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11. REDEMPTION THROUGH JESUS.
He does this again, though with a different result, in what he says about the redemption brought by Jesus. According to the Synoptics, Jesus emancipated (redeemed) those who attached themselves to him from two kinds of illusion and from two kinds of sin: from the illusions of a religion of fear, and of a religion of pretences, as it is represented in the parable in Lk. (xviii. 9-14) by the 247Pharisee as distinguished from the publican, and from the sins of selfishness and worldliness (Mt. xvi. 25 f.). He does so by proclaiming his teaching, by illustrating it by his own example, and by his death, which proves that he is ready not merely to come forward and champion his cause, but even to die for it. Remission of guilt, forgiveness of sins, was included in this emancipation from the religion of fear. He is not in the least aware that his death is required in order that God may be merciful out of consideration for the sacrifice. When he promises the spiritually poor, the meek, the merciful, those who do God’s will, and those who become like children, that they shall enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, no previous conditions are laid down (Mt. v. 3-9; vii. 21; xviii. 3); when in the parable in Lk. (xv. 11-32) the lost son returns home penitent, his father goes to meet him, falls on his neck and kisses him without asking whether any one has offered a sacrifice for him; while Jesus is still present amongst his followers, he teaches them to pray “Forgive us our sins,” and comforts them with the words, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you” (Mt. vi. 12; xi. 28). Picture to yourself a scene in which some poor child of man, burdened with guilt, casts himself at Jesus’ feet and asks that he may realise this promise. Had Jesus thought his own death necessary before forgiveness of sin could be realised, he would have been obliged to say to him: “No, no, I did not mean that; you must wait until I have died for you on the cross.” And yet before the declaration in Mt. xi. 28 he was silent about it!
On the last evening of his life, Jesus said: “this is my body;” “this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many” (Mk. xiv. 22-24). But only Mt. tells us that he added “for forgiveness of sins;” and in the words, 248which have been thought so sacred, and moreover from the first have been repeated at every celebration of the Supper, we may be certain, nothing was omitted. On the other hand, additions might certainly be made; the person who officiated at the celebration would first express something as his own idea, and then at a later date this would be wrongly regarded as a saying of Jesus (we have a very clear example in the introductory words, “take,” “eat,” in Mt., of which Mk. has only one, and Paul, in 1 Cor. xi. 24, and Lk. neither).
In what sense Jesus thought of shedding his blood for many, we can easily realise when we remember that he was reclining at the paschal meal (pp. 117-130). God had promised to pass by those houses, the doors of which were smeared with the blood of the Paschal lamb, when on the night before the Exodus of the Israelites with Moses from Egypt, he would kill all the first-born (Exod. xii. 7, 12 f.; 21-27). The lamb, therefore, had to die that others might be spared from death. In like manner, Jesus will give his life to the fury of the enemy, that his followers, whose lives would otherwise have been equally threatened, might escape, since after their Master’s death people would think them harmless. We see then that he certainly wished to make his death a sacrifice, not, however, in order that they might have forgiveness of sins, but that they might be preserved from misfortune, and from a misfortune which they did not deserve.88On this see a note by the editor of the present series, and my reply to it, Appendix, pp. 261-269. And if he added further, that his blood was the blood of a covenant, his idea was that he was again knitting them closely to God by a covenant, and that in the Old Testament whenever such a covenant was made 249a sacrificial victim was slain (Jer. xxxiv. 18; Gen. xv. 10, 17 f.; Exod. xxiv. 3-8). Here again there is no idea of a sacrifice for sin.
And the only other passage in the Synoptics in which Jesus attaches importance to his death for the salvation of men, can be understood in the same way as the paschal sacrifice: “for verily the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. x. 45 = Mt. xx. 28), that is to say, that they might be spared from the danger of themselves falling victims to persecution. Instead of the Greek word “ransom,” Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, may very well have used a word which simply meant “an instrument of escape.” If, however, a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins were really intended, we should be compelled to suspect that the concluding words (“and to give his life” . . .) are a later addition based upon an idea of the Apostle Paul, since they would be in contradiction with all that we have just found in the Synoptics. As far as the context is concerned, they can be dispensed with at once, and are not found in Lk. (xxii. 27) where the introductory words (in a somewhat different version) occur.
Paul or some of his predecessors (1 Cor. xv. 3), with their strictly Jewish way of thinking, introduced into Christianity the idea that God was so angry with men for their sins that he had decreed the eternal destruction of all of them, and could only have mercy upon them if his own son died on the cross as a sacrifice on their behalf. In doing so, according to the opinion of Paul, Jesus took upon him the punishment of death which originally men themselves deserved; but he took it upon him as one who was guilt less, and therefore his offering became a sin-offering to God. This view has been held fast to in Church doctrine 250down to the present day, regardless of the fact that it is not found at all in the Synoptics, and only sporadically in the Fourth Gospel (p. 209), and that in the New Testament the purpose of Jesus’ death is described in more than twenty different ways,99For further explanation, see Appendix, pp. 270-277. which would not certainly have been the case if people had known of one generally satis factory explanation.
If, as the Fourth Gospel represents, Jesus is the Logos, it cannot have been through his death that he first brought redemption. He is supposed to bring the world into conformity with God’s will, since God himself was obliged to avoid contact with it. This he could only do by his own activity, and so, when upon earth, by his works and preaching. According to Jn., he may be compared especially with the light which shines upon the world; and so the only important question is whether people turn to him or away from him (iii. 19-21; i. 4-13). If they do the former (that is to say, as Jn. puts it, believe in him), they are quit of sin from that hour. But this brings us at once face to face with a character which is familiar to us from the Synoptics. In the Synoptics also Jesus brings salvation by his words and works, not by his death; and declares that people’s sins are forgiven at once, wherever he finds the right frame of mind (Mk. ii. 5, 9; Lk. vii. 47 f.).
May we suppose then that Jn. here preserves a correct recollection of the Life of Jesus? Certainly not. He only arrives at this agreement with the Synoptics after making an extraordinarily roundabout journey. Paul, influenced by a kind of piety which was very conscientious, and for that reason very punctilious, in his teaching about the sacrificial death of Jesus introduced foreign matter into the 251Gospel. Jn., though in a tacit and quiet way, removes it again. Had he remembered that it was not originally part of the Gospel, he would have omitted it altogether, whereas, as a matter of fact, he uses it several times (i. 29, 36; on xi. 50-52; xvii. 19b, see pp. 271, 272 f.). It is not used by him in other places, simply because it could not easily be adapted to the other new matter which he felt obliged of his own accord to introduce into the Gospel of Jesus, we mean to the doctrine that Jesus was the Logos. To this doctrine itself he had only been led by that other mistake made by Paul when he supposed that Jesus was begotten as the Son of God before the creation of the world, and had existed in heaven down to the time of his descent upon earth. The idea that he was the Logos only carries us one step beyond this teaching. And yet it is this alone that gives rise to the doctrine that Jesus brought redemption, not by his death, but by his appearance upon earth. Thus we have here an exemplification of the great law of intellectual progress, that very often one truth proceeds from another only by the pathway of error. Jn. only succeeded in arriving at the truth which already existed in the Life of Jesus, by adopting the second of Paul’s mistakes and carrying it farther.
We ourselves, nevertheless, have reason to rejoice at the result. We no longer find in Jn. any of Paul’s laborious arguments to prove that the Jewish Law has ceased to be binding upon Christians, and that the sinner is justified, that is to say, is declared righteous by God, through faith. If God is to declare any one righteous, he must be represented as a judge, and must as such examine one’s works; and the faith which the sinner has merely to exhibit will not be a work, but the opposite of any kind of service: it must be simply trust, purely the opening of the hand to 252receive a gift from God—and this, moreover, is what it really is. Paul himself in truth found it very difficult to preserve intact the most deeply-rooted feature of this kind of faith, for with him faith always involved the acceptance as unimpeachably true of two facts of the past which criticism might only too easily shatter, and as a matter of fact has shattered altogether. The first is that Jesus suffered death for the purpose of blotting out the sins of mankind; the second that he rose from the dead after three days.
Now, the latter Jn. also requires us to believe, that is to say, to accept as true; but the faith in Jesus person which Jn. asks for—although it also includes acceptance of the truth of his heavenly origin—consists again, exactly as it does in the Synoptics, simply in feeling oneself drawn to him, in confiding in him, in recognising him as one’s redeemer. Similarly—in place of the above-noted difficulties in Paul’s teaching about justification by faith—in the Johannine writings everything has once more become so simple that the important matter is again, just as in the Synoptics, to do the will of God or Jesus, concerning which especially the First Epistle of John speaks in such beautiful language (ii. 3 f., iii. 22, 24, v. 3 f.; Jn. viii. 51, xiv. 21, xv. 10, 14). In fact, when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet he speaks of it simply as an example which he is giving them (xiii. 14 f.), an idea, for a parallel to which we shall search in vain in many writings of the New Testament. If the roundabout way by which the author arrives at the teaching that Jesus was the Logos, and in the later course of which this beautiful language has all taken shape, represents doctrines which are as unacceptable to us now as they were before; if Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet on the last evening of his life, about which the Synoptics know 253nothing, remains now, as much as before, something which did not happen; yet the result has been that the working-out of those ideas current amongst Christians of the time which so often took people farther and farther away from the original form of Christianity, leads us back in several main points to its primitive simplicity, and so to what at the present time is the only form that can satisfy us.
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