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WHAT JESUS SAYS OF THE MEANING OF HIS MIRACLES
DO the miracles of Jesus accord with his life and work? This is the first question. This query may be answered most positively by placing in the center of our consideration the copious testimonies which the Lord himself has given concerning his wondrous deeds. The discourses of Jesus reveal the purport of his person, and the closer they follow the work of the person the more valuable they become. If we can ascertain what Jesus himself thought of his miracles, it will be at the same time clear whether miracles stand in a positive or negative relation to his character.
We repeatedly read in the Gospels that the contemporaries of Jesus believed on him because of his miracles. This, at any rate, seems to suggest that the evangelist also occupied this position, that miracles were an excellent means for awakening faith, and that for this purpose Jesus himself performed 11his miracles. The three synoptists and the Gospel of John agree in such expressions. In John 11. 45, we read after the raising of Lazarus: "Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” Some, however, went to the Pharisees and embarrassed them by reporting the event (comp. John 2. 23; 7. 26-31). After the healing of the blind and dumb, the people seriously considered the question, "Is not this the son of David?” (Matt. 12. 23; comp. 9. 33, seq.) In like manner again the fourth evangelist when recording the miracle at Cana, says: Jesus "manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (John 2. 11). But there are not wanting clearly expressed statements that the miracles themselves as such, were not able to hold the people to Jesus. Not only sworn opponents know how to invalidate the significance of such signs; even the enthusiastic multitude makes the very feeding which it itself witnessed, a reason for turning its back upon the Master when further expectations remain unfulfilled (John 6. 66).
Jesus, however, thinks otherwise. His 12miracles were not to be a condition for the faith of men. They are not intended in the least to excite faith. On the contrary, Jesus aims at nothing more than to distract attention from his miraculous deeds. We may understand this fact correctly only by considering the peculiarity of his calling and the relation into which he was brought thereby to his countrymen. He knew himself as the Messiah for whom his people were eagerly looking. He saw in himself the realization of Israel's religious hopes. But, at the same time, he knew himself to be in the keenest opposition to popular expectations. He was the Messiah, and he was not. He was the Messiah in the real meaning of God's plan; yet he did not resemble the conception which the people had of the Messiah. He brought the highest good of the kingdom of God, the good of consummation. The people expected the coming of the Messiah and that the manifestation of his benefits would be accompanied with great signs and powerful deeds. The Messiah was to play a brilliant part and to authenticate himself by incomparable miracles; "With an iron rod" was he to shake off and abase all enemies of 13Israel, the Romans as well as the Herodians. It is the tragic element which runs through the life of Jesus that while wide circles of the people would acknowledge him as the Messiah, they could not recognize him as such because of that erroneous expectation. During the whole period of his captivity he had to struggle with this false Messianic idea; and he rejected those who clung only to his mighty deeds because through them their fancy was strengthened. The inner struggle was hard. The temptation was present to respond to the expectation of the people by showing himself in power; to summon more than ten thousand legions of angels. He decided against this method of asserting his Messianic call. He might thereby perhaps have advanced his fame but he would have missed his calling; for in this way he would have wholly confined the people to the worldly and the human, and would not have changed or gained their hearts.
The synoptists introduce the ministry of Jesus with the narrative which brings before us this struggle of Jesus. In the form of a program he there expresses himself with 14respect to his calling. The history of the Temptation tells us with what decision from the very start, conscious of the only true path, he refused from principle every performance of a miraculous exhibition. To do this would have answered the expectation of the people who longed for a Messiah who brought about the kingdom of God full of blessing with a magic stroke by establishing an outward power, to suddenly make an end to all care of the earthly life and all distress caused by political oppression. But nothing of the kind lies in the purpose of Jesus! The kingdom of God comes not with observation. This he manifested unto the end.
We see him going through the country of Galilee relieving distress, spreading blessings. He cured a blind man who also was dumb. His opponents did not consider this cure as a sign of his divine origin. They rather ask now for a sign as a proof that that cure was not caused by the devil dwelling in him (Matt. 12. 38-45). Jesus agrees with his adversaries in one point: a miracle, be it never so surprising, cannot be considered a sign that one is sent from God. This we infer from his subsequent words. At the 15same time, however, he vehemently addresses the representatives of the hierarchy: "An evil and adulterous generation (that is, according to prophetical phraseology; a generation which apostatized from the marriage covenant with God) seeketh after a sign" (Matt. 12. 39); that is, a sign which shall be self-evidencing that the performer of it is God. Those people desired to see some sudden phenomenon, a "sign from heaven" (Matt. 16. 1). The Messiahship was to be ascertained from something more wonderful than an extraordinary cure of a disease. The kingdom of God is not to be established by the spirit of Jesus, not by the gospel and repentance. Jesus judges their eagerness as the manifestation of a mania for miracles, which is an obstacle to faith. What kind of faith would that be which would thus be called forth! A sign was to take place which makes faith superfluous by demanding an apparently physical interference of God in the human world, a sign which obtains the "faith" by force. A generation, with such a mania for miracles, is "adulterous,” is too far from God that it should turn inwardly to God, even in consequence of the greatest 16miracle; therefore "no sign shall be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.”
What is to be understood by the sign of Jonas? The Gospel of Matthew referred the words to the resurrection of Jesus, and put this interpretation into the mouth of Jesus himself. But this resurrection which (as verse 40 states) did not take place after three days and three nights, but after two nights and one day—was it really meant by Jesus to be the infallible sign of his Messiahship? In reality it had not become such a sign. It did not take place so publicly that the adulterous generation believed thereby; in fact that generation did not receive that sign at all, but those only who believed in God. There can be no doubt that in verse 40 we have the opinion of the evangelist before us, or, rather, the interpretation of the word of Jesus handed down to him. This becomes evident from the other Gospel account of this event. In the narrative of Luke (11. 30), the point of comparison is given differently. As Jonas became a sign to the Ninevites, so the Son of man shall be to this generation. The prophet Jonas, however, became to the inhabitants 17of the eastern city a purely spiritual sign, appropriated not so much through some physical happening but, rather, through the power of the Spirit. Jonah's courageous preaching of repentance and its powerful success proved his divine commission. In this way the God-estranged generation is to be overcome. Thus Jesus, in his personality and call to repentance and pledge of salvation, will also be the sign appointed for this generation. It is by no means necessary to think of a near or distant future when this sign shall take place. It is, rather, meant that this very sign is already present and is given now; and that hereafter no other sign shall be given than this, just as the Old Testament prophet gave it to the heathenish city.
A beautiful parallel to this word of Jesus is the parable of the obedient and disobedient sons together with its explanation (Matt. 21. 23-32). The parable is an answer to the question, 'By what authority was Jesus teaching the people? Jesus refused a direct answer because "the elders" did not reply to his question as to whence the Baptist received his authority. Now he says the call to repentance 18of the Baptist was made in order to bring about a change of heart. In their attitude toward him the scribes resemble the disobedient son who at first promised to obey his father, but afterward thinks otherwise and will not listen to the (now in Jesus) repeated voice of the father. But the sinners who follow Jesus and are inwardly changed are like the son who at first refuses obedience and afterward repents and returns home. Here, too, the thought is decisive, that it does not require an extraordinary sign to convince man of the nearness of God the call of repentance ought to have shown to all that God is at the door. Thus also is it with the attitude of men toward Jesus. "By what authority" he acts, and whether he is the revealed of God, is to be inferred from his presence and his teaching.
The continuation of the address of Jesus proves that the statement concerning the sign of Jonas, according to Matthew, notwithstanding the interpretation given in the text, must not be understood of a certain, miraculous act. When the people of Nineveh, because they repented at the preaching 19of Jonas, shall, as it were, rise up in the judgment against the Jewish scribes at the general resurrection (verse 42), the salient point is that the sign for them is the preaching of repentance. This characteristic feature of the sending of Jonas, Jesus applies to his position in Israel. When a plain prophet already made such an impression and became a credible sign, how much more must every open heart see in Jesus, in him, the Sinless One, the sign from heaven; for "here is a greater than Jonas.” How often, of his work from which alone man can infer as here, Jesus refers to the uniform totality, his sign of the Messiahship! He will not perform a miraculous feat in order to acquire acknowledgment at least, where curiosity, superstition, or even unbelief looks for it. He states clearly that those are in error and far from the kingdom of God who seek a manifestation of God in miraculous phenomena. The manifestation, rather, accomplishes itself in history, in the mental, historical life of humanity. There the honest-hearted will perceive the signs of God. Expressive of severe judgment on those having a mania for miracles, Christ 20tells us that prodigies, as a means of awakening faith, are not to be thought of. We see Jesus here intentionally diverting attention from all kinds of magic, every kind of fetichism, everything carnal in religion. The spiritual element of the religion founded by him is emphasized in that God and his will may be known in the sphere of the spiritual. What one understands by the miracles of Jesus, wherever one occurs is not to be connected with the intention to establish religion or reveal God; all this belongs not to the "sign" which humanity must regard, in order to know by what authority Jesus spoke and acted.
The peculiarity of Jesus's conception of his miracles is thus sufficiently clear. The object of his life is this: to prepare men for his gospel and to lead them to God by influencing their minds. For this purpose his miracles are not conducible, for he knows very well that by them no sinful men become godly, and no atheist a believer in God. To this deep discerner of man the way of human reason which tries to explain to itself by natural means even the problems of the supernatural, is not unknown. The 21natural man seeks after natural causes and does not reason from the miracle to the supernatural agent of the miracle. Even the "greatest" miracle—the resurrection of the dead—will not be accepted. Reason will seek for secret mundane causes and will find them. This very case Jesus emphasizes by supplying the critique on all spiritualistic longing in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man: If men believe not the living word and the Spirit of God, they will not believe, though one rose from the dead (Luke 16. 31). He only will be able to perceive in the miracles a deed of God who is already convinced of God's power and work. For this reason Jesus performs no miracles for unbelievers. For such his miracles would only provoke indifference and hardness of heart.
These thoughts we find in many expressions of Jesus. Consider, for example, his coming to his home city of Nazareth, as Luke describes it (4. 23-27) . The unbelieving people have asked him to do before their eyes the same deeds as in Capernaum; but he refuses, and refers to Elias and Eliseus, who did not use the God-given power for miraculous help among Jews, but bestowed 22it upon two non-Israelites who, by their faith, were truly qualified to receive the blessing. Or, let us take the answer to the question of the Baptist, in which he emphasizes the Messianic character of his activity, and mentions miracles only in connection with the founding of the Messianic kingdom, and subordinates them to his preaching (Matt. 11. 2-6). He designates his activity as that of the promised Messiah, and refers to the Messianic time as predicted by Isaiah. Events of a wondrous nature have come to pass, but the miraculous element in them is not the main thing, but the result: that misery ceases when God's hand is stretched out in mercy and tenderness. Thus those miracles come into question only as elements in the preaching of salvation, and this is also indicated in the answer of Jesus when he commanded them to "Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see.” God's kingdom of blessing comes through the joyful message of Jesus, which preaching, however, is accompanied by distinctive characteristics of the happy state which is yet to be restored in God's world.23
In a more decided manner is the working of miracles subordinated to that of preaching in Mark 1. 33-39. At Capernaum in the evening, Jesus healed many sick people. With the first early dawn he retires from the city to a solitary place for prayer. His disciples, led by Peter, follow after him, and, finding him, wish to bring him back to the city, as the inhabitants were seeking him. And he? "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.” Luke, who describes more fully this event (4. 42-44), makes him say still plainer that his life's object was none other than the preaching of the kingdom of God. According to this account the multitude itself had come to Jesus and urged him not to depart from them; but he tells them plainly: "I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent.”
All this proves that Jesus considered his miraculous power not as something independent of his call to repentance and the kingdom of God, nor did he wish it to be considered as such. In estimate and value as they easily appear at a superficial glance 24in the synoptic Gospels, miracles are of little importance. Jesus himself does not consider them as the quintessence of his work. Nevertheless, according to our records, he so readily demonstrated his divinity by his miracles that the granting of the same must have been of decisive importance to him. Indeed, Jesus did not consider his miracles as a superfluous element of his appearance, but, as the answer to the Baptist already showed, they were for him an important element in the coming of the kingdom of God, as is seen in the fact that on the occasion on which he rebuked those who were seeking signs he again refers to his works (Matt. 12. 33, seq.; Luke 11. 14, seq.). Miraculous cures were not uncommon or unexpected among those people; there were some who boasted of such arts and were occasionally successful; hence, it was no sign of his Messiahship for the prejudiced opponents of Jesus when he cured one who was "blind and deaf" by casting out his demon. We are told that the multitude preferred, rather, the inference as to his Davidic sonship, that is, his Messiahship; the Pharisees, however, opposed it by saying: "He casts out the 25demons not with the help of God, but as an associate of the head of the devils, the lord of the kingdom of demons.” Over against this accusation Jesus proves the absurdity of such a charge, since he would thus destroy the kingdom itself with which he is in league. This being impossible, he can only act through the Spirit of God; and where demons are cast out there the kingdom of God has come unto men (Matt. 12. 28).
In this way Jesus manifests his matchless activity against the powers of darkness as part of his divine plan; not that faith in his divinity would be weakened by such intervention, but that the powers of evil should thereby be restrained and the way prepared for the government of God. All his cures may be regarded from the same point of view. The cure of the man sick of the palsy (Mark 2. 3-13), with its pointed reference to forgiveness of sins, is an illustration. The proceedings on this occasion could, indeed, soonest make the impression that Jesus performed a miraculous cure in order that unbelievers also might acknowledge his divine mission; but such is not the case, for we find not the 26least indication that the cure produced faith among the scribes; and the events themselves, notwithstanding verse 10, allow not the opinion that Jesus intended to awaken the faith of the incredulous. Here, as elsewhere, he promised to the sick the forgiveness of his sins. The hierarchs looked upon it as blasphemy. To purge himself from this reproof he suggests to those people their judgment on the bodily cure now to be accomplished, namely, that he cannot only promise something whose actual occurrence cannot be controlled by men, but also something which at once must either prove itself valid or invalid. He could have cured the sick man without this illustration of his work which was provoked by his adversaries, for not to heal was wholly against his custom. The circumstances, however, offered at this time the opportunity to call attention to the connection of his preaching of the kingdom with the conveyance of earthly blessing.
Answering this conception of the Messianic calling, Jesus combined with it the works of divine love and mercy. As Jesus decidedly expressed himself against the assumption 27that every particular disease is a consequence of a sin, so also was he convinced that there did exist a general organic connection between physical evil and religio-moral deficiency. The latter is perceived as the real cause of the depth of the physical sphere. Moral deficiency exercises a generally degenerating influence, analogous to the depressing effect which the sinking of the spiritual level of a person exercises upon his entire embodiment. That defect in the domain of the human nature is a sequence of apostasy from God, hereditary in humanity; a sequence thereof, that men deny their God-relationship by their practical life and effort, comes out in the teaching and working of Jesus. It was, therefore, in the interest of his calling to remove, in the first place, the distress of souls, and at the same time also to abolish the bodily misery organically connected with this distress of the soul. Jesus was inwardly moved to help physically where he helped spiritually; and this doubly apparent wondrous help is nothing else than the immediate practical proof of the divine will of love. As often as the Father moved him Jesus showed his 28divinely helping love. Helping and blessing, saving and redeeming, his mercy interposed also in the outward life of individuals. Not only healing diseases, raising the dead, feeding the multitude, but, in general, all the miracles which he performed were emanations of this compassion over spiritual wretchedness, which inclined to bodily distress in order to completely finish its work.
Let us look back! Jesus came to found the kingdom of God; to lead men into it, and thus bring them to a voluntary submission to God's government. The proper means for that is the preaching of glad tidings which only he can accept whose heart is changed, whose mind is directed toward repentance. But it belongs to the Messianic task to overcome not only the ethico-religious wretchedness of remoteness from God and of being forsaken by God, but also physical natural misery in its different forms. This natural suffering Jesus regards as the disorder of the divinely arranged relations in the human world, in. which Satan's rule has entered. The complete victory of God belongs, indeed, to the future; but the blows which Jesus strikes 29the power of darkness are an earnest and pledge of the world's renovation. So far as saving miracles are signs, they are not such for the divine authority of Jesus, but only of the love of the heavenly Father and the coming of his kingdom.
This ethico-religious regeneration is not merely the more important element in the endeavor, of Jesus; it is also the essential preliminary condition for the effectuation of the love which shows itself in Jesus's miracles of mercy. His miracles can only take place where there is a disposition toward God, or has at least commenced. No miracle is done to break unbelief; but where it is broken, God's power is visible. For an extraordinary physical event has never, the ability to convince men who are lacking in religious and moral willingness; and, because miracles, on the one hand, are the accessory phenomena of the Messianic work, and on the other, must remain unintelligible to unbelief, Jesus never referred to them, properly speaking. Connected with this is the fact that by no means did he think miraculous power "as robbery,” the possession of which he alone had to secure. Being 30conscious of possessing it in consequence of his immediate communion with God, he was not afraid to convey it to everyone who, like him, lives in the will of God. This trait makes clear anew the difference between the Messiahship and the miraculous power of Jesus; the former belonged to him exclusively. When thinking of it he emphasized his person as unique which, unlike anyone else, stands in essential connection with God. He and he alone has to bring the glad tidings. He and he alone can give remission of sins and establish the kingdom of God. But the power of working miracles he gave to undefiled faith generally. Where there is a man who in every moment is absolutely sure of his God—to whom, indeed, also absolutely moral purity belongs—there "all things are possible" (Mark 9. 23).
Thus far we have purposely followed only the synoptic tradition. The Johannean record requires a separate treatment, because it may seem and it has been repeatedly affirmed, that John and the Johannean Jesus ascribed to miracles a far greater and at the same time, a more external importance. The objectors to the genuineness of the 31fourth Gospel freely emphasize the fact that the Johannean Jesus, as distinguished from the synoptic, makes much of his person and his miracles; and it is remarkable indeed that we have here statements of Jesus concerning his miracles which read entirely different. Was it impossible to assign to. the synoptic Jesus the idea that his miraculous power should or only could, awaken belief in man? In the fourth Gospel more than once we hear from the mouth of Jesus that his miraculous deeds were to serve Revelation and Faith. Thus (John 9. 3) before healing the man who was born blind Jesus says that his blindness is not in consequence of sin, either of the parents or of the sufferer himself, but in order that "the works of God should be made manifest in him,” and at once. Jesus puts his healing ministry parallel with his ministry of enlightening the world. At the report of the sickness of his friend, Lazarus, he says to the disciples: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” When he hears of his death he says to his disciples: "I am glad for your sakes that I 32was not there, to the intent ye may believe" (John 11. 15). Before the raising of Lazarus he openly thanks God because of the people which stood by (verse 42) "that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”
Have we here, indeed, a different conception of the importance of the miracles than in the synoptists? This question can not be answered by considering the quoted words alone; we can only decide upon it when other Johannean words of Jesus on miracles are also considered. Nevertheless, something can be stated here. Jesus does not say that by this miraculous cure his divine glory should be manifest, but that "the works of God" should be brought near to men. And the further connection of the thought proves irrefutably that the fundamental conception of Jesus, as to the place of his miracles, according to the Johannean account, is none other than that of the synoptists. For the miraculous cure is included in the works of God which latter, according to verses 4 and 5, are just the works which Jesus does in order to fulfill his calling as the Light of the world; or, as it might be expressed according to the synoptists, 33in order to establish the kingdom of God with the help of the accompanying deeds of blessing. The healing, therefore, belongs to the large class of works of Jesus, which we shall consider later.
Concerning the words quoted from the story of Lazarus, the first two are addressed to the disciples who are not classed with unbelievers. When at the resurrection the intention, nevertheless, prevailed that the Son of God should be glorified and the disciples "come to believe,” it cannot mean that they should be converted from unbelief to faith. We are compelled, however, to affirm, according to the synoptists, that absolute faith is not a condition for experiencing a miracle, but the direction of the spirit toward God, and the will aspiring after God, which on their part by the perception of the miracle can indeed become strengthened. What is not clear is the word spoken with respect to the people standing by (verse 42). It will be seen that the Johannean discourses of Jesus offer no grounds for the supposition that Jesus ever insisted that his miracles were means for awakening faith. Only on the supposition that among the surrounding 34Jews who were mostly friends of Mary and Martha, the necessary religious disposition existed for the right acceptance of the miracle, does the word spoken with respect to the people conform to the idea of Jesus, which is, moreover, to be elicited from the record. His prayer, that these people, in virtue of this resurrection, might come to belief in his divine mission, denotes then that their yet imperfect faith might come to the true Christian belief in the operation of divine grace.
The dispute with the Jews, recorded in chapter 10. 32-38 (comp. 14. 11), admits also of no other conception. When they endeavored to stone him Jesus referred to the "many good works from my Father,” which he "showed" them. The "works" appear here as the only refuge which he has over against their charge of blasphemy: "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” Did he therein state that he performed miracles for the purpose of moving the Jews to faith? This could not have 35been the meaning, if by works miracles were to be understood. For one must not overlook that Jesus makes a concession here which, according to the nature of the concession, is far from making known his real view.
For these and like statements in the Gospel of John it is very important that under the works of the Lord his miracles are not to be understood. True, there is also no reason for excluding miracles from the interpretation of works; but they are not thought of as in the first place. When Jesus says that his meat consists in his life-purpose, to finish the work intended by God (4. 34), he designates the discharge of his life-task as the work of God, namely, his endeavor that men should believe and obtain eternal life. And it means the same whether he speaks of his Father, or of his own work, whether of work in the singular or of works in the plural. His works are not single miraculous deeds in the realm of nature, but they consist in bringing about the kingdom of God, which begins on this side through spiritual quickening and shall be completed only at the general resurrection of the dead 36and the last judgment (verses 20-29). On this account he does not think of his miracles when conscious that his works testify of him; his divine sending is attested rather by his Messianic ministry (verse 36).
This must be borne in mind for the understanding of a text like 15. 24: "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” This means that whoever has experienced the ministry of Jesus, his preaching of death and life, together with his bestowal of blessings, without humbling his mind and without opening his heart to faith, has committed the fundamental sin—unbelief. The "works" of Jesus produce faith provided man is not impenitent. His miracles in themselves have no such power. That the miracles are out of the question verse 22 proves, where Jesus mentions his "coming and speaking" instead of his works.
Considering this understanding of the words of Jesus, we find that the principle is expressed more strikingly and more frequently in John than in the synoptists that 37the signs which God gives to men are not wondrous events in nature or outward history but the Lord's preaching of repentance and salvation. The Gospel of John, too, has preserved the direct rejection of all mania for miracles, and of a faith accommodating itself to miracles. It is here most severely expressed in the words: "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe" (4. 48); and against this reproach is set the praise of those who believe without seeing (20. 29). In general, it is mere assertion which cannot be proved that in the fourth Gospel the miracles play a greater part and are exaggerated, as if the author intended to demonstrate faith in Jesus as the divine Logos by greater miracles. The difference between John and the synoptists on this point is just the opposite. While the account of the synoptists is so excessively unbiased that we would think that Jesus possessed inherent power of miracle, and while sometimes the idea seems to be that Jesus walked among men like a miracle-worker, practicing magic, according to the Johannean tradition Jesus refers his miraculous power to a continual connection with 38the heavenly Father who in any particular individual case consents to a performance of the miracle. Here every magical idea is absolutely precluded. The personal God is in him with his own working and impulse. The personality of Jesus becomes thus more intelligible to us; it becomes more lucid to us by the testimony of the beloved disciple who understood best the uniqueness of his Master.
Very clear—to refer to it again—is the statement made to the sign-seekers in the fourth Gospel (6. 25, seq.). In spite of the miraculous feeding the people in their carnally religious expectation are not satisfied. Like the Pharisees they wish to see something very extraordinary, according to the synoptic tradition, in connection with the healing of the demoniac. The feeding of five thousand people with a few loaves is not acknowledged as a sign which proves the Messiah. Notwithstanding this miracle Jesus is considered by the people lower than Moses, because the latter brought bread down from heaven visibly. They do not consider the fact that the fathers also had not recognized that the bread in the wilderness 39was a gift of heaven. The wonder of the past as such obtains in their thought a higher character than this miracle, and their demand is that he who is sent from God should again legitimatize himself by this, that he give them a sign from heaven. In the answer of Jesus we have the complete correlate to the address preserved by the synoptists directed to the leaders of the people having a mania for miracles. In like tenor Jesus denies that by the gift of Moses's manna, he gave a sign to the fathers. It was not Moses but God who gave the sign. And it is God who now gives in these days, continually the sign which was once given in the wilderness, according to the opinion of the people; the true, genuine bread "which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (verse 33). And at once Jesus makes a personal application: "I am the bread of life" (verse 35). The meaning is, accordingly: "I, myself, I, as preacher of the gospel, as bringer of life, am the sign which you ask.” The rejection of the mania for miracles is indicated here just as in Matt. 12. The true Bread of Life by John and the Jonas' sign by the synoptists 40are essentially the same. "You have seen and heard me,” says the Lord, "and this is sufficient that you should believe (verse 36). From my whole person, the works and words which proceed from me, everyone must understand, that my message is the divine truth, the true religion, and that the Father hath sealed me" (verse 27). It requires no material sign to grasp the divine truth as divine; it needs only a purely spiritual penetration to experience the revelation in a living manner. We think here also of the teaching which emphasizes a sense for God, and an endeavor for a life founded in God, as the principal condition; and, indeed, as the only one for an understanding of the revelation of God: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7. 17). Jesus does not refer at all to the miraculous feeding, as if it were, perhaps, a sign of his origin or of his peculiar essence and might lead human perception into the right path. Whoever demands phenomena—extraordinary, powerful deeds—as evidences of the divine will be a loser; he is lacking in 41the principal condition for religious knowledge.
The outcome of what has thus far been said is this: Neither the Gospel of John nor the synoptic Gospels offer a reasonable support for the supposition that Jesus performed his miracles in order to awaken faith by them. At best he regarded them only as the means of strengthening faith already existing. Miracles are the self-evident outflow of that same compassionate love which wishes and creates the kingdom of God, and this purpose they serve only indirectly. In John's Gospel (9. 3) as well as in the first three Gospels, human misery appears as the factor which induces Jesus to bring miraculous help, on the assumption that faith already exists which can esteem his work as an emanation of the divine love. The interest of the evangelists in the miraculous may, after all, be different in both cases; yet both accounts permit us to perceive with desirable clearness the estimate in which Jesus held his miracles. There is yet another trait which shows in a peculiar manner how both narratives, notwithstanding various differences, still supply us with the 42 same religiously important facts. I refer to the parallel of John 6. and Matthew 16. All ethics agree that in both instances we are at the same historical place. The feeding is followed by the rejection of the superficial and only too carnally-minded Galilean masses. Those who now faithfully abide with Jesus have passed through a crisis to which the multitude succumbed. The faithful have thus arrived at a height of their religious life. John transmits to us a word from the mouth of a disciple, spoken on this new height of knowledge attained by the band of disciples, confessing without reserve that the faith of the disciples did not have its origin in witnessing miracles. When many followers in consequence of disappointed expectations had turned from the Master he asks the closer circle of his twelve, whether they too would leave him. Then Peter answered: "To whom shall we go? thou halt the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6. 67, seq.). The disciple expresses the religious experience by which he is overpowered not any outward sign, not any miraculous act has 43led him to believe, but the "words of life" out of the mouth of the Lord—the gospel itself. According to the synoptists Jesus, after his failure among the Galilean population, went to the northwest, beyond the limits of Palestine; and when in these days of itinerancy with the disciples he approached Caesarea Philippi he asks his disciples that remarkable question what they thought of him (Matt. 16. 13, seq.; Mark 8. 27, seq.). At the full acknowledgment of his Messiahship, which Peter makes, Jesus expresses the same canon on religious knowledge which, according to John, Peter formulated in other words. Jesus is convinced that nothing in the realm of visible events, nothing that belongs to the sphere of earthly happenings, has brought about the faith of the disciple. "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” It is a direct divine effect when man comes to this condition of faith. Man does not become certain of the divine through influences which come from the life in flesh and blood, though such were ever so wonderful and extraordinary, but by this, that the source of the spiritual life 44is opened to the heart in the gospel of Jesus.
Such being the case, one might easily be led to think that according to the view of Jesus the miraculous in general could not be an object of faith. But this would evidently be going too far. There is, indeed, no doubt that in the working of miracles he gave no room to the thought that they should become objects of faith. Nevertheless, it was not the thought of Jesus either that one should deny offhand that his miracles can and ought to be believed. Only they cannot be objects of nascent faith. From a certain height of faith only can one perceive the fact and significance of a miracle. That Jesus wrought wonders is not to be inserted into the spiritual possession of a man who through a living, spiritual experience has not already possessed faith in the divine dignity of Jesus.
Jesus himself is the great miracle, given for a sign to humanity; who, therefore, in his sinlessness can dare to convince all of their sinfulness, can dare to convince all of sin and to call all to repentance; who, by virtue of a divine authority subjects all 45hearts to himself. This is Jesus's own declaration, and, let us add, also the declaration of his great apostle Paul. He traversed the world with the message of Jesus, the Miraculous One, who works in the souls of men the miracle of miracles. But nowhere in his epistles does he refer in proof of it to a single miraculous deed of the Lord, just as he never mentions any of the miracles performed by himself as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, although he had occasion for doing so. The only historical miracle to which his preaching refers is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; but this event stands for him in the center of his entire view of life. Beyond this, miraculous events have evidently no significance for his view of the world, or for his religious experience. He knows that in all his labors he is directly under the miraculous guidance of Almighty God, and that he receives from the Lord Christ spiritual power which is made perfect in weakness. He lives with the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah sent of God; that from the place of his heavenly exaltation he establishes, increases, preserves the holy congregations on earth. 46He believes in that miracle which is presented to the world in Jesus and his preaching, his death and his resurrection. In his missionary labors he is entirely removed from directing attention to the miraculous acts of the Lord.47
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