|JESUS CHRIST, 5 |
PART IV. EPILOGUE:
THE APOSTOLIC TEACHING
1. After the Ascension:
The earthly life of Jesus is finished. With His resurrection and ascension a new age begins. Yet the work of Christ continues. As Luke expressively phrases it in Acts 1:1,2, the Gospels are but the records of "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up." It is beyond the scope of this article to trace the succeeding developments of Christ's activity through His church and by His Spirit; in order, however, to bring the subject to a proper close, it is necessary to glance, even if briefly, at the light thrown back by the Spirit's teachings, after the ascension, on the significance of the earthly life itself, and at the enlargement of the apostles' conceptions about Christ, consequent on this, as seen in the Epistles and the Apocalypse.
2. Revelation through the Spirit:
It was the promise of Jesus that, after His departure, the Spirit would be given to His disciples, to teach them all things, and bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them (John 14:26). It was not a new revelation they were to receive, but illumination and guidance of their minds into the meaning of what they had received already (John 16:13-15). This promise of the Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2). Only a few personal manifestations of Jesus (Acts 7:55,56; 22:17,18; 23:11) are recorded after that event--the two chief being the appearance to Paul on the way to Damascus (1 Corinthians 15:8; compare Acts 9:3, etc.), and the appearance in vision to John in Patmos (Revelation 1:10). The rest was internal revelation (compare Galatians 1:12,16; Ephesians 1:17; 3:3-5). The immense advance in enlargement and clearness of view--aided, no doubt, by Christ's parting instructions (Luke 24:44-48; Acts 1:2)--is already apparent in Peter's discourses at Pentecost; but it is not to be supposed that much room was not left for after-growth in knowledge, and deepened insight into the connection of truths. Peter, e.g., had to be instructed as to the admission of the Gentiles (Acts 10:11); the apostles had much gradually to learn as to the relations of the law (compare Acts 15; 21:20; Galatians 2, etc.); Paul received revelations vastly widening the doctrinal horizon; both John and Paul show progressive apprehension in the truth about Christ.
3. Gospels and Epistles:
It is therefore a question of much interest how the apostolic conceptions thus gained stand related to the picture of Jesus we have been studying in the Gospels. It is the contention of the so-called "historical" (anti-supernaturalistic) school of the day that the two pictures do not correspond. The transcendental Christ of Paul and John has little in common, it is affirmed, with the Man of Nazareth of the Synoptic Gospels. Theories of the "origins of Christianity" are concocted proceeding on this assumption (compare Pfieiderer, Weizsacker, Bousset, Wernle, etc.). Such speculations ignore the first conditions of the problem in not accepting the self-testimony of Jesus as to who He was, and the ends of His mission into the world. When Jesus is taken at His own valuation, and the great fact of His resurrection is admitted, the alleged contradictions between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith" largely disappear.
4. Fact of Christ's Lordship:
It is forgotten how great a change in the center of gravity in the conception of Christ's person and work was necessarily involved in the facts of Christ's death, resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of power. The life is not ignored--far from it. Its influence breathes in every page, e.g. of Paul's epistles. But the weakness, the limitations, the self-suppression--what Paul in Philippians 2:7 calls the "emptying"--of that earthly life have now been left behind; the rejected and crucified One has now been vindicated, exalted, has entered into His glory. This is the burden of Peter's first address at Pentecost:
"God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (Acts 2:36). Could anything look quite the same after that? The change is seen in the growing substitution of the name "Christ" for "Jesus" (see at beginning of article), and in the habitual speaking of Jesus as "Lord."
5. Significance of Christ's Person:
With belief in the lordship of Jesus went necessarily an enlarged conception of the significance of His person. The elements were all there in what the disciples had seen and known of Jesus while on earth (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3), but His exaltation not only threw back light upon His claims while on earth--confirmed, interpreted, completed them--but likewise showed the ultimate ground of these claims in the full Divine dignity of His person. He who was raised to the throne of Divine dominion; who was worshipped with honors due to God only; who was joined, with Father and with Holy Spirit as, coordinately, the source of grace and blessing, must in the fullest sense be Divine. There is not such a thing as honorary Godhead. In this is already contained in substance everything taught about Jesus in the epistles:
His preexistence (the Lord's own words had suggested this, John 8:58; 17:5, etc.), His share in Divine attributes (eternity, etc.), in Divine works (creation, etc., 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16,17; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 1:8; 3:14, etc.), in Divine worship (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 5:11,12, etc.), in Divine names and titles (Hebrews 1:8, etc.). It is an extension of the same conception when Jesus is represented as the end of creation--the "Head" in whom all things are finally to be summed up (Ephesians 1:10; compare Hebrews 2:6-9). These high views of the person of Christ in the Epistles are everywhere assumed to be the possession of the readers.
Jesus had furnished His disciples with the means of understanding His death as a necessity of His Messianic vocation, endured for the salvation of the world; but it was the resurrection and exaltation which shed light on the utmost meaning of this also. Jesus died, but it was for sins. He was a propitiation for the sin of the world (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). He was `made sin' for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
6. Significance of the Cross and Resurrection:
The strain of Isaiah 53 runs through the New Testament teaching on this theme (compare 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22-25, etc.). Jesus' own word "ransom" is reproduced by Paul (1 Timothy 2:6). The song of the redeemed is, "Thou didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe," etc. (Revelation 5:9). Is it wonderful, in view of this, that in the apostolic writings--not in Paul only, but in Pet, in Jn, in He, and Rev, equally--the cross should assume the decisive importance it does? Paul only works out more fully in relation to the law and the sinner's justification a truth shared by all. He himself declares it to be the common doctrine of the churches (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
7. Hope of the Advent:
The newer tendency is to read an apocalyptic character into nearly all the teaching of Jesus (compare Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus). This is an exaggeration, but that Jesus taught His disciples to look for His coming again, and connected with that coming the perfection of His kingdom, is plain to every reader of the Gospels. It will not be denied that the apostolic church retained this feature of the teaching of Jesus. In accordance with the promise in Acts 1:11, it looked for the glorious reappearing of its Lord. The Epistles are full of this hope. Even Joh gives it prominence (1 John 2:28; 3:2). In looking for the parousia as something immediately at hand, the early believers went even beyond what had been revealed, and Paul had to rebuke harmful tendencies in this direction (2 Thessalonians 2). The hope might be cherished that the coming would not long be delayed, but in face of the express declarations of Jesus that no one, not the angels, not even the Son, knew of that day and hour (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32), and that the Father had set these things in His own authority (Acts 1:7; compare also such intimations as in Matthew 13:30; 24:14; 25:19; 28:19; Luke 19:11, etc.), none could affirm this with certainty. Time has proved--proved it even in the apostolic age (2 Peter 3:3,4)--that the Advent was not so near as many thought. In part, perhaps, the church itself may be to blame for the delay. Still to faith the Advent remains the great fixed event of the future, the event which overshadows all others--in that sense is ever near--the polestar of the church's confidence that righteousness shall triumph, the dead shall be raised, sin shall be judged and the kingdom of God shall come.
The literature on the life and teaching of Jesus is so voluminous, and represents such diverse standpoints, that it would be unprofitable to furnish an extended catalogue of it. It may be seen prefixed to any of the larger books. On the skeptical and rationalistic side the best account of the literature will be found in Schweitzer's book, From Reimarus to Wrede (English translation, Quest of the Historical Jesus). Of modern believing works may be specially named those of Lange, Weiss, Ellicott Edersheim, Farrar, D. Smith. Dr. Sanday's book, The Life of Christ in Recent Research, surveys a large part of the field, and is preparatory to an extended Life from Dr. Sanday's own pen. His article in HDB has justly attracted much attention. Schurer's Hist of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (ET, 5 volumes; a new German edition has been published) is the best authority on the external conditions. The works on New Testament Biblical theology (Reuss, Weiss, Schmid, Stevens, etc.) deal with the teaching of Jesus; see also Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus (ET). Works and articles on the Chronology, on Harmony of the Gospels, on geography and topography (compare especially Stanley, G.A. Smith) are legion. A good, comprehensive book on these topics is Andrews, Life of our Lord (revised edition). The present writer has published works on The Virgin Birth of Christ and The Resurrection of Jesus. On the relations of gospel and epistle, see J. Denney, Jesus and the Gospel.
See also the various articles in this Encyclopedia, on GOSPELS; PERSON OF CHRIST; ETHICS OF JESUS; VIRGIN BIRTH; JESUS CHRIST, THE ARREST AND TRIAL OF; RESURRECTION; ASCENSION; PHARISEES; SADDUCEES; HEROD; JERUSALEM, etc.