Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.

206

When on one occasion, the Jews boasted that their ancestors had eaten bread from heaven, alluding to the manna in the wilderness, which was supposed to have fallen from the sky, Jesus replied, "Moses did not give you true heavenly bread. He who giveth up his life for the sustenance of the world, he is the true bread of Heaven." Here the manner of his thinking is shown. Thus the language which he borrowed from the popular phraseology of the day, when he speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, was true in a far more interesting and important sense than was commonly supposed.

And besides, in immediate connection with this phraseology, he expressed truths which were fitted to enlarge the popular notions, and interpret the popular language, and help his hearers to understand it in a new and better sense. The most imposing description of the coming of the Son of Man is found in the 25th chapter of Matthew. It commences, "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then will he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him will be gathered all nations, &c." And then it goes on to declare that the honours and blessings of the Messiah's reign would be conferred upon those who are devoted to offices of kindness and mercy, and who do good to the least and lowest of their brethren, while the wrath of the Messiah would be poured upon those who shut their hearts against the wretched and forsaken. They would be driven away with shame and punishment. Now it was not the design of this representation to inform the Jews that the Messiah would come in glory with attendant angels and be seated on a throne with all nations at his feet. These things the Jews already knew and believed with confirmation strong as Holy Writ. This language communicated no new information. It made no new im

207

pression on their minds. But the aim of Jesus was to call the attention of his auditors to the great principle, the indispensable condition upon which the awards of the heavenly kingdom would be distributed, "when the Son of Man should come." I do not conceive that he intended to assert that a particular day would come when a visible throne would be erected, surrounded by angels, and occupied by the Messiah, with all the nations of the earth arraigned before him. For all the phraseology of this passage, which would appear to teach this, was a part of the popular language of the day. It conveyed nothing new and unfamiliar to the Jewish mind. But the thought which he did design to make prominent, and to which all else in this description is incidental as the frame to the picture, was this, that by the great law or principle of the divine administration, the humane, pacific, and generous-hearted would be accepted, while upon the cruel and selfish would be inflicted the severest punishments. He sought to present a grand moral feature of the new dispensation. The retributive character of God's government, here and now, as well as elsewhere and hereafter, is one of the great truths or facts which Jesus proclaimed, and in the diffusion of which the coming of the kingdom consisted. He declared that all men would be judged in righteousness, that in obedience alone is life, and in transgression, misery, in this life as well as in the life to come. This momentous doctrine he taught in the forms of speech popular at the time, and under the familiar figure of a human tribunal and a day of judgment. The Jews were cherishing a proud revengeful temper. They expected the Messiah to lead them to battle and victory. And a representation like this was calculated to arrest their thoughts and induce them to consider themselves. The moral truth embodied in this

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.

208

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.

description was the principal point, and as it struck the minds of his listeners was likely to give them a new idea of the Messiah's glory. The meaning of Jesus is substantially as follows: "When the living spirit of the Son of Man shall come and be diffused through all nations, and its influence shall be attended with glorious exhibitions of power, when men shall recognise the heavenly kingdom not in a visible empire, but in the power of righteousness, then all honour will be awarded to the true-hearted and beneficent, and all shame to those who violate the sacred obligations of humanity." Not descent from Abraham, not the worthless, formal righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees would be regarded then, but a heart breathing mercy and prompt to all good works. This was what Jesus sought to teach, the great principle of God's moral government. In the acknowledgment of this and its kindred truths, the coming of the Son of Man consisted.

Properly speaking, his hearers were not led into error by the language of Jesus. They only fell short of its full significance. They did not so much misunderstand as fail to understand him. His language was not false, but inadequate, as all language is in reference to spiritual subjects. It did not confirm them in their erroneous ideas of the Messiah's coming, for that was not possible. It produced no new error. All that was new and peculiar in his representation of the advent of the Son of Man was a grand moral truth. And this it was that affected the minds of those who heard him if they were affected at all. The mass of the people were unmoved by what he said, or impressed only for a moment. His immediate disciples, those, who became his successors and apostles in the great work, were influenced by his statements concerning the approaching kingdom of the Christ. Their views were greatly modified and

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.

209

spiritualised by his declarations in comparison with those of the people at large. In the minds of that small band the Jewish Idea underwent an important change. The moral characteristics of the expected kingdom were brought out more distinctly to their view and received more of their attention and awakened a deeper and increasing interest. The great hope, so worldly and narrow in other minds, became in theirs the hope of moral good, not so much of temporal as of spiritual blessings. They slowly began to perceive that whatever other pomp was to invest the person and the coming of the Christ, grace and peace and love would be his heavenliest ornaments. This was a great change; and it was the direct effect of the influence of Jesus, of his words and works. So great was the change, that, after the lapse of a short time, they were found ready to meet peril and death-to forego all the common pursuits and enjoyments of life, in order to impress upon others the vast importance of a thorough cleansing of the heart as a preparation for the coming of the Son of Man.

Still, the views of the disciples, though greatly enlarged, were not wholly spiritualised. In other words, their minds were not raised to the same elevation with their master. They still retained the idea that the Messiah was to come in a manner, in some degree correspondent to the universal belief of the Jews. This is evident from particular passages and the general tenor of the Apostolic writings.* That the disciples still retained this impression was not owing to any thing they had heard from Jesus, but to the strength of their previous Jewish convictions, which, though greatly modified, were not wholly changed by his instructions. They were brought to a full belief in him as the Messiah.

* See Norton's Statement of Reasons, &c. p. 297-312.

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.

210

But they never appear to have considered him as having come. During the whole period of his personal intercourse with them, while they believed him to be the Anointed of God, they seem to have regarded him as in a voluntary disguise, which they momently expected him to throw off. Even after his resurrection, they said to him, "Lord, wilt thou now restore the kingdom to Israel?" which was equivalent to saying, "Lord, wilt thou now come?"

And how natural was it that Jesus himself, conscious of no desire of personal display, no wish to be personally exalted, having fondly at heart a high moral purpose, how natural was it that, feeling thus, he should consider and represent himself as not yet having come, when he saw how little was the effect he was producing in comparison with what he aimed at and with the ultimate result! Deeply did he feel that he had not come to any adequate purpose. He saw how the stubborn pride of his countrymen withstood the divine force he exerted, how it prevented his entrance into the spiritual world and the erection of the kingdom of righteousness there. Naturally did he look forward to the removal of this obstacle as the event which would make way for his coming. Then he saw that he would indeed come, not visibly, to the outward eye, but with a living power to the Soul. This is what he meant by the coming of the Son of Man. Thus, as we have seen, he explained it himself in that striking passage which we quoted from his last conversation with his disciples. They did not understand him, explicit as he was. They still continued to believe that he would come in person. And they held to this belief, as I have already remarked, not because it had been imparted or confirmed by him, but through the previous strength of their old Jewish associations. Although they never entirely re

« EdellinenJatka »