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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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Kingdom of God on earth they were in reality, as subsequent
events were to prove, the chief hindrance to its establishment.
Indeed, as a party they were proud, bigoted, and narrow; their
religion was heartless and formal; they overlooked the inner
demands of the law, and were occupied with outward com-
pliance with the ceremonial demands of the law. They illus-
trate a perennial truth. Whenever the moral and ceremonial
requirements of religion are found side by side, human nature
always follows the line of least resistance, and gravitates in-

*Dr. Eaton, in "Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible/' Art. "Phari-

The Night of Legalism 51

evitably toward the ceremonial to the neglect of the moral.
This is the ever-present and subtle danger in ritualism, al-
though the devotees of ceremonial in religion are loth to
admit it. Ceremonial is, in fact, at once the deadliest enemy
of true religion, and the congenial friend of hypocrisy. It is
for this reason also that the Priest is usually the enemy of
religion, while the Prophet is religion's friend, for the Priest
stands for a complex and a ceremonial religion, while the
Prophet is the advocate of a simple and a heart-felt religion.
Another fact of interest in connection w^ith the Pharisees is
that the whole Pharisaic legalism was a natural, logical, and
consistent development of their idea of God as primarily a Law-
giver and a Judge : hence the relation of the individual to God
was a legal one. Jesus' idea of God, however, was expressed
by the word "Father," and hence the inevitable substitution
in His system of religion of the personal and filial for the
legal relation to God, and the unavoidable conflict between the
two types of religion.

A topic of paramount interest with the Pharisees was the
Messianic ideas of their Scriptures; to these they devoted great
attention, and especially as they felt more heavily the iron
heel of Rome. This brings us to another fact of importance.^

It was during this period, indeed, that the Messianic Hope —
the hope of the coming Kingdom of God and the Ideal King —
received its greatest development. Especially did the Messianic
Hope concentrate itself in the conception of a personal Messiah ^

* Professor W. R. Smith says : "The scribes, who, in this period,
took the place of the prophets as the leaders of religious thought,
were mainly busied with the law; but no religion can subsist on
mere law; and the systematization of the prophetic hopes and of
those more ideal parts of the other sacred literature, which, because
ideal and dissevered from the present, were now set in one line with
the prophecies, went on, side by side, with the systematization of
the law, by means of a harmonious exegesis, which sought to
gather up every prophetic image in one grand panorama of the
issues of Israel's and the world's history."

^Let lis bear in mind that the expression, "Messianic Prophecy,"
with which we are familiar, may be used in two senses. The expres-
sion may embrace all that pertains to the Kingdom of God and its
consummation ; it may also be used with regard to a person — the
Messiah who "is, not always, but often, a commanding figure in
this perfect condition of the kingdom." To the average person
to-day, the expression signifies the latter and not the former sense;

52 Jesus* Idea

While the Old Testament gives us the cream of the Jewish
literature which arose before the Christian Era, it by no means
exhausts it. The Messianic conception, indeed, was kept alive
and developed remarkably in the Apocryphal and Apocalyptic
Books which arose during this period. In fact, the Messianic
idea, both in its wider and narrower sense, received its greatest
development in the pages of this literature in the last two cen-
turies before Christ.

The allusions are somewhat scant in the Apocryphal Books,
but two possible references to the expected personal deliverer
are important. "Until there should come a prophet to give
an answer concerning them" (i Mac. 4:46) ; ''The Jews and
the priests were well pleased that Simon should be their
leader and high priest forever, until there should arise a faithful
prophet" (R. V. i Mac. 14:41). The independence of the
Maccabean age was rather unfavorable to the Messianic Hope,
and explains the few allusions to it.^

When we come to the Apocalyptic Books, however, we
find abundant evidence of this hope. In the Sibylline Books,

and it is only with difficulty that the mind can be brought to see
that the former is the earlier and the preponderating sense in the
Old Testament. To exalt the later to the disparagement of the
earlier is to mistake the fundamental intent and content of Messianic
Prophecy. The burden and theme of Hebrew prophecy, in fact, is
the Kingdom of God ; it is also the burden and theme of that litera-
ture which Israelitish history and prophecy combined to produce.

Yet we would not minimize the idea of the coming king — the
"Messiah," as he came to be called. It is apparent, however, that
the idea was a subordinate one, for some of the prophets, both
before and during the Exile, as Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk,
made no reference to the future king. The conception which was
born in the time of the Monarchy seems, in fact, to be lost in the
time of the Exile. During this period, and for some time after-
ward, the future of the people is the all-important subject — not the
future king. Indeed, after the Exile, the prophets Haggai and
Zechariah voiced the opinion that as soon as the Temple was com-
pleted Jehovah Himself would come and found a Universal King-
dom. Before many years have passed, however, the conception of
the king to come of David's royal line becomes the prominent
feature of the Messianic expectation. How he was conceived of,
and how the character of the Kingdom of God was viewed, we shall
soon see.

^ The reader might consult with profit 2 Mac. 2 :i8; Tobit 13 : 10-14;
I Mac. 2:57; Judith 16:17.

The Night of Legalism 53

which are predictions in the form of poetry, and are fashioned
after the heathen oracles, we find an elucidation of the Mes-
sianic Hope in its larger sense; mention of the Messianic King
is only made at the outset. The salient ideas are these: God
will send a king from the East, who, taking vengeance on his
adversaries, will eventually bring prosperity and peace. The
faithful Israelites will live in happiness and quiet; while the
heathen, aware of Israel's prosperity, will learn to praise Israel's
God, to send gifts to His Holy Temple, and even to adopt
the law. Thus will the God-sent King be the instrument of the
establishment of God's universal kingdom, in which the Law
shall be accepted and exalted. The name ''Messiah," however,
is not used.

Next comes the Book of Enoch. This Book was well known
in the time of Jesus, and it belongs to the two centuries im-
mediately before Christ. In the Similitudes, Chapters 37-70,
there is a unique and well-developed doctrine of a personal
Messiah. We read that suddenly the Head of Days will
come, and with Him the Son of Man; there will be a resur-
rection of all Israel while all judgment is given into the hands
of the Son of Man, who will execute judgment according
to man's several deeds. All sin will be rooted out from the
earth, the earth itself will be transformed, and the righteous
enjoy the bliss of paradise. Here we notice that "the Mes-
siah exists from the beginning (48:2); he sits on the throne
of God (45 :3 ; 47 :3), and possesses universal dominion (62 :6) ;
and all judgment is committed unto him (69:27)." This
book exerted a vast influence upon Jewish literature; in fact,
it is next to Daniel in favor, authority, and importance in the
age of which we write. Its influence upon the New Testament
is very marked, and is illustrated both in "doctrine and in
diction." It is regarded by many as the historical source of
the New Testament designation of Our Lord as the "Son
of Man."

Decidedly illustrative of the ideas of the coming kingdom
and king is the so-called "Psalter of Solomon," a production of
the years between 70 and 40 B. C. This work was born in
the age which witnessed the subjugation of Palestine to the
Roman power by Pompey, and it breathes the desire of every
devout and patriotic Jew for the speedy coming of the Davidic

54 Jesus^ Idea

King, who should end the oppression of the foreign nation,
and prove the successful opponent of unrighteousness and
heathenism. Pharisaic thought and aspiration confront us on
every hand. Here, to quote the words of Schurer, "We meet
with the Messianic King depicted in sharper outlines and fuller
colors in the Psalterium Solomonis.'' ^

In the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, which are para-
phrases or free translations of the Pentateuch and the Prophets
into the Aramaic tongue, many opinions and biblical interpreta-
tions which were current in the time of Our Lord are revealed.
Many passages of the Old Testament are interpreted in a Mes-
sianic sense. For instance, the word "Shiloh" of Genesis 49:10
is applied to the personal Messiah, and we read: "The wielder
of power shall not pass away from the house of Judah, nor
the scribe from his sons' sons forever until that the anointed
one come to whom belongs the kingdom and to him shall
the people submit themselves." This interpretation, far-fetched

* Speaking of the author of this book, Schurer says : "He hopes
that God will raise up a prince of the house of David to rule over
Israel, to crush their enemies, and to cleanse Jerusalem from the
heathen. (17:23-27.) He will gather a holy people, and will judge
the tribes of the nation, and not juffer unrighteousness in their
midst; he will divide them in the land according to their tribes,
and no stranger shall dwell among them (17:28-31). The heathen
nations will serve him, and will come to Jerusalem, to bring the
wearied children of Israel as gifts, and to see the glory of the Lord.
He is a righteous king, and one taught of God (17:32-35). And
there is no unrighteousness in his days, for all are saints. And
their king is the Lord's anointed. He will not place his trust in
horse or rider. For the Lord Himself is his King. And he will
strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever (17:36-39)-
He will bless the people of the Lord with wisdom; and he is pure
from sin; and he will rule over a great people, and not be weak.
For God makes him strong by His Holy Spirit. He will lead them
all in holiness, and there is no pride among them (17:40-46). This
is the beauty of the King of Israel. Happy are they who are born
in his days (17:47-51). The writer expects, as it appears, not Godly
kings in general of David's house, but a single Messiah endowed by
God with miraculous powers, pure from sin and holy (17:41-46),
whom God has made wise and powerful by the Holy Spirit (17:2).
and who therefore strikes his enemies not v/ith external weapons,
but with the word of his mouth {17 }2,9 after Isa. 11:4). He is,
however, notivithstanding such idealism, represented as quite a
zvorldh ruler, as an actual king of Israel'' ("The Jewish People
in the "Time of Jesus Christ," Div. 11, Vol. 11, p. 142).

The Night of Legalism 55

and unreal as it is, was the popular interpretation in the time
of Jesus (cf. St. Jn.i :i9, 6:14, 7:31). Other examples might
be cited. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that much of
the antagonism exhibited by many Christians toward Higher
Criticism, and the Higher Critic, is due to the love of supposed
orthodoxy for the Targum misinterpretation of the Old Tes-
tament Scriptures, whereas the Higher Critic is really con-
tending for the truth of the Scriptures when shorn of Jewish
and Christian perversions.

Interesting also in its bearing upon the Messianic Hope is
the "Assumptio Mosis/' This book probably dates in the
period from 4 B. C. to 30 A. D. Here the Kingdom of
God is to be established by God Himself, and there is no
mention of the Messianic King. The Messianic Hope is,
however, a glowing one. After describing a time of great
trouble, the author says : **Then will his kingdom appear among
all creatures, and the devil will have an end, and sorrow
will disappear with him. Then will the Heavenly One arise
from the seat of his kingdom, and will come from his holy
habitation with wrath and anger for his children's sake, and
the earth will tremble to its ends, and the high mountains be
lowered, and the hills fall. The sun will give no light, and
the moon be changed into blood, and the stars fall into con-
fusion. And the sea will retreat to the abyss, and the water-
springs fail, and the rivers be dried up. Then w^ill the most
High God, the alone Eternal, come forth to chastise the
heathen, and to destroy all idols. Then wilt thou be happy,
O Israel, and will tread upon the neck and wings of the
eagle. And God will exalt thee and make thee soar to the
firmament, and thou will thence look down upon thine enemies
on earth, and shalt see them and rejoice, and give thanks, and
acknowledge thy Creator."

It is necessary to mention only one other writing, namely
the Book of Jubilees. This book is of great value in showing
the popular idea of the law in the Messianic Kingdom. The
contents of the book are claimed to be a revelation to Moses on
Mt. Sinai, and the author endeavors to "carry the Jewish
cultus back into the patriarchal or even pre- Adamite period."
Here too is found a glowing Messianic expectation. Because
it adds nothing of moment to the picture already sketched, we

S6 Jesus' Idea

do not quote it. Its insistence upon the longevity of mankind
in the Messianic Kingdom, however, upon freedom from old
age and w^eariness of life, and its exultant exaltation of Israel
to a proud position of world empire are noteworthy.

From our hurried sketch of the Messianic Expectation two
things must have impressed the reader: First, in marked con-
trast to the extreme rigidity of the scribal interpretation of the
law, the interpretation of the Messianic Hope allowed the play
of human fancy to a marked degree. If we look for a concep-
tion harmonious in all its details, we shall look in vain. While
fundamentally the conception is the same, its amplification
presents varying features, as we shall see in a moment. Sec-
ondly, the idea so beautifully elaborated in the fifty-third chapter
of Isaiah, of the establishment of the Kingdom of God only at
the cost of and by means of suffering plays but little part in
the conception. It is most remarkable that an idea so striking
and so original should have had such slight effect upon sub-
sequent Jewish thought. Such an idea was apparently foreign
to the Jewish mind in the time of Our Lord, and it remained
for the Carpenter of Galilee to harmonize the two apparently
antagonistic ideas of the Old Testament — that of the Davidic
King and the Suffering Servant of the Lord. Having taken a
rapid historical survey of the Messianic Hope, let us conclude
by presenting in summary the integral factors of the Messianic
Expectation as they existed in the mind of the Jewish populace
in the time of Christ.

Almost without exception, an era of perplexity and trouble
was thought of as the prelude to the Messiah's advent. Dire
omens on earth, in the sky, and in the sea would announce the
period. Elijah, the prophet, would return to prepare the Mes-
siah's way (Mai. 3:23-24). Others looked for ''the prophet like
Moses" (Deut. 18:15) ; others awaited Jeremiah or some of the
prophets to appear as heralds of the Messiah (St. Mt. 16:14).
After the appearance of the herald, the Messiah Himself was
to appear and dethrone the powers of the world (Book of
Enoch; Sibyll. in. 652-656; Ps. Solom. 17:24, 26, 27, etc).
The time of the Messiah's coming was conditional upon the
repentance of Israel, and their faithful observance of the law.
He was to come suddenly, and from Bethlehem, where he would
live in quiet and obscurity until the time of his appearing drew

The Night of Legalism 57

near, when he would issue suddenly from concealment, and
prove his Messiahship to all by numerous miracles (St. Jno.
7:27; St. Mt. 11:14; St. Lu. 7:22). Upon his appearance,
the world-powers would gather together against him (Sibyll.
663, Enoch 90:16 etc.). This attack was led, according to
the belief of some, by an arch-opponent of the Messiah — an
''Antichrist" (St. Jno. 1:18-22; 4:2; 11 St. Jno. 7; 11 Thess.
2; Rev. 13). Notwithstanding their apparent strength, the
powers will be overwhelmed. The details of this destruction
and its method are variously described in the Apocalyptic Litera-
ture and in the Targums. The Messianic Kingdom will
then have its seat in the Holy Land, with Jerusalem as its capi-
tal; the city will be cleansed of the heathen (Ps. Sol. 17:25, 33),
and the Jews who are scattered throughout the world will
return to Palestine. In the Psalter of Solomon they are gathered
by the Messiah.

Then, with a reunited people, will God's Kingdom be es-
tablished. The Messiah King will be at the head of the
Kingdom, but God Himself will be the ruler of the Kingdom.
To quote Schurer again: ''With the setting up of this king-
dom, the idea of God's kingship over Israel becomes full truth
and reality." It is for this reason that the Messianic Kingdom
is called "The Kingdom of God" or "The Kingdom of Heaven."
This phrase, it is true, cannot be found in the Old Testament,
but it abounds in the New Testament, and represents the
fundamental and omnipresent idea of the Old — the sovereignty
of God.

In the thought of some, the heathen, impressed by the pros-
perity and peace of Israel, w^ill come of their own accord, ac-
knowledge Jehovah, and walk after His laws (Sibyll. iii, 698,
726). With others, the power of the Messiah was to be the
compelling force. But, whatever the method, the Messianic
period was conceived of as a period of surpassing blessings.
Joy, peace, health, and prosperity would be the supreme char-
acteristics. All unrighteousness will be cast out, the Temple
and the Law will assume unwonted splendor. Even the dead
of Israel will rise to share in this enjoyment.

The most common title of the coming King was "the Anoint-
ed," "the Messiah." The expression "Son of Man" is applied to
him only in the Book of Enoch. As the chosen of God, he is

58 Jesus' Idea

sometimes called the **Elect," and "the Son of God." By all,
he was thought of as a descendant of David (Isa. 11 :i, 10;
Jer. 23:5, 30:9, 33:15, 17:22), hence a universal title accorded
to him was "Son of David" (Ps. Sol. 17:5, 23; the New
Testament) ; and as a descendant of David, he was to be
born in David's city — Bethlehem (Micah 5:1; St. Mt. 2:5;
St. Jno. 7:41-42). Two views were entertained of the Mes-
siah's personality. In the Book of Enoch, the pre-existence of
the Messiah is asserted, and the supernatural element is
generally conspicuous. This is, however, the exceptional view.
The common belief was in a human Messiah (especially in the
Psalms of Solomon), but nevertheless a Messiah of a high order
and one greatly endowed with supernatural gifts and graces of
God. There is nothing, however, in the current belief of the
age which approaches the Christian doctrine of Jesus as the Son
of God by nature.

While many thought of the Messiah's Kingdom as ever-
lasting (Sibyll. Ill, 766; Ps. Sol. 17:4 etc.), basing their
belief upon Old Testament passages, some regarded the King-
dom as of temporary duration. In the course of time, it would
give way to a Kingdom of greater happiness in eternity. The
world was also to be made new (Isa. 65:17, cf. St. Mt. 19:28,
etc.). Some fancied that this renovation of the world would
characterize the beginning of the Messiah's Kingdom; others,
that it would come at its conclusion. A resurrection of the
dead was also looked for. Those now dead were thought of
as separated in an intermediate state, and enjoying there a
preliminary happiness or undergoing torment. Some held
that only the righteous rose to the joy of the Messianic reign j
others held that there was a general resurrection to judgment.
The former was the earlier belief, and it made the resurrection
synonymous with the commencement of the Messianic age. An-
other view postponed the resurrection until the close of that
age. Men would be judged according to their deeds, hence
heavenly books are kept and these \\\\\ determine the sentence
(Enoch 48:7-8; Book of Jubilees). The ungodly are cast
into Gehenna, and are punished everlastingly. Yet with some
there is the idea of a temporary punishment — a purgatory.
The Righteous are taken to Paradise.

Amidst this variation in detail, it is easy to detect the central

The Night of Legalism 59

and salient features. The coming King was to restore the
national independence of Israel, was to subdue the nations of
the earth and enthrone the Scribal Law. Into this world of
truth and error, of fact and fiction, of Jewish Apocalyptic and
Legalism, was Jesus of Nazareth born.



That the era of the "Night of Legalism" marked a sad
falh'ng away from the Old Testament conceptions generally,
and especially from the conception of the Kingdom of God,
is abundantly evident. Many events, indeed, had served to ac-
centuate the temporal and material aspects of the Kingdom.
The idea fostered during this period, in fact, was that of a
worldly and political kingdom, composed of God's Chosen
People, who were related to the Gentile world only through
triumph and conquest. Thus the Kingdom was conceived
of as primarily national in extent. The popular idea in our
Lord's day, indeed, was of a materialistic, a political and a
worldly Kingdom, coterminous and coextensive with the Jews.
And to membership in this Kingdom, every Jew, by virtue of his
descent from Abraham, had a just and inherent claim. The
idea of the coming King was equally materialistic, worldly and
political. Thus the entire Jewish mind was occupied with a
dream of vast exaltation and splendor for the nation ; the
King must of necessity be similarly great and splendid.^

This conception reigned generally triumphant. It was pleas-

^Dr. Sanday thus summarizes the popular view: "The contem-
poraries of Jesus, when they spoke of the 'Kingdom of God,' thought
chiefly of an empire contrasted with the great world empires, more
particularly the Roman, which galled them at the moment. And the
two features which caught their imagination most were the throwing
ofT of the hated yoke, and the transference of supremacy from the
heathen to Israel. This was to be brought about by a catastrophe
which was to close the existing order of things, and which, there-
fore, took a shape that was eschatological." This conception savored
far more of the present world than of the heavenly. Events, how-
ever — the Captivity, and the disasters subsequent — had stamped this
idea of the King and the Kingdom indelibly upon the hearts of
the people. In consequence, it was, as we have seen, the conception
of later Jewish Literature, and of the Jews in the^ l^tw Testaments


Jesus' Idea of the Kingdom 6i

ing, captivating, in accordance with the aspirations and am-
bitions of fallen human nature, appealed to wounded pride and
vanity, and promised vengeance upon the hated foes of the Jews,
who had so often in the past, and who were even then humiliat-
ing and oppressing them. While the prophetic view, with its
more spiritual and universal aspect, and its idea of a Suffering
King or People, would be unpleasant in the extreme to a nation
enamoured of worldly ideals. In fact, the prophetic conception
was for the most part forgotten and obsolete; yet it was kept
alive by a comparatively few humble and obscure persons, whose
vision of things unseen and eternal was not entirely lost in the
vision of things seen and temporal. Such were probably the
aged Simeon and Anna of our Lord's time.^

It was to such a people, in such a condition, and nourished
by such an ideal and hope, that after the silence of centuries,
John the Baptist appeared, proclaiming with startling effec-
tiveness that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, and bid-
ding the nation, Repent! We may imagine readily the sensa-
tion created, the hope enkindled, and the inquiry awakened.
Day at length seemed about to dawn. The air itself was
instinct with expectancy. And what was the result? The
startling proclamation, the sudden appearance, and the strange
figure shook the nation to its very depths. We axe not sur-
prised to learn that, "Then went out to him Jerusalem, and

^ The hope of this element in Israel may be expressed in the words

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