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Sec. 2.—The Development of the Messianic Plan.
With still more positiveness, and with greater force, has the objection which is based on progress from a state of imperfection to one of perfection, been urged in relation to 115the Messianic plan of Jesus.142142 The phrase, ‘Plan of Jesus,’ has in recent times been so much in vogue, that it may seem paradoxical to consider it inappropriate; and yet it is utterly so. The devising of a plan implies an activity of mind which is far too strongly individual and subjective to be ascribed to Jesus. So also the acting constantly according to a plan, springs from a one-sided predominance of reflection, such as He never manifested. That which He was commissioned to do and to establish was marked out for Him by God and history,—was recognised, not devised by Him. Hence, although we are not warranted in saying that there was no connection between His various acts, seeing that in all He did and said He was possessed and inspired by the loftiest idea still, to assume that all He did was deliberately planned and intended beforehand, in the common sense of the words, reduces Him to a lower position than that which He actually occupied, as One filled with the Spirit and with God. The older terms, office and work of Christ, have much greater congruity than the modern expression plan. If, however, this term plan, having usage on its side, is to be retained, let us understand by it only, as Hase very correctly defines it in his Leben Jesu, § 40, ‘His subjective conception of the office to which God had appointed Him, without reference to the collateral use of the word in the sense of: what is arbitrary, the mere result of reflection.’ Compare Neander’s Life of Jesus, pp. 128, etc., fifth ed. Jesus, it has been represented, did not, at His first appearance, recognise clearly the aim of His life; His first true recognition of it was the result of a catastrophe affecting both. His inner and outer life. It is allowed that, from the very beginning, the fundamental feature of His plan was the formation of mankind into a community by means of religious love; but it is contended that at first this was mingled with political views and tendencies, since He hoped, by the exaltation of Israel, to found a theocracy into which all nations should gradually be drawn. It was not till afterwards, when this notion came into conflict with the sense of the nation and its rulers, and was thereby frustrated, and its impracticability exposed, that there arose in the mind of Jesus, and that not without a struggle, the idea of a spiritual kingdom of God; and thus, we are told, it was that Jesus was transformed from a Jewish Messiah into the Redeemer of the world.
This view, which even at a former period was broached by 116certain of the learned, has been fully and acutely carried out in more recent times.143143 Following in the steps of Von Ammon, De Wette, and some others, Hase, in the first ed. of his Leben Jesu, published at Leipsic in 1829, propounded at length the thought of a twofold plan of Jesus,—of a plan which was at first theocratical, and only became purely, religious subsequently. In opposition to his view and development of the subject, appeared Heubner, in an appendix to the fifth ed. of Reinhard’s Plan Jesu, Wittenb. 1830, pp. 394-407; Lücke, in two programmes of the year 1831, under the title, Examinatur, quæ speciosius nuper commendata est, sententia de mutato per eventa, adeoque sensim emendato Christi consilio; and J. E. Osiander, in his article, Ueber die neueren Bearbeitungen des Lebens Jesu von Paulus und Hase, in the Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie, 1831, No. i. pp. 145-148. My controversy also, in the second ed. of this work, was with Hase. To this opposition, especially as conducted by Lücke, Hase, with a noble love of truth, did justice, partly in his Theologische Streitschriften, Leipsic 1834, pp. 61-102, and partly in the subsequent editions of his Leben Jesu. He adopted from his antagonists as much as his own convictions would allow him, and sought to unite the opposed views in the following general result, § 50:—‘Apart from single political institutions, which are by nature transitory, the plait of Jesus undoubtedly related to a moral reformation and a spiritual kingdom; but still the Divine law which He put in force was clearly meant in the course of time to subdue the world, or rather to pervade it as its highest general law; and He, the King of Truth, intended to become also a King of the world.’ ‘Jesus must, at one time or other, have examined and rejected those Messianic hopes which bore a theocratic character, for the Messianic faith could only reach Him in that form. But there is no proof whatever that He was led to this examination and rejection by hard experience in the midst of His career, and not by the clear judgment of His own mind ere He entered on His work.’ It has been, indeed, substantially retracted by its most distinguished advocate; and yet it was again brought forward, though in a modified form, a short time since.144144 Viz. by Keim in his work, Die menschliche Entwickelung Jesu, pp. 28, etc. He advocates the view that it was not till a certain definite period of His public ministry that the perception that the Messiah was to be a sufferer arose upon the mind of Jesus, and that it was at the same time that His idea of a Messianic kingdom, which was to be in the first place a Jewish one, expanded into that of a universal spiritual kingdom. It is a view which, if established, would evidently be followed by important results; it would essentially affect that image of Jesus which Christendom has hitherto found in its Gospels and preserved in its faith; it would banish the idea of a perfectly wise and holy Redeemer, 117who by His spiritual greatness is able to free men from error and sin. Looked at in this light, we should not be able to feel that Jesus possessed even a high degree of insight, much less that He was perfect in intellectual strength. According to this hypothesis, He must not only in general have struggled through error to more correct knowledge, but even through such error as He might have avoided, had He carefully studied the condition of His people before commencing His work. Evidently, too, He had not well considered the whole compass of His plan; for what He would have done in opposition to the existing Roman authority and rule, when once possessed of the highest theocratic power, remains an unsolved, and by no means unimportant difficulty. He had not, in fine, that high, independent power of spirit which the moral Deliverer of humanity should and must have; for instead of fighting His way with a sure step through difficulties and hindrances, as one truly self-reliant would have done, it was the unfavourable turn which His affairs took that first brought Him to a right mind; and then, in place of joyfully and enthusiastically grasping the higher thought that dawned upon Him, He fell into sadness and dismay, as He looked back on His shattered hopes, and forward to a future in which there awaited Him a cross instead of a crown.145145 Hase, in the first edition of the Leben Jesu, § 84. Differently in the second and later editions, § 49. Such a Christ does not control, but is Himself controlled by circumstances; He does not distinctly and consciously propose to Himself His own aim, but has it gradually formed for, and forced upon Him, by events and accidents; He is not the Lord, but the creature of the times. If the veritable historical Christ were such a one as this, the Christian Church would scarcely be able to reverence in him the light and Saviour of the world; nor could He satisfy the requirements which we are compelled to make of the Redeemer 118of mankind. Such insight into the plan of Jesus as would be attained in this way, would be dearly bought: happily, however, the view presented above has no solid foundation in fact.
The main support of the opinion that Jesus had at first a theocratic plan of the nature just indicated, is His appropriation to Himself of the character of Messiah; and the Messiah, according to the prophets, and still more in the view of His contemporaries, was to be not only a religious and moral, but also a political deliverer. It is urged: If Jesus did not mean to awaken political hopes, He would not have given Himself out for the Messiah; but inasmuch as He did call Himself the Messiah, the political element must evidently have entered into His plan. This conclusion can, however, only be drawn when certain of His utterances are isolated, and viewed apart from their connection with the whole of His teaching and works. Jesus did appropriate to Himself the idea of the Messiah as a true and eternal one; but in the consciousness of being Himself the promised One, He also glorified the idea by manifesting its high religious realization. In doing this He would have acted very injudiciously, if He had begun by theoretical discussions. His true course was rather first to realize in His own life the idea of the Messiah, and then to bring Himself forward as the promised One, under that aspect which He had thus rendered actual and evident. At the same time, however, from the very beginning Jesus declared in divers ways, that what He sought to found was a Divine kingdom of piety and love,—a union of mankind on the basis of a moral deliverance.
When Jesus spoke of His kingdom, it was equivalent to speaking of His plan; and at no period of His life did He leave men in uncertainty as to the true nature of His kingdom. He ever proclaimed it to be heavenly and eternal,—to be one whose commencements are within, in the heart, 119and which is thence to be established visibly. This is clear even from the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount: and these were undeniably amongst His earliest public utterances. All His parables, too, in which He gave expression to His view of the nature of the kingdom of God, are of the same purport. In them He taught, with special emphasis, that in its development the kingdom of God would he like the mustard seed, in its mode of operation like leaven: In perfect consistency with this, is. the position He assigned to John. the Baptist as the greatest among the prophets, but as, notwithstanding, less than the least in the economy of the new kingdom of God.146146 Neander, Life of Jesus, fifth ed. p. 138. Not less in harmony with this representation was the whole character and tenor of His life,—and it was sublimely consistent throughout,—especially as depicted by John the beloved disciple. One whose object was to found a new social order on the ruins of the old, must have gone to work in an entirely different manner. For such a scheme there were undoubtedly abundant materials at hand in His own commanding spirit, and in the condition of the nation. But then something more than merely passing disturbances—disturbances which He Himself disdained—would have arisen,147147 John vi. 15. and far more decided events would certainly have occurred. But so far removed was He from anything of this kind, that His inactivity would be inexplicable, were the supposition in question correct: His conduct, then, would have been not only without a plan, but contradictory, for no single measure can be pointed out in His course which can be regarded as having been distinctly adopted to further political ends. The nature of His operations is only intelligible on the assumption that, from the very commencement, He had in view the inward renewal of humanity. The same observation may be made with respect to His discourses. Where can we find in them a single utterance which decidedly 120announces an external theocracy? The words148148 Matt. xix. 27-30. These words belong in all probability to the latest period of the life of Jesus, when indeed the supposed theocratical plan is said to have been already renounced. in which He promised His. disciples a hundredfold recompense in the kingdom of the Son of Man, and which might possibly be made to bear such a meaning, lose even the appearance of a reference to an external theocracy, and receive their sole appropriate explanation as a symbolical representation of future glory, when compared with other passages in which Jesus sternly repels every ambitious view of His followers, teaches them rather to look forward to the most painful conflicts, and sets forth the love which is willing and content to serve, as the true sign and seal of dignity in the kingdom of God.
Some have laboured to show that there is a contrast between the earlier and later utterances of Jesus, indicative of a change of feelings and views. This supposition is based on the fact, that whilst at His first public appearances149149 Luke iv. 18-24. blessings fell from His lips, at a later period He poured forth denunciations against the cities which had rejected Him.150150 Matt. xi. 20-24. They have likewise inferred, from the manner in which He threatened the downfall of Jerusalem,151151 Luke xix. 41-44. that originally it was His purpose to effect its political emancipation, and that He only renounced this design at a subsequent period. But there is no solid ground for such opinions. Not one of the blessings first pronounced by Jesus has remained in its true sense unfulfilled: as for the curses denounced against particular cities, they were the natural fruit of their unbelief. Jesus did desire, indeed, to lead Jerusalem and the Jewish commonwealth to an increased degree of civil prosperity, but only by means of a moral renewal; and for this His yearning was no less intense at the close than at the commencement of His 121career.152152 Compare De Wette, Wesen des christlichen Glaubens, § 52, p. 268. The only perceivable difference is, that as He drew towards the termination of His mission, the ardent love He bore to His people expressed itself more frequently and more strongly in the form of grief at their perversity, until, last of all, there burst forth the prophetic warning, that their contempt of inward moral redemption must inevitably result in outward ruin.153153 Matt. xxiii. 37-39. Here was the chief ground of the sadness of Jesus, which, although more obvious and perceptible at the close of His career, had pervaded His whole life.154154 Oslander, in the above quoted essay, p. 147, justly finds in the constant harmony of Christ’s inner life a pledge for the unity of His plans, and designates the contrast between the joyousness of the earlier period of His public ministry and the gloomy seriousness of the later, a supposed one. This he then satisfactorily proves by bringing forward particular instances. His was, then, no faint-hearted depression and bitterness because of crushed hopes, but a much deeper pain. He was sad, partly on account of the degradation of His own countrymen, and partly because of the power of evil over mankind generally,—the evil which rose to its most fearful height when it caused His own death. His sadness had undoubtedly special regard to Jerusalem, not, however, because of any discovery He had made that it was past help of a political nature, but because His fellow-countrymen had now finally rejected that which would have given them true peace and deliverance. But it is even more specially asserted, as forming a part of the ‘human development’ of Jesus, that the notion of a suffering Messiah found no place in His mind at the beginning of His career, and did not arise till a certain definite period, when, as an entirely new stage of consciousness, it abolished that stage which had preceded it.155155 Keim, in the above quoted work, pp. 28-32, and elsewhere. Let us see whether this was really the case.
We do not dispute that the notion of suffering and of death 122did but gradually attain increased power and prominence in the mind of Jesus. In conformity with this, we find that it was not till an expressly stated occasion that He solemnly disclosed it to His followers;156156 Matt. xvi. 21. and this is but consistent with the successive development which we have already admitted. On the other hand, we decidedly contend that it was no new notion, opposed to former ideas, first making its appearance during His public ministry. For such a one could not, be the result of mere development, but must rather be designated as a mighty revolution,—a total change in the views of Christ, necessarily involving a corresponding change of external conduct. Of this, if it had really taken place, we must have found evident traces, partly in the utterances of Jesus Himself, and partly in intimations by the apostles, whose perception such a state of things could not possibly have escaped. On the contrary, the exact reverse to this is found; of which fact we have ample confirmation from other quarters, without appealing to that somewhat obscure expression of the earlier days of His ministry concerning the destruction of the temple.157157 John ii. 19.
On the very threshold of Christ’s public life, we meet with the history of the temptation; and it is impossible not to regard the rejection of an externally glorious Messiahship—a rejection antecedent to any act of His public ministry—as the very essence of this narrative.158158 Compare especially Matt. iv. 8-11. And if this be so, what was left but to seek another kind of glory by the path of conflicts, suffering, and sacrifice? Jesus must indeed have had but little acquaintance either with His own nation and the Roman power,—with Pharisaism and the priesthood,—with Himself and the sinful world,—if He could not foresee, even by mere human prescience, an embittered contest, and at last a tragic issue. And how does He express Himself? The ideas 123of the self-denial, the sacrifice, the surrender of life, of losing it that it may be gained, of the dying of the corn of wheat that it may bring forth fruit, run like a red thread through all His discourses from first to last. He sends forth His apostles as sheep in the midst of wolves, announces to them calamities of every kind, and impresses upon their minds this one thing, that it is enough for the disciple to be as his Master.159159 Matt. x. 16-25. Even in the Sermon on the Mount He predicts hatred and persecution for His name’s sake, to all who should believe in Him;160160 Matt. v. 10-12. He acknowledges as His true disciple only him who denies himself and takes up his cross;161161 Matt. viii. 34, 35; Matt. x. 38, 39. and knows that His people will everywhere have, not power and authority, but service, subjection, patient endurance of wrong, to the very uttermost. Have we, indeed, in all this the image of an outwardly triumphant Messiah? Certainly not; but rather of one who would Himself take up the cross before all others, and precede them on the path of suffering, even to the very extremity of self-sacrifice. And that the Lord recognised Himself as the Messiah in this sense, is already shown by His own words, even at a very early period of His ministry, without appealing to the above-mentioned more obscure passage.162162 e.g. Matt. ix. 15. For more on this subject, see Dorner, Jes. sündl. Vollk. pp. 31, 32.
In this point, as well as with regard to the plan of Jesus, we cannot but hold fast the essential oneness of His views; and though we do admit a development, it is only such a one as by no means presupposes the existence of any internal discord in His mind.
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