« السابقةمتابعة »
TO GIVE THE SIGN DEMANDED.
thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” On these occasions, as the historians have not hesitated to inform us, he directly and uniformly refused to comply with the request made to him. They give us no explanation of the reasons of his refusal. They leave him open to the charge of having evaded an appeal apparently very fair.
It is not my immediate purpose to state the grounds of the conduct of Jesus in these cases. Still, as it admits of an explanation at once sound and rational, not only in accordance with, but illustrative of, the dignity of his character and the spirituality of his object, I may be permitted to hint at it in passing. The Jewish nation, as I have already had occasion to state, cherished the fond expectation of the appearance of a military leader and king, who should deliver them from Roman bondage, and place them where, as the peculiar people of God, they fancied they belonged, at the head of the human race. The existence of this expectation is proved incidentally, and therefore the more satisfactorily, by the Christian records. So we need not resort to other witnesses to establish this point, although they are not wanting. How tenaciously this hope clung to the minds of the Jews
may be gathered from the conduct and feelings of the adherents of Jesus. They evidently expected him to establish a worldly kingdom, and to distribute among them its chief offices and honours, and out of this expectation there frequently rose among them jealousy and strife. After all that he had said and done to the contrary, they still cherished this hope to the very last. And just before his final disappearance their
THE PROBABLE NATURE
language is, “ Lord, wilt thou now restore the kingdom to Israel?” As confidently as the Jews looked for a Messiah, they looked for him to be a temporal Prince and Deliverer.
Seeing then that this expectation existed so widely and deeply, is it not natural to infer that those who demanded of Jesus “a sign from heaven," failed of being convinced by what he did actually say and do, because, although it proved him to be no ordinary man, still it did not carry out and realize their darling idea of the Christ? They wanted him to assume a character and to perform miracles, conformable to their cherished and pre-established notions. So that although at first sight it may appear that when they asked of him “a sign,” they meant merely a display of miraculous power, no matter of what description, we may suppose that they intended a sign of a particular sort, a sign which should correspond to and justify their prepossessions. Indeed, it may be gathered from the Jewish writings, that an idea was entertained that the Messiah, when he came, would give some peculiar token or signal—some extraordinary display of power-a luminous appearance in the heavens perhaps, for it is not distinctly defined, which should be a credential of his authority, to point him out to the people as the Messiah, beyond the possibility of mistake. The Apostle Paul, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, observes that the Jews seek after
a sign.” And the inference is thus confirmed, that the sign sought was of a peculiar character, a sort of signal corresponding to the universal idea of the expected Deliverer. The demand for a sign, therefore,
was equivalent to a demand for evidence that he was such a personage as was expected. But Jesus did not present himself to the nation as a military leader. The office he assumed was infinitely superior to that of the most brilliant conqueror. Evidence therefore was demanded, of which the very nature of the case did not admit, and which he could not give. The grandeur and dignity of his aim prevented it. It was not he that made the Pharisees to doubt. Their doubts resulted from their own false prepossessions. These it was that led them astray or stopped them short of conviction. He could not speak more plainly than he had already done by word and work. And if these failed to satisfy them, it was in vain that further evidence was asked for. He had nothing else to offer-nothing different in kind, nothing that those who were as yet unconvinced could appreciate, if they were not impressed by what he had already done. There were other things about to take place fitted to vindicate his authority. Events were approaching, as he intimated,—his death and resurrection,—which in their significance and consequences would, like signs from heaven, attest that he was sent by God.
But although the refusal of Jesus to comply with the demand of those who sought from him a sign, admits of so ample a justification, yet it is not obvious; neither is it urged by the historians. And here again is the characteristic to which I wish to direct particular attention. They have not shrunk from recording, with simple and fearless brevity, the fact that, on different occasions, when Jesus was asked to exercise his miraculous gifts, he refused to
THE CONSISTENCY OF THE PASSAGES
accede to the request. They show no apprehension that the motive of his refusal may be misunderstood, orthat he would come under the imputation of shrinking from a fair test of his power. They interpose no explanation to guard him against misconstruction. I can account for this characteristic of their narrations only by supposing, either that the explanation was so obvious to them that they never thought it could be necessary to give it, or else, that their confidence in Jesus was so perfect and entire, an unconscious feeling of their bosoms, that they never once dreamed that he could be suspected of an unworthy motive, however inexplicable his language or his conduct on certain occasions might appear. Whether his words and works were understood or not, they do not appear to be aware that an injurious construction could by any possibility be put upon them. I know not what others may think, but it seems to me there is something so genuine, healthy, and natural, both in this state of mind, and in the way in which it manifests itself, that I cannot but refer it to truth and reality.
There is a consistency so remarkable and evidently so wholly undesigned, on the part of the narrators, in the passages in which mention is made of “a sign from heaven,” that I cannot help taking notice of it in this connexion, although it does not properly come under our present head.
On one occasion we read, that just after Jesus had cured a demoniac in the presence of a multitude, some of the Pharisees asked him for a sign. He replied that he could give them no sign but his death and resurrection. At another time, immediately after he
43 had driven the money-changers from the temple, he was asked to give a sign—to produce his credentials for the authority he had assumed. In this instance, also, his reply is an obscure allusion to his death and resurrection. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up.” Once more, just after he had fed a large multitude in a miraculous manner, the people followed him demanding a sign, intimating that he had not done as much as Moses, who had given their ancestors bread from heaven, alluding to the manna gathered by the Israelites in the wilderness. To this request Jesus answers at length and obscurely, but the main points of his reply are his death and resurrection.
Now, we cannot fail to observe that the authors of these histories appear to be wholly unconscious of any remarkable keeping in these passages, and yet it is most curious. The circumstances upon these three occasions are entirely different, and so is the language of Jesus. But the ideas expressed, the feelings evinced, are in perfect harmony. On each occasion, the demand for a sign was made just after Jesus had performed a remarkable work. So that it would seem as if those present had really been in some degree impressed with his extraordinary power, and only wanted to be satisfied that he was such a person as they were looking for, to give in to his claims at once. His reply is invariably the same in substance, though differing entirely in form. He will give, he declares, no stronger evidence of the divinity of his mission, than would be expressed in events shortly to occur, his death and resurrection. These, he intimates, would furnish the most imposing proofs of his authority.