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Though I should die, I come again ; and then I come as the Messiah. I come again with heavenly glory; and then shall the kingdom of God be perfected.” Now we know that the Apostles and all the Christians of the first century looked forward with the firmest trust and the most fervent longing to the return of Jesus to assume the Messiahship. There is hardly a page of the New Testament that does not mention this expectation. But did Jesus himself share it? Can he who was so free from all fanaticism, from all capricious excesses of the fancy, can he have imagined such a thing to be true? It is certain, at any rate, that few of his utterances on this subject have come down to us unaltered; for oral tradition, which delighted in busying itself in this matter above all others, has sometimes disguised them past recognition, and very often modified them. But their number is so great that we can hardly set them all aside, and the authenticity of some few can scarcely be questioned. The unanimity of the apostolic tradition, too, is best explained on the supposition that the Master not only foretold the triumph of his cause and the advent of the kingdom of God in spite of the violence of the opposition and in consequence of his own devotion, but also spoke of his own personal share in the triumph and joy of the kingdom, even should his life be sacrificed in founding it. We must indeed admit that without some such return his title and dominion, his connection with his work, his followers, and his kingdom would be little more than nominal. And when we look at it more closely, the thought, “I shall come again!” is not so unnatural as it appeared, and is at any rate far from fanatical. We must begin by putting completely on one side our own conception of an eternal life of all the pious dead in heaven. This idea was quite foreign to the Israelites in the time of Jesus, as well as previously. Heaven they regarded as the dwelling-place of God and of the angels only; or if by a rare exception some very few of the sons of men dwelt there, it was but for a time. The dead went down to the realm of shades, whence, when the kingdom of God was established, the pious would rise to live here on earth once more. Nor have we any reason to suppose that Jesus himself believed in the endless abode of all the pious in heaven rather than in their renewed life upon earth; for as far as such modes of thought and conception are concerned, he too was a child of his times. Now a belief had prevailed ever since the
1 Compare John xxi. 23; 2 Thessalonians ii. 1 ff.
Maccabæan war of independence, and had been greatly strengthened by the insurrection of Judas the Galilæan, that loss of life in the service of the Lord was the sure way to a glorious resurrection at the dawn of the golden age. Bearing all this in mind, can we wonder that when Jesus had resolved to take up the task and assume the dignity of the Messiah, when he foreśaw or at least suspected that the kingdom of heaven must in all likelihood be founded in his blood, he said to himself and his friends, When all is finished I shall come again, and then it will be as the Messiah”?
But it may still be asked, Suppose Jesus did believe that in case he must die he would yet return to earth before his own generation had died out, where did he suppose that he would be between the hour of his death and that of his return? This brings us to a very difficult question.
We have supposed, in opposition to very many and very excellent scholars, that Jesus entertained and uttered the belief that in any case he should personally share the glories of the heavenly kingdom here on earth, should be the first of its citizens, reverenced by all the rest as their leader. But it does not follow that he really used the language almost always attribited to him in the New Testament: I shall come again in divine splendor on the clouds.”
We dare not give a decided answer to the question whether Jesus ever used such expressions as this. Inasmuch as Scripture and tradition declared that Enoch, Moses, and Elijah had been provisionally received by God into heaven, it is possible that Jesus really expected not to remain in the realm of shades, but to be taken into heaven till his return to earth. It appears that the early Christians extended the privilege to all their martyrs. If Jesus really cherished such a hope, it was probably dictated by his longing for a life of unbroken communion with God. In this case, the Gospels are correct in making him speak of his return, not from the realms of the dead, but from on high.
But again, this belief in the return of Jesus was the central point round which all the thoughts, the hopes, and the efforts of the apostolic age revolved; and, since the belief in the Master's resurrection from the shadow-land and ascension to heaven naturally carried with it the conception of his return from the realms of glory rather than from the shadow-land, it is very possible that the anticipation of that event was first put into his lips in its present form in the apostolic age, since
1 Daniel xii. 2, 3; 2 Maccabees vii. 9, 14, 23; compare Matthew xvi. 25.
the Christians could not suffer the smallest difference of belief on so important a subject to subsist between theinselves and their Master. In favor of this opinion, it may be urged that we never find any direct indication that Jesus supposed himself to be an exception to the general rule in this respect. Another reason for doubting whether his thoughts were ever definitely engaged on this subject, and whether he distinctly declared, “ The Son of Man shall come upon the clouds, in the light of his Father's glory,” may be found in the fact that to the last he retained some hope of seeing his efforts crowned with success without the bitter extremity of trial.
We are therefore unable to determine the extent to which tradition has worked up or modified his utterances on this subject. But we may safely declare that he confided his own future, as well as all things else, in perfect trust to the Father.
We have now concluded a survey which throws considerable light upon some of the sayings of the last period of the preaching of Jesus. Let us glance back over it, and compare it with the results of our former inquiries as to the gospel of the kingdom which he preached at his first appearance and during the earlier period of his Galilean ministry. On making this comparison, it is impossible to deny that the unfavorable reception Jesus had met, in such sharp contrast to the first appearance of success, disappointed him so bitterly as to cause an inevitable change in his conduct, his plans, and his prospects, and to place his person and his preaching before us in quite a different light from that in which they appeared during those early months. He still appears as pure, as great, as exalted as ever, and indeed his figure seems still bolder and more striking than before ; but something of the winning gentleness is gone. At first his preaching had been “glad tidings” in the fullest sense; but at the close of his career, on the way to Jerusalem, in the City of the Temple, warnings and threatenings take an ever more prominent place in his teaching, and the last judgment, which he had previously passed over almost in silence, is the frequent topic of his discourses. He had previously laid chief stress upon the preparation, upon the gradual establishment of the kingdom of God, upon the imperceptible conquests of his new principle in the hearts of men until it leavened all society; but now the consummation by an act of God,
a great revolution in the world, carrying terror to the unbelievers and the uncon.
1 See p. 151. 2 Compare pp. 259, 279, 301-303, and chap. xxviii. p. 347
rerteil, - comes into prominence. In that day he is to come again, to receive his spiritual supremacy, no longer disputed by ar y creature, and unlimited by time or space.
There is an unquestionable loss involved in this change, but it is compensated by the heroism of the deed that Jesus was resolved to do. It was a giant's task which he laid upon himself when he resolved to inake the kingdom come. But he did not shrink from the supreme sacrifice. He never lost his faith in God, in himself, in humanity, or in the future. He had resolved to be the Messiah, and straightway in establish the Messianic kingdom.
To Jerusalem, then !
ON THE WAY TO JERUSALEM.
Mark X. 1-31 ; LUKE XIII. 22–25.1
COST likely Jesus and his friends only stayed a short
returned to Capernaum; but Jesus neither preached nor made himself known in any of the cities or villages through which they passed. He desired to remain unknown, both to avoid the risk of being harassed by his enemies, and to enjoy the opportunity of uninterrupted intercourse with the Twelve. We can easily guess the subjects to which his conversation and teaching were now principally addressed.?
His public ministry in Galilee was now at an end. He seems to have spent a few days at Capernaum again, perhaps to arrange his affairs or take leave of his friends before setting out on his journey ; but even there we only find him in the company of his disciples, and no longer addressing the multiudes. He had some hard but very needful lessons still to teach his friends. For instance, when they were disputing for precedence in the approaching kingilom of God, he rebuked their self-assertion and petty jealousy, and coinmanded them to put away these headstrong thoughts and become simple and receptive as children, - dwelling at the same time, with the strongest emphasis, on the high dignity · Matthew xix; Luke xviii. 15-30.
2 Mark ix. 33 a, 30, 31.
and worth of “the little ones.” Here the Gospels insert his warnings against causes of offence ; ” that is to say, every unhallowed connection that had been or might be contracted, every evil disposition which had been cherished or suffered to exist, every thing, in short, which might lead to faithlessness and desertion of the good cause. Here, too, they place among other sayings his exhortations to unbounded forgiveness. 1
After this, he left his native country never to see it more. The general stream of pilgrims from Galilee usually took the shortest way to Jerusalem, through Engannim, Shechem, and Ephraim, about three days' journey; but Jesus preferred the more circuitous route through Peræa. We can only guess his reason. It can hardly have been the dread of rough treatment from the Samaritans, still less any aversion to them. Nor can it have been a desire to avoid the numerous caravans of Galilæans journeying to the City of the Temple in high-wrought expectancy and with cries of joy and triumph ; for though on these occasions there were always some who took the opportunity of visiting Jerusalem a few weeks before the feast, yet the great mass of pilgrims only came when it was close at hand, - and we have reason to suppose that it was quite early in the spring as yet. But there was time enough to take the less frequented way; and since Jesus was anxious to avoid all possibility of exciting popular commotions on his journey, the present disposition of his followers seemed to make it unadvisable for him to pass through the thickly populated district of southern Galilee.
For he was now surrounded, not only by his little circle of friends, but by a more considerable hand of followers, probably drawn for the most part from the cities of the lake, and including several women. Their number was not large, anul Jesus had not drawn them together purposely ; but they had hardly heard of his intended journey before they resolved to accompany him. Was he going to Jerusalem? Then they would go there too. Now such an escort was in many ways desirable, and indeed the Master's personal safety almost demanded it; but it required watchful supervision, for it was obvious to them all that some extraordinary event was in the immediate future. Though Jesus had strictly forbidden the Twelve to speak of him as the future Messiah, yet it was easy to nbserve a significant change in their bearing towards him
1 See pp. 191, 160-163, 174; compare also Matthew v. 29, 30.