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because He died,” the Christians replied, “Yes but He is, for He shall come again.” Jesus' answer
' before the Sanhedrim, “ Ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming upon the clouds of heaven,” forms the sum total of the earliest Christian apology. The parousia is the proof that Jesus is Messiah. True, the proof lay in the uncertain future, but the comforting thought, “ Qui vivra verra,” helped to remove all scruples. Hence the centre of gravity of the Christian faith was transferred to its eschatology.
Through that one word Messiah it came about that the whole figure of Jesus was placed within the framework of the Jewish picture of the things to come that lay there ready and to hand. In the latter no change was made whatever; the only addition was the name of Jesus. This oldest Christian dogma is nothing but the filling up of a Jewish outline with a concrete name. First of all, the prophecies of Daniel are taken for guidance. So Jesus Himself had done. Hence the “ Son of man” becomes in the Gospels the usual self-designation of Jesus. This, however, is but the starting-point. Soon all the Jewish apocalyptic theories with their richness of fantasy, claim the person of Jesus for their own. Contrary to all expectation, He becomes a mighty conqueror, hastening on a white steed at the head of the heavenly host to annihilate all God's enemies upon earth. How strangely inappropriate to Jesus that the “eagles” should be “gathered together” to devour the dead bodies of the slain ! First come the storm-signals of wars and rumours of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes, signs in the
heavens, and, most terrible of all, in the midst of these tribulations, Antichrist. In all this domain there is the completest agreement between Christians and Jews. Rightly could the heathen Celsus make merry over their petty quarrels as to whether the Messiah was called Jesus or whether His name was as yet unknown.
The Jewish faith swallowed up the Christian, and in reality it was the Jews who came forth the conquerors from these disputes. “Jesus the Messiah is a Jewish idea. It remains such in spite of all the new meaning which Jesus put into the conception. All that there is inadequate in it, which He Himself had repressed as far as possible, recovered the lost ground immediately after His death.
But how can Jesus return as Messiah if He rests in the grave? This objection is met by the proof of the resurrection. Unfortunately, the reality of the appearance was convincing to believers only, for it was only disciples that had seen the risen Lord. The enemies of the faith might without further ado declare them to be either deceivers or deceived. The belief in mere visions would never have made any impression upon Jews. An objective proof must be furnished.
The story of the empty grave was circulated at a very early period with the object of providing this desideratum. But who had found the grave empty ? Again, it was only disciples, and women too writes the oldest evangelist. Was that a sufficient foundation? It was strengthened by the additional facts that apostles themselves found the grave empty, and that the women had besides seen
the living Jesus close by the grave. . Thereupon the Jews circulated the report that the body had been stolen. The story of the watch set upon the grave, making such theft impossible, serves to refute it. And, finally, in order that the impression of a possible self-deception, or that the visions were of a mere phantom, should be entirely removed, legends arose of appearances of a more material kind wherein Jesus eats and drinks and suffers Himself to be felt, and Himself declares He is no spirit. It is true that these final stages in Christian apologetics are, in part at least, only reached late in sub-apostolic times, but it was necessary to exhibit the whole process in this place in order that it might be seen how one proof has to support the other, and no single proof is sufficient by itself. Faith in Jesus living and victorious can never be forcibly attained by arguments such as these, in great part invented for the purpose. Strange how blind men have been to this fact! No, this theology also was Jewish and obsolete.
But the death of Jesus? How was this greatest stumbling-block, this direct negation of the Messiahship, to be united with the faith? The oldest theology of the Cross originated in this question. Jesus' own forebodings and His prophecies were appealed to as proving that His death had been no surprise to Him.
Hence the emphasis laid upon the prophecies of the Passion in our Gospels. But that was but a poor comfort! Some few scanty indications given by Jesus as to the salvation to be brought about by His death were taken as a starting-point. It would seem that Jesus had Himself imagined that His death would exercise a salutary influence on
many of His fellow-countrymen who were as yet unbelieving. But the actual setting of all these sayings we owe to the first community of Christians. The picture of the Martyr whose sufferings exercise a vicarious power and enlist God's mercy for His people had long formed an essential portion of the Jewish faith. The fourth book of the Maccabees is the best known document to which to turn in support of this statement.
This thought is now brought into connection with the sufferings of Jesus. Then come the theologians who skilfully apply all their juridical and ceremonial conceptions to the death of Jesus. When St Paul became a Christian he already met with the formula, “ died for our sins," on the lips of the leaders of the early Church. Now, all this is again Jewish theology. The real conclusion which the disciples should have drawn from the death of Jesus, is that even death itself is no punishment sent by God but a gift of His love. Christian apologetics working with Jewish conceptions overlaid and concealed this thought, so full of comfort. Forensic metaphors and ideas of propitiation began the process which is to transform the mystery of love into an arithmetical problem.
It was the teachers, too, not the laymen, who tried to explain the death of Jesus by the Old Testament. They transferred the scheme of prophecy and of fulfilment to the death of Jesus, and indeed to all the events of the Gospel history, and so removed by this argument from prophecy any rock of offence that still perchance remained. Such of them as spoke Greek preferred to make use of the Septuagint in this attempt, for this translation often served their ends better than the original Hebrew. Whoever has bowed in reverence before the great and original personability of Jesus must look upon this undertaking of the ancient Christians as almost an insult. What concern in all the world have prophecies of past centuries with our Jesus ? Is it conceivable that all that was new and free that He brought into the world should be merely the mechanical result of causes that had existed long ago ? The thing could not be done at all without a forced and artificial system of interpretation. And even the best analogies would seem to have come down to us from late times. So we come to the formulæ :
Died according to the Scriptures.
But, after all, a great undertaking is connected with what had else been merely an insupportable extravagance, viz., the conquest of the Old Testament by Christian ideas. Apparently the interpreters proved their thesis from the Old Testament. What they really did was to put their meaning into it. And so it became possible to preserve the endless treasures of this sacred book.
To laymen, who had not the same intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament, the whole earthly life of Jesus, forming as it did but the antechamber to His reign in heaven, appeared less in the light of prophecy than in that of the miraculous and supernatural. Did not the greatest miracle of all, the Resurrection, reflect a halo upon the Master's earthly life, removing Him from the rest of mankind