord is one who, in addition to learning facts about the Lord, is a loyal follower of the Lord, devoted to following His teachings as well as comprehending His teachings” (Zuck 1965, 168).
In studying Jesus as Teacher, one notices quickly that man-made categories do not always attain. In Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, his number seven principle asks how great teachers evaluate their students and themselves (Bain 2004, 150). With Jesus, this is the place we must start, as he is not only the one who teaches with authority, he is the final judge of the living and the dead, and therefore of how well we learned the Truth. Everything hinges on the Authority of Jesus. This set him apart from other teachers (Matt 7:28-29). Only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
This writer would posit that how Jesus evaluated his own teaching informs everything that follows from the teaching itself. This goes beyond what Jesus expected from his students, it relates to the reckoning of the realities of both the teacher and the learner and the efficacy of the objectives presented to the learner. G. Campbell Morgan presents Christ's own view of his teaching from two of the Gospels (Matt 7:24-27, 27:35 and Mark 8:38, 13:31): "He who hears and does these words of mine is wise… he who hears and does not do them is foolish."; from the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 7:24-27 comes "My words shall never pass away"; this is repeated in the Olivet Discourse in Matt 27: 35 and again in Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33. In Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26 we hear Christ say, "Whosoever is ashamed of Me and my words…the Son of Man shall also be ashamed of him" (Morgan 1913, 6-9).
In Luke 6:47-49 we find a corollary saying concerning the wise and foolish builders of Matthew 7. In Luke 27:44-48, Jesus gives an "I told you so" to the travelers on the Emmaus Road in regard to his own teaching about his fulfillment of the Scriptures. In John 5:24 Jesus says that those who hear and believe his words have eternal life and has passed out of judgment and death unto life.
John 6:63 says that Jesus' saying are “spirit and life”. John 8:51 posits, "If a man keeps my word he will never see death." In John 7:47-48, response to Jesus' teachings shall be the basis of judgment on the last day, and in John 17:8, we learn that Jesus' teachings all came from the Father.
From this we see that Jesus claimed that his teaching had Divine authority (John 7:17, 49-50). He said the purpose for his teaching was to govern human life. Finally, he taught that his very teachings were final, and eternal (Morgan 1913, 11-14).
Thus we can establish from the words of Jesus himself how he ought to have been evaluated and how he evaluated his own teaching. The reality of how his audience perceived him is, frankly, multifaceted. There is much debate over whether Jesus’ contemporaries saw him as a traditional Jewish rabbi, or as a prophet, or both.
Harold Mare has shown that the terms Rabbi and Teacher relate in the Scriptures.
“That the terms rabbi and didaskalos are understood in the Gospels as equivalents is seen in John 1:3-8 and John 20:16.9… (Mare 1970, 13). In the New Testament the title “Rabbi” was one sought by religious leaders, evidently for its flattering effect (Matthew 23:2, 7), (and) is used by disciples of their teacher (John 9:2), is used in a popular general sense by the general public in John 6:25, is a term of respected authority in Mark 9:5 of one coming from God himself John 3:2, and is a term of endearment (Rabboni, John 20:16) (Mare 1970, 17).
Köstenberger echoes this contention with evidences from John and points to the work of Rainer Riesner’s work “Jesus as Preacher and Teacher,’ (Riesner 1991, 186) in regard to the synoptics, writing that “while Riesner focuses primarily on the Synoptic Gospels, his argument remains valid that Jesus operated within the Palestinian framework of a Jewish religious teacher” (Köstenberger 1998, 100). John’s Gospel bears witness that Jesus was perceived by his contemporaries primarily as a Jewish religious teacher. Köstenberger argues that the equivalence of the terms rabbi and didaskaloi is also confirmed by the synonymous parallelism in Matt 23:8 (Köstenberger 1998, 100-101).
Farnell and Baylis have both addressed the relationship between the office of prophet and the work of the teacher in the Scriptures.
“Prophets and teachers are frequently mentioned as the most significant proclaimers of the Word in the church (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6). Like teachers, prophets mediated knowledge, so that one could learn from them (1 Cor 14:31; Rev 2:20; cf. Didache 11.10–12). Prophets instructed the church regarding the meaning of Scripture, and through revelations they gave information about the future. However, prophecy is not the same as teaching. Because it was based on direct divine revelations, the ministry of the prophet was more spontaneous than that of the teacher. Teachers, on the other hand, preserved and interpreted already existing Christian tradition, including relevant Old Testament passages, the sayings of Jesus, and traditional beliefs of earlier Christian teaching. Furthermore while the teacher considers the past and gives direction for the present on the basis of what took place or what was said previously, the prophet looked toward the future and guided the path of the believing community forward” (Farnell 1993, 171).
“Jesus began to teach in the temple “early in the morning” (John 8:2). In the Book of John such descriptive chronology is more than a time marker; it also has Johannine symbolism. Much like breaking of the earthly light of dawn above the horizon, Jesus was about to demonstrate that He, as the Prophet, is “the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). In the temple Jesus “began to teach” (John 8:2). The Messiah/Prophet (John 7:40–52) was to be a teacher, for, as Moses wrote, the Prophet would speak the words God put in His mouth. “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:18). If Jesus was the Prophet, it was necessary that He be a Teacher of the Word of God. To emphasize that, John pointed out that Jesus “sat down” (John 8:2), the position of a teacher in Judaism.” (Baylis 1989, 177).
From this we can discern that Jesus was regarded as both a teaching sage and a prophet and fulfilled the functions of a biblical prophet. (Stein 1978, 2-3). In his article entitled “Jesus: the Master Teacher,” Robert Pazmiño looks at the context and content of Jesus' teaching. He concludes that Jesus is much more than a traditional rabbi. He broke through cultural boundaries and addressed women, the disenfranchised, outcasts, and every sort of sinner. Galilee was a multicultural setting, and the choice of Galilee as the backdrop to the incarnation should tell us something about our lame strategies that engender cultural conformity (Anthony 2001b, 112-113).
What Did Jesus Know about How We Learn?
The prophetic office functions in regard to representing God before man. The prophet is the spokesman called by God. The vision of the prophet was given by God and could speak to the secrets of the past, present and future. Through the prophetic witness, the people of God learn of the operation of God in history, insight into the problems, mysteries, and needs of the present as well as the secrets of the future.
The office of prophet was predicted for Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus says in John 5 that Moses wrote of him and that all judgment is entrusted by the Father to the Son. At the Jordan River he is called into the prophetic office and at the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah the great OT prophets in attendance, we are told to “listen to him”. In the NT he is recognized as a prophet by the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, the people of Galilee in Luke 7, and the multitude in Jerusalem in Matthew 21. Post-resurrection on the Emmaus road he was called “a prophet mighty in word and deed.”
In the Old Testament times , prophets functioned in at least three ways- as predictors of the future, but also as teachers (forth-tellers) and at times as judges and the deliverers of the word of blessing and judgment. Moses functioned in all three of these ways typically. Christ revealed and bore witness to the truth about God in His beatitudes, parables, and discourses: (“you have heard it said, yet I say”.) Matthew 13:35 quoting Psalm 78:2 says, "This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Jesus, being God Incarnate, knew the mysteries of men’s hearts, and he prophesied about the future in both the near and eschatological contexts. Christ continues His prophetic work today through his church by means of his Spirit. As he spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament he spoke through the apostles in setting forth the New Covenant Scriptures and in establishing the Church. There is no separation in the ministry of the Apostles and the Body of Christ in this world and the ministry of Christ: it is one and the same. Christ is the perfect final Word of God and the one through whom God is perfectly communicated to man. Jesus is the perfect prophesier and the perfect word.
Implications of the Deity and Humanity of Christ the Teacher
Any fact that can be established about how men learn was therefore a fact Jesus apprehended in regard both to his deity and humanity. He , better than anyone knew that we are frail children of dust and our limitations in addition to our capabilities. We see many evidences of this which we will point out.
First and foremost, the incarnate Son of God knew and empathized with the limitations of his creatures. He knew the profound effect of suffering and experienced the effects of the Fall while remaining sinless. He knew our limitations since he was “made in human likeness” (Phil 2). He was the only one who could intercede for us and bring profound meaning and redemption to the fallenness of this world and the remarkable degradation of the image of God in man. He both interpreted and experienced the problem of evil and the problem of pain, yet without sin. He alone knows the deceitfulness and at the same time the longing of men’s hearts for meaning and purpose.
Jesus also knew his disciples could use some on the job training and their need for unlearning their presuppositions. His “you have heard it said, but I say” passages show that he understood that his hearers must address long held misconceptions. Jesus did not only leverage mental models in his teaching in order to cause change, he understood that they must be transformed or dismantled entirely in some cases. He introduced disequilibrium where an existing mental model did not work, and motivated his audience to wrestle with the dissonant issues. The emotional turmoil that accompanies the loss of familiar ways of working can be mitigated by the comfort of faith in short term sacrifice for long term gain. With human teaching, performance and motivation decrease when subjects believe that other people are trying to control them (Bain 2004, 33). There is perhaps a contrasting point to be made that one cannot learn from Jesus is if he is not first Master and Lord.
J. M. Price's 1946 Training Union course entitled Jesus the Teacher offers insight all these years later. In regard to fitness for teaching, Jesus embodied the Truth, and desired to serve. "Jesus saw in teaching the supreme opportunity for shaping the ideals, attitudes, and conduct of people" (Price 1946, 5). He knew the Scriptures and understood human nature. One cannot apply content to life until he understands the pupil and his needs (Price 1946, 8-11). As John 2:25 says, "He himself knew what was in man."
In regard to principles underlying the Work of Christ, Jesus took the long look, not just focusing on his learners' present qualifications. Though masses followed him, he stressed the personal touch, working with a select cohort of disciples for an extended period of time. He began where people were, and stayed with vital matters. He worked on the conscience, and sought to draw out the best in his learners. He engaged his pupils in self activity and threw them back on their own resources rather than giving them readymade answers (Price 1946, 61).
How did Jesus Prepare to Teach?
Bain points to several ways in which great teachers prepare to teach (Bain 2004, 48-67). These include the big questions they hope to help their students answer and the skill set they hope to impart. Students bring possible misconceptions and presuppositions about what they are learning, and great teachers must be prepared to find ways to help students work through these impediments to learning. Acquisition of information is important as well, as it forms the content of the teachings that are to be applied.
As personal preparation, Jesus prayed often and alone. He went into the desert for forty days to fast before teaching his first lesson on the mount. He only taught what the Father gave Him to teach. His whole life was a preparation of thirty years before he began his public ministry. He knew the Scriptures from a young age and discoursed with learned men as a youth. In the account of Jesus’ interaction with the teachers in the temple at age twelve, we learn that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Jesus pursued the Truth of the Father.
As Scott Newman writes,
“The word lamad appears in over eighty verses in the Old Testament. As a noun it is generally translated as “teaching, commandment, mandate.” In its more common verb form it refers to “teaching, cleaving to, learning, being closely accustomed to.” It is almost always used to mean a specific body of truth, and when speaking of God’s truth such as His Law or Commandments it is absolute and objective.” (Newman 1998, 58).
This is a key way in which Jesus models for us the proper approach to biblical teaching; we are to approach it’s objective truth in fear and supplication to the Lord, reverencing His perspective above all others.
“To the Jews, teaching was a body of absolute truth not simply transmitted to a student but lived out before him in such a way that he would choose to follow it. New Testament authors reflect this same mindset. Jesus said, in John 8:28, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” Jesus likened His Father’s teaching to “these things”, a specific body of truth” (Newman 1998, 61).
Jesus recognized the false teaching of his day because, among other reasons, he knew the real thing so well. Jesus taught that one’s hermeneutical style was evil if it was the product of man’s precepts. Matthew 15:9 quotes the Lord rebuking the false religious leaders in the Jewish community, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The Savior declared that their system of teaching, or style of learning, was rooted in a blatant rejection of obvious truth (John 8:45, 47) (Newman 1998, 62).
The content of Jesus’ teaching was something he mastered by prolonged exposure to the will of His Father. Categorizing the teaching of Jesus can be done in many ways.
Pazmiño borrows heavily in a synopsis of Herman Horne's work Jesus : The Master Teacher in framing the content of Jesus' teaching. He abstracts five principles from Horne's teaching: Jesus' teaching was authoritative. It was not authoritarian. Jesus encouraged people to think in his teaching. He lived what he taught. Finally, Jesus had a love for those he taught.
"We can celebrate how Jesus was the Master Teacher in relation to the context, content, and persons of his teaching ministry. As the Master Teacher, Jesus continues to transform people today just as he did in the first century. This presence and power is made available to all Christian teachers who desire to replicate the life of Christ through their own examples while in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the model for all those who are called to teach" (Pazmiño in Anthony 2001b, 114-115).
Jerry MacGregor categorizes the content of Jesus' teaching in broad strokes as teaching on the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom and The New Life. (Anthony 2001a, 380). He sets forth the premise that the methods of Jesus' teaching fall into stories and dramas, parables and vivid language, reason, emotional appeal, rhetoric and argumentation, repetition, and variety. In the process, the list gets a bit confused as he moves from methods to objectives in including authority, skill development, and faith building as other methods Jesus employed. Incredibly, he also completely fails to mention the influence of the Holy Spirit on Jesus' teaching and the power exhibited by the disciples in their own teaching ministries. Stein summarizes the content of Christ's teaching in three broad categories: The Kingdom of God, The Fatherhood of God and Christology (Stein 1978, 2-3) .
What did Jesus Expect of His Students?
First and foremost, Jesus expected the redemption of all who would believe in Him. He knew that nothing would come from listeners who had no ears to hear. Only his sheep would hear his voice. So first we must qualify his true students as those who were his sheep. With Paul, Jesus “would that we be not ignorant”. Dr. Earle Cairns wrote
“There is also a place for the culture of the intellect in Christian education. Man’s intellectual powers must be developed. It will be noticed that the “fear of the Lord” is declared to be the beginning of knowledge in Proverbs 9:10. Knowledge and wisdom of God, man, and nature can best be built upon the foundation of redeemed personality” (Cairns 1954, 342).
Great teachers expect their students to develop the ability to think about and act on what they learn. This changes the student fundamentally. This must be couched in two ways, for Jesus knew the realities before they occurred. Ultimately, he expected them to “do greater things” than He did, by fulfilling the Great Commission and in all cases barring Judas and John, to die for the Gospel. The disciples would not be greater than their Master. In “The Role of Spiritual Development in Theological Education” Bruce Nicholls posits that the goal of education is the kind of person the student is expected to become. He refers to the kind of “on the job training in spirituality” practiced by Jesus. Education is based in the idea that man is created in the image of God. The Fall has marred the imago Dei, therefore a response to this fallen world is in order. As redemption is experienced, the imago Dei is progressively, but not exhaustively, restored. Ultimately, Jesus expects that we will see him as he is, and we will be like him.
Jesus created an authentic, multi-formatted, critical learning environment. He got his learners’ attention both by his presence and his techniques, which were integrated with one another. He commanded attention because he taught with authority as much as by the signs and wonders he performed to validate his words. Jesus demanded commitment and maintained that it was foolish not to count the cost of an endeavor before undertaking it. The injunctions to the multitudes as to the sacrifice and cross-bearing involved in discipleship are pointed by the examples of a man building a tower, and a king going to war, who count the cost before entering on their enterprises (Lk 14:25-35). Learning with Jesus is an exercise in diversity. He taught in ways that engaged multiple learning styles and multiple cultural backgrounds. Jesus taught affectively as well as effectively, but his hearers did not always comprehend. Clarity doesn't always mean that great teachers' messages are easy to understand or require no mental processing…Jesus was not easy to understand. (Richards and Bredfeldt 1998, 219).
Jesus did not have to wonder what was important to his students. He knew their hearts and exactly what to expect from them. He did not have to do research nor, as Joyce Armstrong Carroll has written, did he use worksheets. Knowing this he chose illustrations that were contextually meaningful in some cases and in others he offered no illuminating help since he knew their hearts were not listening. Jesus taught the disciples to learn to learn in the contexts he sent them into; the sending of the 70 (and 72) is one case in point. It was never a mystery to Jesus that his disciples were not learning. He knew that the Father had to reveal it to them through the Spirit. Ultimately, Jesus expects his followers to take up the cross and obey his commands, to do greater works than he, and to be crucified with Him, and to do so in unity, to the glory of the Father.
Methodologies of the Teaching of Jesus
Great teachers find ways to help students who have difficulty learning. Jesus faced this time and again. He taught in many ways, recapitulating and reinforcing his teachings with action and the disciples' active engagement in the process of learning. Great teachers confront their students. Jesus did this in several ways. He placed his teaching alongside common interpretations of Scripture to show the Spirit of the Law rather than the letter. He placed importance on the motivation of the heart rather than the actual obedience of precepts. His hard sayings confounded the wise to a point where they had to abandon their categories in order to embrace the truth, as in the case of Nicodemus. More than anything else, Jesus presented the Scriptures in a living way.
Herman Harrell Horne analyzed the teachings of Jesus from more than twenty different standpoints. Page after page of his work elaborates on Christ’s use of problems, symbols, questions, answers, parables, contrasts, conversations, discourses, and so forth (Horne 1964, 1-112).
Jesus communicated with his students in a variety of ways to keep them thinking, and he did expect them to think. He not only confounded given presuppositions, he revealed the miraculous signs in contexts that spoke to their raison d'etre. His signs were never arbitrary. He modeled the way to the disciples in such a way that when they were sent out and did not perform to their expectations, they wondered at how Jesus had cast out demons when they could not and asked him about the difference. The learning environment Jesus chose was life itself- in the course of life, teaching was deeply contextualized.
Questions play an essential role in the process of learning and modifying mental models (Bain, 2004, 31). According to Roy Zuck, Jesus asked 225 questions in his ministry and responded to 103 more (Zuck 1995, 235-304). Motivation to learn revolves around the learner caring about the practical objective for learning. In the case of the teaching of Jesus, His words were the words of Life. Eternal destiny in fact, hinges on the learner's response to his teaching.
The language of Jesus is instructive in and of itself. He employed words to his advantage constantly. Walter Elwell writes,
"Jesus would use highly graphic language to make a point. It certainly caught their attention when he told them to take the plank out of their eye in order to see the speck in another's (Matt 7:3-5) and called their religious leaders snakes (Matt 23:33). Sometimes Jesus' words were seemingly self-contradictory "The first will be last, and the last will be first" (Mark 10:31) and at times even shocking "Cut off your hand cut off your foot" (Mark 9:42-48)… In all of this, Jesus' creative use of language was designed to force his hearers to a decision. He knew that giving them information was not enough. They must be challenged to embody and act on that information in order for it to change them." (Elwell 1996, 400-406).
Howard Hendricks said, “Jesus taught Peter about walking on water by letting him sink. He didn't cram Peter's head with theological facts”. (Hendricks 1987, 64). He taught the woman at the well by building bridges. He stressed function and application rather than meeting the curricular requirements. He involved them in the process.
Price lists object lessons, dramatics, stories, lectures, questions, and discussions as the main methodologies Jesus employed (Price 1946, 91-118). Robert Stein in his treatment of the forms of teaching employed by Jesus lists overstatement, hyperbole, pun, simile, metaphor, proverb, riddle, paradox, a forteriori, irony, parabolic or figurative actions, questions, and several varieties of poetic parallelism among his arsenal (Stein 1978, 7-33).
Zuck further exhaustively ennumerates the ways in which Jesus used rhetorical devices, picturesque words, visualization and stories or parables in his methodologies. These examples fill the latter part of his book (Zuck 1995, 157-328).
Robert Pazmiño writes,
“On the Lucan account of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we see three elements of the teaching of Jesus… He used discussion, open inquiry, correction and clarification, role modeling, and the need for response… Jesus asks question, listens, and then opens the Scriptures and their eyes” (Pazmiño, 2004, 36-39).
How Did Jesus Conduct Class?
Jesus’ classroom approach is very much related to methodological concerns raised above. We see in Jesus’ approach to conducting class a very pragmatic approach. He used nature and familiar objects to foster learning. He taught large groups and small groups. He took advantage of teachable moments. He challenged his hearers to think by using parables and hard sayings, rather than giving them spoon-fed answers. He taught them in context, as they were going.
Homer A. Kent, Jr. writes,
"He taught people wherever he could find them. He did not require a classroom or a pulpit. He taught crowds by the seaside in Galilee (Mark 4:1). The parable of the sower was given in such a setting. He taught great crowds publicly, and sometimes he taught his disciples privately Mark 9:31. Whether on a mountainside (Matt 5:2), or sitting in a boat (Luke 5:3), or lecturing in a synagogue Luke 6:6, or merely walking along the road (Luke 13:22), teaching was the outstanding characteristic of Jesus during the days of his ministry…
Jesus told us why he concentrated his ministry on teaching. He had come as the embodiment of the Word of God, to bring the message of God to men. The absolutely crucial nature of that message explains why Jesus concentrated his ministry upon it. He said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). He emphasized the unique source of his message: “As my Father hath taught me, I speak these things” (John 8:38). He knew that the message he brought could transform lives even after he was gone. That was why he concentrated on teaching. He did not build any structures during those brief three years. He established no complex organization. He cared not a bit for the trappings which we commonly associate with power and success. Instead He was continually teaching" (Kent, 1980, 10).
Jesus did, however, seem to have several spheres of teaching based on the spiritual development of the audience. He had thousands of curious followers, and perhaps thousands of other believing disciples. The chose the seventy from among these. He committed himself to twelve men for three years. With the inner three- Peter, James, and John, he exposed them to events that the others were not party to, such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration, and the anguish of Gethsemane. He focused on the twelve and the three privately, and practically, as well as publicly when he was teaching in a group context.
Andreaas Köstenberger writes:
“John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as providing instruction for his followers in a number of ways. He does so by verbal instruction as well as action, including “mystifying gestures” followed by an explanation, and personal example. Apart from assuming responsibility for providing instruction for his followers, Jesus is also shown to provide for other needs of his disciples and to protect them from all harm, including the negative influences of false teaching… as well as rabbinic rulings and didactic actions.. (in the) cleansing of the temple and footwashing. He provided for and protected his students;… he taught by example. (Köstenberger 1998, 113).
Defying all categories, Jesus also conducted class by displaying miraculous signs and wonders to validate his teaching. In his treatment of John 3:1-21, “The Teacher Come From God And The Teacher From Jerusalem : Jesus And Nicodemus”
“They (Jews) approached the moral and spiritual through the miraculous; we the miraculous through the moral and spiritual. His Presence, that one grand Presence is, indeed, ever the same. But God always adapts His teaching to our learning; else it were not teaching at all, least of all Divine teaching. Only what carries it now to us is not the same as what carried it to them of old: it is no more the fingerpost of 'signs,' but the finger of the Spirit.” (Edersheim 1977, 381-389).
How Did Jesus Treat His Students?
Jesus treated his disciples with a mixture of compassion and a sense of urgency that the “get it”. He taught the Pharisees in a direct manner. He exemplified the effects of the proper application of Scripture as seen in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ; for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. To this equipping end, Jesus not only employed “warm” and “cool” language in teaching. At times he wept with compassion as when he was deeply touched, as with the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and at others he has the opposite reaction.
There are two instances in the New Testament where it says that Jesus was amazed. Both times had to do with someone's faith, or lack of it. In Luke 7 Jesus was amazed at the Centurion’s faith. He said, "I have not found such great faith, even in Israel." Then in Mark 6, there was the encounter with his hometown of Nazareth and "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mark 6:5).
Rather than engaging in polite platitudes, he lectures the “Teacher of Israel” on his need for regeneration. This stands in marked contrast to Jesus’ compassionate treatment of the Samaritan woman in the subsequent chapter. (Blomberg 1995, 1-15).
Jesus’ assertive stance toward Nicodemus strikingly demonstrates for John’s readers that Jesus, while falling short of Nicodemus’s rabbinic credentials, commanded spiritual authority far exceeding that of his Jewish counterpart. It was doubtless impressive to many of John’s original readers that later in the Gospel Nicodemus ends up as a secret follower of Jesus (cf. John 7:50-52, 19:38-42) (Köstenberger 1998, 110).
Jesus modeled humility and compassion. He was both brutally and edifyingly honest as the situation demanded. He confirmed Nathaniel as a man without guile and rebuked Peter at various times. It is important to remember that those he loves, he chastises (Heb 5). Ultimately, the Master Teacher laid down his life for his sheep by delivering himself up. Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich.
What Can We Learn from Jesus, the Master Teacher?
Bain concludes his book rather anticlimactically, quoting Don Finkel ‘s recognition about “teaching with your mouth shut” by writing that teaching is.. “anything we might do that helps and encourages students to learn- without doing them any major harm.” (Bain 2004, 173).
Human categories aside, Jesus teaches us as much by our mediation on his Person as he does by marveling at his work. Zuck proposes that analyzing Jesus’ teaching procedures and his educational strategy can help us in two ways. It can trigger our thinking about our own teaching if we ask pertinent questions as we trace his teaching in the Gospels. Secondly, looking at Jesus’ teaching can help us transfer ideas from his teaching to ours. (Zuck, 1995, 10-11). We can teach as Jesus taught, truly, if not in every way, because our imperfection and limitations are balanced with the promise that the Holy Spirit is our Teacher (John 14:26; 16:12-19; I Cor 2 :10-16), and that we have the Mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).
We can and must also teach what Jesus taught. As Frank Gaebelein pointed out over 40 years ago,
“As for the New Testament, it records what is incomparably the most important teaching situation in history—our Lord Jesus Christ’s instruction of the twelve, and beyond the twelve, of many others, individually and in groups. The Great Commission as given in Matthew is essentially a teaching commission…(Gaebelein 1962, 4).
Indeed, Jesus’ Great Commission to us demands implicitly that we are to do more than transfer information. If it is done in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is a supernatural and transformative work of the Spirit. As
Chuck Lawless writes,
“Teaching was the task of instructing. Teaching was not limited to the imparting of information. Assumed in the teaching was a command to obey all that Jesus taught. Head knowledge was to become heart knowledge and changed lifestyle. In fact, obedience to the commands of Christ indicated the disciples love for him. Those who obey the Great commission make disciples through evangelism leading to baptism and teaching that result in obedience. (Lawless 2002, 46).
In the final analysis the most important thing we can learn from Jesus the Teacher is the obedience of faith. In the very light of the context and content of Jesus’ teachings, as well as his methodologies, we must look beyond his work to his person. We must look beyond the cross and follow him into the resurrection. As Romans 6: 4 tells us, we are buried with Him by baptism in death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. This was Jesus’ objective for his teaching, and what we do with his words- right here, right now- determines whether we will abide with him forever.
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