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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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to get at the meaning of life by w^hat the senses seem to tell'
(to quote Tylor, 'Anthropology,' p. 343) would often turn aside
when he came face to face with something new, unexpected, or
extraordinary." Even to-day the popular idea is that a miracle
is an event which contravenes the laws of nature and causes
wonder and astonishment. This interpretation, however, will
not satisfy the requirement of the New Testament. There a
miracle is much more than a wonder. The Greek word, teras,
wonder or portent, is used always in conjunction with another
word — semeion — a sign. Now a sign is always an indication of
something; the distinct element of purpose is introduced. This
is emphatically true of the New Testament conception of mir-
acles. Bearing this in mind, "a miracle, then, may be described
as an event manifesting purpose, occurring in the physical world,
which cannot be accounted for by any of its known forces, and
which, therefore, we ascribe to a spiritual cause. It is an inter-
ference with the ordinary action of the forces of nature on the
part of the Author of Nature — an event brought about, not
by any observed combination of physical forces, but by a direct
Divine volition."

Now in view of Jesus' idea of God and Nature, these events
and interferences^ which are such stumbling-blocks to the modern
consciousness, were eminently rational and sane. ''Nature" did
not mean to Him what it often means to the mind of to-day.
It has been pointed out that this word is used commonly in three
senses. In the Scientific sense, nature usually signifies the sum-
total of physical phenomena. It includes the mineral, the vege-
table, and the animal kingdom; it is the material universe, the
realm of physical law. Speaking generally, the second sense of
the word may be called the Moral sense. Nature, then, includes
not merely the physical but the moral realm. Man is dealt with
as a moral agent, as well as an animal; nature embraces not
only physical but moral phenomena. The third sense is the
Religious sense. Nature stands for a totality, the sum of all
things — the Universe and God. And in this sense, the relation
of God to the Universe is not that of a God who, after the
Deistic idea, having made all things, sits far-removed— an ab-
sentee God, who simply lets things go — pursuing "an eternal pol-

2o6 Jesus^ Idea

icy of non-intervention." Nor is the relation that of a God
who, after the Pantheistic idea, is so intimately associated with
his creation that he practically finds full and exhaustive ex-
pression in it — the creator being swallowed up in the creation.
The Scylla of Deism — a cold, absentee, transcendent overlord
— is not to be escaped by running into the Charybdis of Panthe-
ism — a practical Atheism, with its impotent, impoverished, yet
present Deity. Creation is rather the realm of a God, who is
superior to it, yet immanent in it; it is the sphere of his present
activity.^ In this view, nature includes not only the natural,
but the supernatural as well. The supernatural, in fact, is lost
in the natural, for Nature includes God.

This interpretation of "Nature" undoubtedly voices the
idea of Jesus. He believed in a "God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth," whose presence was all-pervad-
ing.^ And not only was God present everywhere, but every-
where was He manifesting beneficent activity. Nature was the
sphere of a present interest. "For of Him, and through Him,
and to Him, are all things" (Rom. 11:36). The Man,
indeed, whose love of nature finds expression in so much of His
teaching in respect to both form and content, who loved the
freshness of the open country, the beauty of the borders of
the lake, and the stillness and solemnity of the mountain side,
could not look but with impassioned interest upon the natural
world. It spoke to His soul of the mystical and the eternal.
"Nature was to Him the living garment in which the Eternal
had robed His mysterious loveliness." Jesus, indeed, raised
no disquieting questions. The abstract and philosophical rea-
soning of the ancient Greek and of the modern thinker about
"Nature" was essentially foreign to the Hebrew. He saw
God everywhere; God's Hand was in everything. "The Lord

^ The Divine Immanence is, indeed, becoming more and more
apparent with the progress of the scientific investigation of natural

^ The words of the Psalmist represent Jesus' thought : "Whither
shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy
presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my
bed in hell (hades), behold, thou art there. If I take the wings
of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even
there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me"

The Kingdom and the Supernatural 207

also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice;
hailstones and coals of fire" (Ps. 18:13). "Fire, and hail;
snow and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling his word" (Ps. 118:
8). Thought, indeed, with the Hebrew had found its true
center.^ Hence the supernatural was in a very real sense the
natural, and what seems to us miraculous was, under certain
circumstances, a matter of course. (See Appendix I., "The
Possibility, the Probability, and the Credibility of Miracles.")
Passing now to the miracles themselves, we find that Jesus
is represented as able to perform these works, whenever He
willed to do so, and upon objects of a diversified character.
Both Man and Nature were the subjects of His extraordinary
power. Further, the tone of His miracles was always a lofty
one. Upon man, Jesus constantly worked miracles of healing.
A particularly interesting feature of these cures is that they
are represented as deliverance from possession by demons (St.
Mk. 1:21; 5:1; St. Mt. 9:32, 33; St. Mk. 7:25; St. Mt. 17:
15; 12:22; St. Lu. 13:16). The symptoms manifested by the
sick and afflicted persons, however, are those of various diseases
now well known to medical science.^ The writers of the New
Testament, however, were eminently the children of their age,
sharing in its light and in its darkness. They fully believed
that demons entered into men, and caused various bodily ail-
ments. This belief, indeed, they shared with the human race
in the early stages of its history; a belief which has always
added to humanity's weight of woe many imaginary terrors
born of this idea.^ What Jesus' degree of knowledge about

^ "As a matter of fact, the word 'nature' does not once occur in
the Old Testament. It was not until Hebraism came into contact
with Hellenism that the idea of 'nature' was introduced into Hebrew
thought" (Art. "Nature." Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 3. p. 495)-

" Sometimes the "spirit" is described as possessing the very char-
acter of the disease: "a dumb spirit" (St. Mk. 9:17) ; "a spirit of
infirmity" (St. Lu. 13:11); "An unclean spirit" (St. Mt. 12:
43-45; St. Lu. 11:24-26). In St. Luke 4:38, 39, Jesus Himself per-
sonified the disease — "fever" — which was troubling Peter's mother-
in-law : "he stood over her, and rebuked the fever."

* Among the Greeks, the idea of demons causing a wasting sick-
ness, insanity, and epilepsy is found. In the New Testament, how-
ever, demons are not regarded as the authors of all sickness or
disease (St. Mt. 10:8; St. Mk. 1:32; St. Lu. 6:17, 18). The diseases
represented there as superinduced by demons are chiefiy^ of a
nervous order, llie belief in demons was, in reality, "a survival of

2o8 Jesus^ Idea

this subject was, is an interesting question. We may hold
either that Jesus' knowledge of this and similar subjects was
simply that of His time; or that He was omniscient, but that
in such matters He accommodated Himself to the thought of
His day; or that we really have no means of determining the
extent of His knowledge. One thing, however, is evident:
If Jesus desired to come into touch with His time He must
have adopted the language and the "thought-forms" of His
age. If He was the possessor of a superior medical knowledge,
it is most unlikely that He would have disturbed the minds of
the people by any attempt to enlighten them. Whether en-
lightened or unenlightened. He must have used the popularly
accepted conceptions as the media of His revelation of spiritual

That the remarkable personality of Jesus was efficacious,

primitive Hebrew beliefs, which were quickened by contact with
Babylonia, Persia, and Greece." The tendency to this belief may be
thus explained : "Early mankind instinctively sought for causes, and
interpreted the forces and other manifestations of nature as per-
sonal, i. e., as emanating from beings analogous to himself. Thus
primitive man dwelt in a cosmic society of superhuman agencies,
some of which ministered to his well-being, and others to his injury.
At the dawn of human consciousness man found himself con-
fronted by forces which he was unable to control, and which
exercised a baleful or destructive influence. Hurricane, lightning,
sunstroke, plague, flood and earthquake were ascribed to wrathful
personal agencies whose malignity man would endeavor to avert or
appease." Jewish demonology was greatly enriched by contact with
surrounding neighbors — Babylonia for instance. This statement is
interesting: "The doctrine of disease among the ancient Babylonians
was that the swarming demons could enter a man's body (through
food and drink, for instance), and cause sickness. On a fragment
of a tablet. Budge has found six evil spirits mentioned by name.
The first attacked the head; the second, the lips; the third, the
forehead ; the fourth, the breast ; the fifth, the viscera ; the sixth, the
hand" (See Articles, "Demons," in Hasting's Bible Dictionary, and
Encyclopaedia Biblica).

^ Jesus was compelled to do what any missionary to a heathen land
to-day is compelled to do : taking the mass of confronting super-
stition, he must use whatever he can from it as the vehicle of his
nobler vision, rather than seek to overturn the superstitions at
once, arousing animosity, and probably defeating the very end which
he had in view. Judging from the New Testament passages,
Jesus seems to have used the idea of demonology stripped, how-
ever, of its grosser features.

The Kingdom and the Supernatural 209

to some extent, in the cure of these mental and bodily maladies,
is to be admitted. Dr. Sanday aptly remarks: "Given a per-
sonality like that of Jesus, the effect which it would have upon
disorders of this character (nervous) would be strictly analo-
gous to that which modern medicine would seek to produce.
The peculiar combination of commanding authority with ex-
treme gentleness and sympathy would be a healing force of
which the value could not easily be exaggerated." That others,
indeed, were able to effect similar cures is evident from Jesus'
own words. "If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do
your children cast them out?" (St. Mt. 12:27). Again, "John
answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils
in thy name, and he followeth not us. But Jesus said. Forbid
him not; for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my
name, that can lightly speak evil of me" (St. Mk. 9:38, 39, cf.
St. Mt. 7:32). Yet it is to be doubted if this power alone
will explain all of Jesus' miracles of healing.^

Jesus, however, wrought miracles upon Nature as well as
upon Man. The Walking upon the Sea (St. Mt. 14:25), the
Stilling of the Winds and Waves (St. Mt. 8:26), the Wither-
ing of the Barren Fig Tree (St. Mt. 21:18), the Feeding of
the Four Thousand (St. Mt. 15:32), and the Five Thou-
sand (St. Mt. 14:19), and the Changing of Water into Wine
(St. Jn. 2:1), alike testify to the exercise of an extraordinary
power over natural forces. The one class of miracles, indeed,
is as well established as the other; the evidence for the two
types of miracles being found in all the Gospels. That such
signal events should cause wonder, and arouse inquiry as to their
meaning is to be expected. What was their significance? Of
what were they "signs"? In what way, indeed, were they re-
lated to Jesus' idea — "the Kingdom of God"?

That they were credentials to induce men to believe in
Christ is apparent on the face of the New Testament. This
intent we may even gather from the words of the Master Him-
self. "But I have greater witness than that of John: for

^ The cures which may be explained by the influence of mind
over body are probably found in St. Mt. 8:28; 15:21; 17:14; 12:10;
12:22; 9:32; St. Mk. 1:23; St. Lu. 13:11; St. Jn. 5:9. Offering
insurmountable obstacles to this explanation are the works recorded
in St. Mk. 7:32; 8:22; St. Mt. 9:27; 20:30; 8:14; 9:20; 8:2; 9:23;
St. Lu. 14:2; 17:11; 22:50; 7:11; St. Jn. 9:1; 11:43.

210 Jesus^ Idea

the works which the Father has given me to finish, the same
works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent
me" (St. Jn. 5:36). Again in healing the sick of the palsy,
Jesus said : ''But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath
power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy),
I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy
way into thy house" (St. Mk. 2:10).^ Too great stress,
however, can easily be placed upon this aspect of miracles. It
must be remembered that miracles, as credentials, can not be
separated from the teaching of Jesus and from the Person of
the Teacher. The three together are the credentials of Christ.

Indeed, in regarding miracles as credentials of the Christ, we
must not dwell upon their aspect as "wonders" alone. Regard
must be had to their character also. Jesus was exceedingly
careful in this respect, as we see from the Temptation in-
cident, especially in the Second Temptation, when He refused
to exercise His supernatural power except in a way befitting
its aim and motive. In the credential, there must be more than
a display of supernatural power ; there must be convincing char-
acter in the wonder wrought. This leads us to an examina-
tion of the inner character of Christ's miracles. What did they
portend as "signs"?

The Miracles of Jesus were at once witnesses to the reality
of His Kingship, and to the nature of His Kingdom, or sov-
ereignty. They were as suggestive and as educational as His
parables: in fact, they were parables in action. They revealed
the innermost character of God — Love — and they disclosed the
tenor of His sovereignty with regard to both physical and
spiritual maladies. Dr. Drummond says in his book, "Apostolic
Teaching and Christ's Teaching," p. 116, "The diseases cured
were recognized types of spiritual evil. Deafness and blind-
ness were the figures of fatal indifference to spiritual truth.

*Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are condemned for their
infidelity in the face of His mighty works. "Woe unto thee,
Chorazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida, for if the mighty works, which
were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would
have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. . . . And thou
Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down
to hell : for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had
been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day" (St
Mt. 11:21, 2z; of. St. Jn. 11:15; 6:26; 20:31),

The Kingdom and the Supernatural 211

Leprosy was the type of sin. Demoniac possession pointed to
the imperious author of all human ill. And death was the
tragic issue. All these are routed by Jesus. The good news
that it can be done is made known even to the poorest. They
too may share the blessings as freely as nobleman's child, or
centurion's servant, or daughter of a ruler of the synagogue.
Rescue, rescue of men from ills in every form, its proclamation
by w^ord and act, which alike inspire a great confidence that no
human ill can ultimately resist Him — that is Christ's mission."
And again, on page 352, he says: ''Christ's object in performing
miracles was not simply to arrest attention or to alleviate clamant
need, but by showing the mighty forces within the reach of
faith, to develop in others that unhesitating faith in God which
He himself possessed in His heavenly Father." The miracles of
Jesus also show that the Kingdom of God means the redemp-
tion of the human body, as well as the human soul. They reveal
its essential dignity, and the abnormality of disease. They pro-
test against undervaluation of the body, and mark health and
strength — physical well-being — as the intent of God. They are
the precursors, indeed, of hospitals, and of every legitimate
development in medical science. It is this didactic and spiritual
element which lifts the Gospel miracles above the miracles of the
Apocryphal Gospels and of Ecclesiastical History, and stamps
them with a distinct individuality.^

^ The Miracles, however, in spite of their character as "wonders"
and "signs," were not able, and never will be able, in themselves
alone to induce faith in Jesus. Like the Parables, they would
prove efficacious only in the case of the spiritually minded. Of
this, Jesus was fully aware. In the parable of Dives and Lazarus,
He represents Abraham as saying to the agonizing Dives, who
pleads that a messenger be sent to warn his brethren of their
impending fate : "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither
will they be persuaded, thoxigh one rose from the dead" (St. Lu. 16:
31). Even a miracle of the signal character of one rising from the
dead would prove utterly inadequate with those whose mental and
moral sense did not respond to the spiritual truth revealed by
Moses and the prophets. That Jesus was amply justified in this
opinion, the infidelity of thousands in His own day, and especially
since the resurrection attests (Cf. St. Jn. 12:27). Where, how-
ever, spiritual receptivity existed in ever so slight degree, miracles
would prove very helpful as credentials, and as the stepping stone
to larger faith. This effect is evident in the following words : "But
the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even

212 Jesus^ Idea

Jesus, however, is represented in the New Testament as the
center, no less than the source, of supernatural phenomena.
At the very outset of His ministry we read: "And straightway
coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and
the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him: and there came
a voice from heaven, saying. Thou art my beloved Son, in
whom I am well pleased" (St. Mk. i :io, ii, cf. St. Mt. 3:
16, 17, St. Lu. 3:21, 22). The meaning of this incident of
Jesus' Baptism is apparent. Whether we conceive of it as an
objective reality — a visible symbol of a dove and an audible
voice — or only as a subjective vision, Jesus' consecration of
Himself in Baptism to the service of the approaching Kingdom
is met by Heaven's inauguration of Him as the Kingdom's
King and Founder. Destined from birth for this regal honor,

the winds and the sea obey him?" (St. Mt. 8:27). After the
description of the raising from the dead of the widow's son at
Nain, we read : "And there came a fear on all : and they glorified
God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us ; and that
God hath visited his people" (St. Lu. 7:16). "This beginning of
miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his
glory; and his disciples believed on him" (St. Jn. 2:11, cf. 6:14;


We must also note that the faith in Jesus which is due to
miracles quickening a certain spiritual receptivity is not the highest
type of faith. That which is born solely of a response to spiritual
truth is infinitely nobler. Jesus Himself said : "Believe me that
I am in the Father, and the Father in me ; or else believe me for
the very work's sake" (St. Jn. 14:11). "Except ye see signs and
wonders, ye will not believe" (4:48). Again after the resurrec-
tion, He said to the doubting Thomas : "Thomas, because thou
hast seen me, thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not
seen, and yet have believed" (20:29). Because of this fact, Jesus
strove to work miracles only where an incipient faith was present,
declining to oblige an enquiring Herod (St. Lu. 23:8), and rebuking
the Scribes and Pharisees, who sought from Him a sign : "An evil
and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign ; and there shall no
sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas," i. e., the
preaching of moral truth (St. Mt. 12:38-41)., The faith, indeed,
aroused in this way was of so poor a type, and so likely to lend
itself to unspiritual conceptions (the support of the current Mes-
sianic expectations) that Jesus often sought to suppress the report
about the miracles which He performed. "Tell no man" ; "See that
no man know it," were frequent expressions on His lips (St. Mt.
8:4; 9:30; St. Mk. 7:36). The Rev. George A. Gordon's book,
"Religion and Miracle," furnishes a valuable and fascinating study
of miracles as comparatively valueless as an aid to faith.

The Kingdom and the Supernatural 213

and fitted for it by a peculiar spiritual relationship to the
Father, the time had come for the conscious recognition and as-
sumption of the royal duty. Hence we have the supernatural
phenomena which marks Him henceforth as the Messiah —
the Son of God — and reveals Him in this light to the fore-
runner, John the Baptist. "And John bare record, saying, I
saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode
upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to
baptize with water, the same said unto me. Upon whom thou
shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the
same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost" (St. Jn. i:
32, 33)- The congruity of the incident, and the purpose which
it served, convince one of its truthfulness.

But passing on, we find Jesus, late in His ministry, the
center of a more remarkable supernatural phenomenon. Some
six or eight days after St. Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi
and Jesus' prediction of His death at the hands of the Jewish
leaders, we have the incident of the Transfiguration.^ The
significance of this event is very great. The disciples had been
utterly unable to appreciate Jesus' allusion to His death. Heaven,

^ "And it came to pass ... he (Jesus) took Peter and John and
James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed,
the fashion of his countenance was akered, and his raiment was
white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men,
which were Moses and EHas : Who appeared in glory, and spake
of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter
and they that were with him were heavy with sleep ; and when
they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood
with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter
said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here, and let us
make three tabernacles ; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one
for Elias : not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there
came a cloud, and overshadowed them : and they feared as they
entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud,
saying. This is my beloved Son : hear him. And when the voice
was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told
no man in those days any of these things which they had seen.
(St. Lu. 9:28-36.) The parallel accounts are St. Mt. 17:1-8 and
St. Mk. 9:2-8. These accounts are quite similar: St. Matthew says,
however, that when the disciples heard a voice, they fell on their
faces, while "Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise and
be not afraid." St. Luke is more independent. He alone tells us
about Jesus praying, the subject of Moses and Elijah's conversation,
and the sleepiness of the disciples.

214 Jesus* Idea

indeed, had opened their eyes to the fact of His Messiahship,
but they did not appreciate the necessity for the Messiah's
death. Jesus, in fact, stood absolutely alone. The disciples'
failure to understand made His isolation complete. The
situation was embarrassing alike to Him and to them. In this
time of stress, He took the three disciples of deepest insight —
Peter, James and John — and sought the lonely mountain side.
There Heaven responded to their needs. The Transfiguration,
indeed, was of vast moment to both Master and disciples. To
the latter, it revealed a glimpse of the celestial glory of their
Lord, and prepared them for the truth which had been so
sorely puzzling them; namely, that the Messiah's death was in
consonance with the Law and the Prophets. Moses and Elijah,
the representatives of these, are seen to lead to Christ. The
voice too — *'This is my beloved Son: hear ye him" — would

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