When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel,
they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here."
But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us."
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.
Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:
Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates-- the judges and officials over the men from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa,
and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.
(This is a copy of the letter they sent him.) To King Artaxerxes, From your servants, the men of Trans-Euphrates:
The king should know that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.
Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and the royal revenues will suffer.
Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king,
so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed.
We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
The king sent this reply: To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates: Greetings.
The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence.
I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition.
Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them.
Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order.
Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.
Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
He told them: "Take nothing for the journey-- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.
Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.
If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them."
So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead,
others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.
But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him.
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida,
but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here."
He replied, "You give them something to eat." They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish-- unless we go and buy food for all this crowd."
(About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each."
The disciples did so, and everybody sat down.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people.
They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.
And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
Two men, Moses and Elijah,
appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him."
When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.
A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.
A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.
I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not."
"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here."
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.
And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,
"Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men."
But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.
Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all-- he is the greatest."
"Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him;
but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?"
But Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."