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§ 32. How far the Baptist revived the Expectation of a Messiah.

PROCLAMATION of the approaching kingdom of God, involving the restoration of the sunken glory of the Theocracy, and the dawning of a brighter day upon God’s oppressed ones, was essentially necessary as a preparation for Christ’s public ministry.

But this was not all; it was equally necessary to announce Him who was called to the accomplishment of this great work. The expectation of the kingdom and the king should always have gone together; but we find that they did not actually do so. The prophecies of the general renewal were often distinct from those which foretold the agent chosen by God to accomplish it; and the hope of the former often existed in minds which had lost sight of the latter. A Philo proves this. The Greek and Alexandrian culture, and perhaps the combination of the two in the religious Realism of Palestine, may have tended to bring about this result. Be that as it may, it is essential for our purpose to keep the two ideas—the announcement of the kingdom and the proclamation of the Messiah—separate from each other.

Some suppose that John the Baptist was the first8484   So Schleiermacher (Christliche Sittenlehre, p. 19) states that John’s work was “to revive the forgotten idea of the Messiah.” to suggest the idea of a Messiah to the Jewish mind of that day. But certainly this idea, so thoroughly interwoven with the theocratic consciousness, could not have fallen into oblivion; nay, the sufferings of the people, their shame at being slaves to those whom they believed themselves destined to rule, and their desire for deliverance from this degrading bondage, must have constantly tended to bring it more and more vividly before them. It would be going too far, then, to say that this idea had been lost out of 46the mind of that age, and that its revival was due to the efforts of a single individual. Much rather should we conceive that the spirit of the individual was stirred by an impulse from the spirit of the age. But while the general tendency of the popular mind prepared the way for John, his labours reacted mightily upon the spirit of the age, and formed, indeed, a new epoch in the hopes of men for the appearance of the Kingdom and of the Messiah. Christ himself makes this epoch the transition-period between the old and the new dispensations.8585   Matt., xi., 12. We shall have occasion to say more on this passage hereafter.

It was essential, also, to this preparation for the Messiah, that the minds of the people should obtain a clear conception of the object to which their hopes were directed, and the means by which it was to be obtained, involving a more correct notion of the work and kingdom of Messiah, and of the moral requisites for participation therein. All this belonged to the calling of the Old-Testament order of prophets, of which John constituted the apex. We must look for the peculiar features of his position in the fact that he himself not only formed the point of transition to the new era, but was allowed to recognize and point out the Messiah, and to give the signal for the beginning of his public ministry.

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