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now in a position from which retreat was neither right nor possible, where the question was between death or victory; and we cannot doubt that He chose the first when He saw that the second was not appointed for Him; nay, that He chose it with a pious confidence that it was precisely by His death that His cause would conquer. Now, therefore, He might speak with greater certainty of His inevitable fate, but scarcely of the mode of it, on which He could not calculate; but that He did so previously with the same certainty, and undertook the journey to Jerusalem with the fixed consciousness, that it not only may, but must, lead to His death—this cannot be assumed.
But, however early or however late, however definitely or indefinitely,the surmise arose within Him that He would perish in the fulfilment of His calling, it is impossible that He should have adopted it without considering how far it was compatible with His Messianic commission and dignity. To this the immediate answer might have been, that the death of the Messiah was produced by the unbelief of His countrymen and contemporaries, and was necessary for the extinction of this unbelief; or, if the answer were sought in the Old Testament, and given in accordance with the religious views of Judaism, then, that the Messiah was to die (as is said in Isaiah liii. 10 of "the Servant of God," though properly of the Jewish people), as a sinoffering for others. And it is perfectly credible that Jesus looked at the fate which threatened Him from this point of view, and that our authorities are in the main correct, when on the occasion of the last Passover, and elsewhere, they put into His mouth expressions of this kind. But still the difficulty was not thus removed. The Messiah must not merely have enjoyed Divine protection for His person, which excluded the assumption of His yielding to His enemies, being given over to the death threatened by them, but, with this Person, the entrance of the "kingdom of heaven " was connected. It was impossible that even Jesus, in spite of the greater purity of His Messianic idea, could let this demand upon Him drop; He might, indeed, so far modify this idea as to abandon the notion of a political dominion of the Son of God, and of an application of human force for the foundation of it; but, so long as He did not entirely give it up, He could not abdicate personal participation in the institution of that kingdom: He could not, therefore, even look upon Himself as the Messiah, without expecting that, in the actual entrance of the new state of things which He had at all events prepared, a prominent share would be destined for Him. But how could tbis be combined with the probability that He would be the victim of the hatred of His enemies before the actual solution of His problem? There was but one means for the fulfilment of His purpose: the assumption that He would not, in this case, continue in death Himself, but would, at the latest, at the time when God should, in a miraculous manner, introduce the new order of things, be again awakened by the Divine omnipotence for the completion of His work. This expectation must therefore have been cherished by Jesus, in the later period of His life at least, as the hope of an immediate victory of His cause declined, and He must naturally have announced it in one form or another. It does not indeed by any means follow that He really said all that the Evangelical accounts put into His mouth about His coming again in the clouds, attended by angels, about the judgment and all connected with it, about the nearness and the miraculous prognostics of this second Advent: it is, on the contrary, perfectly clear that far the greater part of what is found in these speeches is taken partly out of the history and the expectations of a later period, partly from the eschatology* then current among the Jews ; and Renan proceeds in anything but a critical manner when (p. 270) he attributes to Jesus himself the whole of the eschatologic speeches in the Gospels, with all their materialism and fantastic imagery, their harshnesses, and their contradictions. But the basis of them, at least the position that in case He should perish before accomplishing His work He would be restored to life by God for the completion of it—this position we must attribute to Himself. But, as preceding death is a condition of coming again, He cannot have predicted the latter more definitely than the former, and if He was not, until His last days, unconditionally convinced that He was doomed to die, neither can He have been unconditionally convinced of His coming again, but His faith can only have been that, even in case of His death being certain, this would not be the final end either of Him or His work; He can ohly have predicted His return hypothetically, and, therefore, only in an indefinite manner, and without any pretence of fixing the time or describing the mode of it in detail.
Even upon this view, however, this expectation may appear, according to modern ideas, to be startling enough to give rise to the question whether we are not attributing to the founder of our religion a fanaticism irreconcilable with the rest of his character. This demur prevented even Strauss from expressing himself as decidedly with regard to the belief of Jesus in His Second Coming as, in my
* Theory about the end of all things.
opinion, he should have done. In the first place this belief followed so naturally from the contemplation of the then situation of affairs, that it was difficult for him to avoid it. After He had once taken into His consideration the possibility and probability of His violent death, He had, upon His own point of view, no other mode of combining this result with the continued conviction of His Messianic calling. Then, for Jesus and His disciples, there lies behind this view, so foreign to our notions, that world-conquering idealism, that faith, firm as a rock, in the future of His work, without which this work itself would hardly have been carried out in the world. It is, as Renan remarks p. 281, perfectly true that the Apoca. lyptic expectation alone, without the pure system of morality, the inward apprehension of the religion, the spiritual freedom of the new faith, would indeed never have led to the world-wide influence of Christianity, but that it was exactly this prospect of the future which, taken in itself, must have crushed all its efficiency for the present world, that lent to Christianity the elastic power it required to master the world; and then, as regards the founder of it, we need not be so very much surprised to see Him involved in a belief which, everything considered, was as natural for Him, as to us, on our stand-point, it cannot but be strange. Lastly, we should not forget that much which appears to us in the highest degree natural might appear to others as surprising as the expectation of the Second Coming does to us. That a sane man, with high spiritual gifts, should have expected to return to earth in a miraculous manner after his death—this we find incredible ; but that each one of us will continue after death to live in another world—this we consider perfectly intelligible. But the one is not further removed from ordinary
experience than the other; and the Jews of the time of Jesus, unless they had passed through the schools of Greek philosophy, were so little capable of reconciling themselves to the notion of the continuous life of the disembodied soul, that for them as well as for Paul (1 Cor. xv. 32), all the consolation arising from the faith in immortality, was connected with the faith in the resurrection.
If Jesus believed in His own Second Coming, this was only a special application, depending upon His Messianic consciousness, of a faith which He shared with the whole of His generation ; it therefore assumes nothing more than this, that the resurrection, for which every pious Israelite hoped, would be accomplished first in Him, and in connection with it the accomplishment of His Messianic work come in.
There might be more doubt about another point, which in the ordinary conception of Jesus and the accounts about Him certainly occupies a considerable space—His miracles. Not that the question is whether He performed miracles, for that this is inconceivable is beyond all doubt; and the recognition of this impossibility is the first condition for every historical discussion of the Evangelical history; but the difficulty simply is to determine whether He intended to perform miracles, and believed that He performed miracles. On the one hand there cannot be the slightest doubt that He shared in the general belief in miracles of His contemporaries and countrymen, i.e., that He had quite as little notion as they of the laws of nature and their inviolability, and, therefore, neither doubted the ancient narratives of the miracles of Moses and the prophets, nor considered as impossible a repetition of them in His own time. On the other hand, it by no means follows from such a general belief in the possibility of