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11. DEMANDS MADE BY JESUS IN His DISCOURSES.
What demands does Jesus make of his hearers in those discourses which were really penned by the Fourth Evangelist? These can be expressed in a few words. “Believe in my person and its divine character.” The man who was born blind, after he has been healed, gradually arrives at the conviction that he who has healed him must be a God fearing man, one who does God’s will; he must be “from God,” otherwise God would never have given him power to make a blind man see (ix. 31-33). But this alone is not sufficient. Jesus asks him afterwards: “Dost thou believe in the Son of Man?” And when he replies, “And who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?” Jesus says, “He that speaketh with thee is he.” And not until now is that point reached which was bound to be reached. The man exclaims, “Lord, I believe it,” and offers worship to Jesus (ix. 38). On the other hand, the only reason for the enmity existing between Jesus and his many opponents is that they have no faith in him. They reproach him for ascribing to himself a rank which he does not possess, that is to say, for making himself equal to God by calling Him his Father in the sense that he came from Him as a man comes from his human father (v. 18); and he, on his side, reproaches them for having an evil will and refusing to recognise his divine origin (v. 40; viii. 45 f.).
In the Synoptics also Jesus requires faith. He says to Jairus on their way to his daughter, whose death has just been announced to him, “Fear not, only believe” (Mk. v. 36). But the faith referred to here and nearly everywhere else in these Gospels relates only to Jesus power of doing a 41saving act which will result in some one being restored to health. We have an example of this when it is said so often at the conclusion of a story of healing: “Thy faith hath saved thee” (Mk, v. 34, &c.). This is something essentially different from the belief in Jn., that Jesus has come down from heaven to earth. In the Synoptics we might translate the word more appropriately “trust” instead of “faith,” whereas in the Fourth Gospel it is clear that this would be quite unsuitable. Moreover, according to the accounts in the Synoptics, Jesus hardly ever needs to ask for this trust in the way that he is continually obliged to in Jn.; it is offered to him spontaneously.
We have in fact unimpeachable evidence to show that when it was not cherished spontaneously, he never thought of asking people for it. When he came forward publicly in his native town, Nazareth, people scorned him because they knew whose son and brother he was, and he had to experience the truth that a prophet has no honour in his own country. Now we are further told in Mk. (vi. 5 f.): “And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” He could not! Here again we have a report like that about the sign of Jonah (see p. 21 f.). We may be quite sure that it would not have found a place in our Gospels, if it had not been made by one who had himself observed the fact, and been handed on without alteration. How unacceptable it must have been to those later chroniclers who were all, Mk. not excepted, convinced of the power of Jesus to work miracles, is shown by Mt., in which it reads thus (xiii. 58): “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”
In the Synoptics, in yet another sense Jesus asks for faith, even if the word “faith” does not occur. According 42to our way of expressing it, it is faith that he asks for when he says, for instance, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk. i. 17), or “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old . . . but I say to you . . .” (Mt. v. 21 f.). But again the faith here meant is not, as in Jn., faith in the fact of Jesus descent from heaven, but simply confidence in his knowledge of the right way that leads to salvation.
Quite different from the Synoptics then is the method of Jn. when he makes the person of Jesus and its divine origin the central feature in Jesus’ discourses. The language agrees fairly well with theirs when the Fourth Gospel also represents Jesus as requiring people to hear his words and to keep them (viii. 31, 51; cp. Mt. vii. 24; xxiv. 35); but what he asks of people in these words of his is not, as in the Synoptics, moral conduct, but acceptance as true of his assurance that he has come from heaven. This acceptance is even described as “the work “required by God (vi. 29). It is not a question of the kingdom of God and the way to reach it, but of Jesus person and the acknowledgment of his exalted nature. On one point certainly all the Gospels agree—in saying that love is the highest commandment (Mk. xii. 30 f.; Jn. xiii. 34 f.). The difference, however, is this, that, according to Jn., if love is not accompanied by this faith in the heavenly origin of Jesus, it can be of no value and can never be the path by which entrance is made into the kingdom of God. That is made quite clear by the saying of Jesus in Jn. (iii. 18): “He that believeth on him (the son of God) is not judged; he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
In Jn. therefore Jesus knows of nothing more important than his own person; do people believe in its 43divine origin or not?—the answer to this question decides whether men are to be saved or lost for time and eternity. In the Synoptics he knows of something higher. He says in Mt. xii. 31 f.: “All sins and blasphemy will be forgiven to men, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be for given. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.” Thus he regards his own person as subordinate to the Holy Spirit, or in other words to the sacred cause which he represents. And he must really have said this; for no one would have invented it. Indeed Mk., who in this passage (iii. 28 f.) by no means preserves the original language, has obviously changed it with a definite purpose. He has retained the phrase “Son of man,” but no longer uses it in such a way as to mean that the person of Jesus suffers the blasphemy; he applies it, in the plural, to the persons who utter it: “All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness.”
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