FROM THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM TO THE BAPTISM IN JORDAN
. IN THE FIFTEENTH YEAR OF TIBERIUS CAESAR AND
UNDER THE PONTIFICATE OF ANNAS AND CAIAPHAS
. A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
(St. Matthew 3:1-12; St. Mark 1:2-8; St. Luke 3:1-18.)
THERE is something grand, even awful, in the almost absolute silence which lies upon the thirty years between the Birth and the first Messianic Manifestation of Jesus. In a narrative like that of the Gospels, this must have been designed; and, if so, affords presumptive evidence of the authenticity of what follows, and is intended to teach, that what had preceded concerned only the inner History of Jesus, and the preparation of the Christ. At last that solemn silence was broken by an appearance, a proclamation, a rite, and a ministry as startling as that of Elijah had been. In many respects, indeed, the two messengers and their times bore singular likeness. It was to a society secure, prosperous, and luxurious, yet in imminent danger of perishing from hidden, festering disease; and to a religious community which presented the appearance of hopeless perversion, and yet contained the germs of a possible regeneration, that both Elijah and John the Baptist came. Both suddenly appeared to threaten terrible judgment, but also to open unthought-of possibilities of good. And, as if to deepen still more the impression of this contrast, both appeared in a manner unexpected, and even antithetic to the habits of their contemporaries. John came suddenly out of the wilderness of Judæa, as Elijah from the wilds of Gilead; John bore the same strange ascetic appearance as his predecessor; the message of John was the counterpart of that of Elijah; his baptism that of Elijah's novel rite on Mount Carmel. And, as if to make complete the parallelism, with all of memory and hope which it awakened, even the more minute details surrounding the life of Elijah found their counterpart in that of John. Yet history never repeats itself. It fulfils in its development that of which it gave indication at its commencement. Thus, the history of John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that of Elijah in 'the fulness of time.'
For, alike in the Roman world and in Palestine, the time had fully come; not, indeed, in the sense of any special expectancy, but of absolute need. The reign of Augustus marked, not only the climax, but the crisis, of Roman history. Whatever of good or of evil the ancient world contained, had become fully ripe. As regarded politics, philosophy, religion, and society, the utmost limits had been reached.1 Beyond them lay, as only alternatives, ruin or regeneration. It was felt that the boundaries of the Empire could be no further extended, and that henceforth the highest aim must be to preserve what had been conquered. The destinies of Rome were in the hands of one man, who was at the same time general-in-chief of a standing army of about three hundred and forty thousand men, head of a Senate (now sunk into a mere court for registering the commands of Cæsar), and High-Priest of a religion, of which the highest expression was the apotheosis of the State in the person of the Emperor. Thus, all power within, without, and above lay in his hands. Within the city, which in one short reign was transformed from brick into marble, were, side by side, the most abject misery and almost boundless luxury. Of a population of about two millions, well-nigh one half were slaves; and, of the rest, the greater part either freedmen and their descendants, or foreigners. Each class contributed its share to the common decay. Slavery was not even what we know it, but a seething mass of cruelty and oppression on the one side, and of cunning and corruption on the other. More than any other cause, it contributed to the ruin of Roman society. The freedmen, who had very often acquired their liberty by the most disreputable courses, and had prospered in them, combined in shameless manner the vices of the free with the vileness of the slave. The foreigners - especially Greeks and Syrians - who crowded the city, poisoned the springs of its life by the corruption which they brought. The free citizens were idle, dissipated, sunken; their chief thoughts of the theatre and the arena; and they were mostly supported at the public cost. While, even in the time of Augustus, more than two hundred thousand persons were thus maintained by the State, what of the old Roman stock remained was rapidly decaying, partly from corruption, but chiefly from the increasing cessation of marriage, and the nameless abominations of what remained of family-life.
1. Instead of detailed quotations I would here generally refer to works on Roman history, especially to Friedländer's Sittengeschichte Roms, and to Döllinger's exhaustive work, Heidenthum and Judenthum.
The state of the provinces was in every respect more favourable. But it was the settled policy of the Empire, which only too surely succeeded, to destroy all separate nationalities, or rather to absorb and to Grecianise all. The only real resistance came from the Jews. Their tenacity was religious, and, even in its extreme of intolerant exclusiveness, served a most important Providential purpose. And so Rome became to all the centre of attraction, but also of fast-spreading destructive corruption. Yet this unity also, and the common bond of the Greek language, served another important Providential purpose. So did, in another direction, the conscious despair of any possible internal reformation. This, indeed, seemed the last word of all the institutions in the Roman world: It is not in me! Religion, philosophy, and society had passed through every stage, to that of despair. Without tracing the various phases of ancient thought, it may be generally said that, in Rome at least, the issue lay between Stoicism and Epicureanism. The one flattered its pride, the other gratified its sensuality; the one was in accordance with the original national character, the other with its later decay and corruption. Both ultimately led to atheism and despair - the one, by turning all higher aspirations self-ward, the other, by quenching them in the enjoyment of the moment; the one, by making the extinction of all feeling and self-deification, the other, the indulgence of every passion and the worship of matter, its ideal.
That, under such conditions, all real belief in a personal continuance after death must have ceased among the educated classes, needs not demonstration. If the older Stoics held that, after death, the soul would continue for some time a separate existence - in the case of sages till the general destruction of the world by fire, it was the doctrine of most of their successors that, immediately after death, the soul returned into 'the world-soul' of which it was part. But even this hope was beset by so many doubts and misgivings, as to make it practically without influence or comfort. Cicero was the only one who, following Plato, defended the immortality of the soul, while the Peripatetics denied the existence of a soul, and leading Stoics at least its continuance after death. But even Cicero writes as one overwhelmed by doubts. With his contemporaries this doubt deepened into absolute despair, the only comfort lying in present indulgence of the passions. Even among the Greeks, who were most tenacious of belief in the non-extinction of the individual, the practical upshot was the same. The only healthier tendency, however mixed with error, came from the Neo-Platonic School, which accordingly offered a point of contact between ancient philosophy and the new faith.
In such circumstances, anything like real religion was manifestly impossible. Rome tolerated, and, indeed, incorporated, all national rites. But among the populace religion had degenerated into abject superstition. In the East, much of it consisted of the vilest rites; while, among the philosophers, all religions were considered equally false or equally true - the outcome of ignorance, or else the unconscious modifications of some one fundamental thought. The only religion on which the State insisted was the deification and worship of the Emperor.2 These apotheoses attained almost incredible development. Soon not only the Emperors, but their wives, paramours, children, and the creatures of their vilest lusts, were deified; nay, any private person might attain that distinction, if the survivors possessed sufficient means.3 Mingled with all this was an increasing amount of superstition - by which term some understood the worship of foreign gods, the most part the existence of fear in religion. The ancient Roman religion had long given place to foreign rites, the more mysterious and unintelligible the more enticing. It was thus that Judaism made its converts in Rome; its chief recommendation with many being its contrast to the old, and the unknown possibilities which its seemingly incredible doctrines opened. Among the most repulsive symptoms of the general religious decay may be reckoned prayers for the death of a rich relative, or even for the satisfaction of unnatural lusts, along with horrible blasphemies when such prayers remained unanswered. We may here contrast the spirit of the Old and New Testaments with such sentiments as this, on the tomb of a child: 'To the unjust gods who robbed me of life;' or on that of a girl of twenty: 'I lift my hands against the god who took me away, innocent as I am.'
2. The only thorough resistance to this worship came from hated Judæa, and, we may add, from Britain (Döllinger, p. 611).
3. From the time of Cæsar to that of Diocletian, fifty-three such apotheoses took place, including those of fifteen women belonging to the Imperial families.
It would be unsavoury to describe how far the worship of indecency was carried; how public morals were corrupted by the mimic representations of everything that was vile, and even by the pandering of a corrupt art. The personation of gods, oracles, divination, dreams, astrology, magic, necromancy, and theurgy,4 all contributed to the general decay. It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practised, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description.
4. One of the most painful, and to the Christian almost incredible, manifestations of religious decay was the unblushing manner in which the priests practised imposture upon the people. Numerous and terrible instances of this could be given. The evidence of this is not only derived from the Fathers, but a work has been preserved in which formal instructions are given, how temples and altars are to be constructed in order to produce false miracles, and by what means impostures of this kind may be successfully practised. (Comp. 'The Pneumatics of Hero,' translated by B. Woodcroft.) The worst was, that this kind of imposture on the ignorant populace was openly approved by the educated. (Döllinger, p. 647.)
But among these sad signs of the times three must be specially mentioned: the treatment of slaves; the bearing towards the poor; and public amusements. The slave was entirely unprotected; males and females were exposed to nameless cruelties, compared to which death by being thrown to the wild beasts, or fighting in the arena, might seem absolute relief. Sick or old slaves were cast out to perish from want. But what the influence of the slaves must have been on the free population, and especially upon the young - whose tutors they generally were - may readily be imagined. The heartlessness towards the poor who crowded the city is another well-known feature of ancient Roman society. Of course, there was neither hospitals, nor provision for the poor; charity and brotherly love in their every manifestation are purely Old and New Testament ideas. But even bestowal of the smallest alms on the needy was regarded as very questionable; best, not to afford them the means of protracting a useless existence. Lastly, the account which Seneca has to give of what occupied and amused the idle multitude - for all manual labour, except agriculture, was looked upon with utmost contempt - horrified even himself. And so the only escape which remained for the philosopher, the satiated, or the miserable, seemed the power of self-destruction! What is worse, the noblest spirits of the time of self-destruction! What is worse, the noblest spirits of the time felt, that the state of things was utterly hopeless. Society could not reform itself; philosophy and religion had nothing to offer: they had been tried and found wanting. Seneca longed for some hand from without to lift up from the mire of despair; Cicero pictured the enthusiasm which would greet the embodiment of true virtue, should it ever appear on earth; Tacitus declared human life one great farce, and expressed his conviction that the Roman world lay under some terrible curse. All around, despair, conscious need, and unconscious longing. Can greater contrast be imagined, than the proclamation of a coming Kingdom of God amid such a world; or clearer evidence be afforded of the reality of this Divine message, than that it came to seek and to save that which was thus lost? One synchronism, as remarkable as that of the Star in the East and the Birth of the Messiah, here claims the reverent attention of the student of history. On the 19th of December a.d. 69, the Roman Capitol, with its ancient sanctuaries, was set on fire. Eight months later, on the 9th of Ab a.d. 70, the Temple of Jerusalem was given to the flames. It is not a coincidence but a conjunction, for upon the ruins of heathenism and of apostate Judaism was the Church of Christ to be reared.
A silence, even more complete than that concerning the early life of Jesus, rests on the thirty years and more, which intervened between the birth and the open forthshowing5 of John in his character as Forerunner of the Messiah. Only his outward and inward development, and his being 'in the deserts,'6 are briefly indicated.7 The latter, assuredly, not in order to learn from the Essenes,8 but to attain really, in lonely fellowship with God, what they sought externally. It is characteristic that, while Jesus could go straight from the home and workshop of Nazareth to the Baptism of Jordan, His Forerunner required so long and peculiar preparation: characteristic of the difference of their Persons and Mission, characteristic also of the greatness of the work to be inaugurated. St. Luke furnishes precise notices of the time of the Baptist's public appearance - not merely to fix the exact chronology, which would not have required so many details, but for a higher purpose. For, they indicate, more clearly than the most elaborate discussion, the fitness of the moment for the Advent of 'the Kingdom of Heaven.' For the first time since the Babylonish Captivity, the foreigner, the Chief of the hated Roman Empire - according to the Rabbis, the fourth beast of Daniel's vision9 - was absolute and undisputed master of Judæa; and the chief religious office divided between two, equally unworthy of its functions. And it deserves, at least, notice, that of the Rulers mentioned by St. Luke, Pilate entered on his office10 only shortly before the public appearance of John, and that they all continued till after the Crucifixion of Christ. There was thus, so to speak, a continuity of these powers during the whole Messianic period.
5. This seems the full meaning of the word, St. Luke 1:80. Comp. Acts 1:24 (in the A. V. 'shew').
6. The plural indicates that St. John was not always in the same 'wilderness.' The plural form in regard to the 'wilderness which are in the land of Israel,' is common in Rabbinic writings (comp. Baba K. vii. 7 and the Gemaras on the passage). On the fulfillment by the Baptist of Is. 40:3, see the discussion of that passage in Appendix XI.
7. St. Luke 1:80.
8. Godet has, in a few forcible sentences, traced what may be called not merely the difference, but the contrast between the teaching and aims of the Essenes and those of John.
9. Ab.Zar.2 b. 10. Probably about Easter, 26 a.d.
As regards Palestine, the ancient kingdom of Herod was now divided into four parts, Judæa being under the direct administration of Rome, two other tetrarchies under the rule of Herod's sons (Herod Antipas and Philip), while the small principality of Abilene was governed by Lysanias.11 Of the latter no details can be furnished, nor are they necessary in this history. It is otherwise as regards the sons of Herod, and especially the character of the Roman government at that time.
11. Till quite lately, those who impugn the veracity of the Gospels - Strauss, and even Keim - have pointed to this notice of Lysanias as an instance of the unhistorical character of St. Luke's Gospel. But it is now admitted on all hands that the notice of St. Luke is strictly correct; and that, besides the other Lysanias, one of the same name had reigned over Abilene at the time of Christ. Comp. Wieseler, Beitr. pp. 196-204, and Schürer in Riehm's Handwörterb, p. 931.
Herod Antipas, whose rule extended over forty-three years, reigned over Galilee and Peræa - the districts which were respectively the principal sphere of the Ministry of Jesus and of John the Baptist. Like his brother Archelaus, Herod Antipas possessed in an even aggravated form most of the vices, without any of the greater qualities, of his father. Of deeper religious feelings or convictions he was entirely destitute, though his conscience occasionally misgrave, if it did not restrain, him. The inherent weakness of his character left him in the absolute control of his wife, to the final ruin of his fortunes.He was covetous, avaricious, luxurious, and utterly dissipated suspicious, and with a good deal of that fox-cunning which, especially in the East, often forms the sum total of state-craft. Like his father, he indulged a taste for building - always taking care to propitiate Rome by dedicating all to the Emperor. The most extensive of his undertakings was the building, in 22 a.d., of the city of Tiberias, at the upper end of the Lake of Galilee. The site was under the disadvantage of having formerly been a burying-place, which, as implying Levitical uncleanness, for some time deterred pious Jews from settling there. Nevertheless, it rose in great magnificence from among the reeds which had but lately covered the neighbourhood (the ensigns armorial of the city were 'reeds'). Herod Antipas made it his residence, and built there a strong castle and a palace of unrivalled splendour. The city, which was peopled chiefly by adventurers, was mainly Grecian, and adorned with an amphitheatre, of which the ruins can still be traced.
A happier account can be given of Philip, the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He was undoubtedly the best of Herod's sons. He showed, indeed, the same abject submission as the rest of his family to the Roman Emperor, after whom he named the city of Cæsarea Philippi, which he built at the sources of the Jordan; just as he changed the name of Bethsaida, a village of which he made an opulent city, into Julias, after the daughter of Augustus. But he was a moderate and just ruler, and his reign of thirty-seven years contrasted favourably with that of his kinsmen. The land was quiet and prosperous, and the people contented and happy.
As regards the Roman rule, matters had greatly changed for the worse since the mild sway of Augustus, under which, in the language of Philo, no one throughout the Empire dared to molest the Jews.12 The only innovations to which Israel had then to submit were, the daily sacrifices for the Emperor and the Roman people, offerings on festive days, prayers for them in the Synagogues, and such participation in national joy or sorrow as their religion allowed.13
12. Philo, ed. Frcf., Leg. 1015. 13. u. s. 1031, 1041.
It was far other when Tiberius succeeded to the Empire, and Judæa was a province. Merciless harshness characterised the administration of Palestine; while the Emperor himself was bitterly hostile to Judaism and the Jews, and that although, personally, openly careless of all religion.14 Under his reign the persecution of the Roman Jews occurred, and Palestine suffered almost to the verge of endurance. The first Procurator whom Tiberius appointed over Judæa, changed the occupancy of the High-Priesthood four times, till he found in Caiaphas a sufficiently submissive instrument of Roman tyranny. The exactions, and the reckless disregard of all Jewish feelings and interests, might have been characterised as reaching the extreme limit, if worse had not followed when Pontius Pilate succeeded to the procuratorship. Venality, violence, robbery, persecutions, wanton malicious insults, judicial murders without even the formality of a legal process - and cruelty, such are the charges brought against his administration.15 If former governors had, to some extent, respected the religious scruples of the Jews, Pilate set them purposely at defiance; and this not only once, but again and again, in Jerusalem,16 in Galilee,17 and even in Samaria,18 until the Emperor himself interposed.19
14. Suet. Tiber. 69. 15. Philo, u.s. 1034. 16. Jos. Ant. xviii. 3. 1, 2.
17. St. Luke 13:1. 18. Ant. xviii. 4. 1, 2. 19. Philo, Leg. 1033.
Such, then, was the political condition of the land, when John appeared to preach the near Advent of a Kingdom with which Israel associated all that was happy and glorious, even beyond the dreams of the religious enthusiast. And equally loud was the call for help in reference to those who held chief spiritual rule over the people. St. Luke significantly joins together, as the highest religious authority in the land, the names of Annas and Caiaphas.20 The former had been appointed by Quirinius. After holding the Pontificate for nine years, he was deposed, and succeeded by others, of whom the fourth was his son-in-law Caiaphas. The character of the High-Priests during the whole of that period is described in the Talmud21 in terrible language. And although there is no evidence that 'the house of Annas'22 was guilty of the same gross self-indulgence, violence,23 luxury, and even public indecency,24 as some of their successors, they are included in the woes pronounced on the corrupt leaders of the priesthood, whom the Sanctuary is represented as bidding depart from the sacred precincts, which their presence defiled.25 It deserves notice, that the special sin with which the house of Annas is charged is that of 'whispering' - or hissing like vipers - which seems to refer26 to private influence on the judges in their administration of justice, whereby 'morals were corrupted, judgment perverted and the Shekhinah withdrawn from Israel.'27 In illustration of this, we recall the terrorism which prevented Sanhedrists from taking the part of Jesus,28 and especially the violence which seems to have determined the final action of the Sanhedrin,29 against which not only such men as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but even a Gamaliel, would feel themselves powerless. But although the expression 'High-Priest' appears sometimes to have been used in a general sense, as designating the sons of the High-Priests, and even the principal members of their families,30 31 there could, of course, be only one actual High-Priest. The conjunction of the two names of Annas and Caiaphas32 probably indicates that, although Annas was deprived of the Pontificate, he still continued to preside over the Sanhedrin - a conclusion not only borne out by Acts iv. 6, where Annas appears as the actual President, and by the terms in which Caiaphas is spoken of, as merely 'one of them,'33 but by the part which Annas took in the final condemnation of Jesus.34
20. The Procurators were Imperial financial officers, with absolute power of government in smaller territories. The office was generally in the hands of the Roman knights, which chiefly consisted of financial men, bankers, chief publicans, &c. The order of knighthood had sunk to a low state, and the exactions of such a rule, especially in Judea, can better be imagined than described. Comp. on the whole subject, Friedländer, Sittengesch. Rom, vol. i. p. 268 &c.
21. Pes. 57 a.
22. Annas, either Chanan (Nnx), or else Chana or Channa, a common name. Professor Delitzsch has rightly shown that the Hebrew equivalent for Caiaphas is not Keypha ()piyk@') = Peter, but Kayapha ()pafy@afka), or perhaps rather - according to the reading KaifaV - )pafy:qa, Kaipha, , or Kaiphah. The name occurs in the Mishnah as Kayaph [so, and not Kuph, correctly] (Parah iii. 5). Professor Delitzsch does not venture to explain its meaning. Would it be too bold to suggest a derivation from )pq, and the meaning to be: He who is 'at the top?'
23. Jos. Ant. xx. 8. 8. 24. Yoma 35 b. 25. Pes. u.s.
26. If we may take a statement in the Talmud, where the same word occurs, as a commentary.
27. Tos. Set. xiv. 28. St. John 7:50-52. 29. St. John 11:47-50. 30. Jos. Jewish War vi. 2. 2.
31. I do not, however, feel sure that the word 'high-priests' in this passage should be closely pressed. It is just one of those instances in which it would suit Josephus to give such a grandiose title to those who joined the Romans.
32. This only in St. Luke. 33. St. John 11:49. 34. St. John 18:13.
Such a combination of political and religious distress, surely, constituted the time of Israel's utmost need. As yet, no attempt had been made by the people to right themselves by armed force. In these circumstances, the cry that the Kingdom of Heaven was near at hand, and the call to preparation for it, must have awakened echoes throughout the land, and startled the most careless and unbelieving. It was, according to St. Luke's exact statement, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar - reckoning, as provincials would do,35 from his co-regency with Augustus (which commenced two years before his sole reign), in the year 26 a.d.36 According to our former computation, Jesus would then be in His thirtieth year.37 The scene of John's first public appearance was in 'the wilderness of Judæa,' that is, the wild, desolate district around the mouth of the Jordan. We know not whether John baptized in this place,38 nor yet how long he continued there; but we are expressly told, that his stay was not confined to that locality.39 Soon afterwards we find him at Bethabara,40 which is farther up the stream. The outward appearance and the habits of the Messenger corresponded to the character and object of his Mission. Neither his dress nor his food was that of the Essenes;41 and the former, at least, like that of Elijah,42 43 whose mission he was now to 'fulfil.' This was evinced alike by what he preached, and by the new symbolic rite, from which he derived the name of 'Baptist.' The grand burden of his message was: the announcement of the approach of 'the Kingdom of Heaven,' and the needed preparation of his hearers for that Kingdom. The latter he sought, positively, by admonition, and negatively, by warnings, while he directed all to the Coming One, in Whom that Kingdom would become, so to speak, individualised. Thus, from the first, it was 'the good news of the Kingdom,' to which all else in John's preaching was but subsidiary.
35. Wieseler has, I think, satisfactorily established this. Comp. Beitr. pp. 191-194.
36. 779 a.u.c.
37. St. Luke speaks of Christ being 'about thirty years old' at the time of His baptism. If John began His public ministry in the autumn, and some months elapsed before Jesus was baptized, our Lord would have just passed His thirtieth year when He appeared at Bethabara. We have positive evidence that the expression 'about' before a numeral meant either a little more or a little less than that exact number. See Midr. on Ruth i. 4 ed. Warsh. p. 39 b.
38. Here tradition, though evidently falsely, locates the Baptism of Jesus.
39. St. Luke 3:3. 40. St. John 1:28.
41. In reference not only to this point, but in general, I would refer to Bishop Lightfoot's masterly essay on the Essenes in his Appendix to his Commentary on Colossians (especially here, pp. 388, 400). It is a remarkable confirmation of the fact that, if John had been an Essene, his food could not have been 'locusts' that the Gospel of the Ebionites, who, like the Essenes, abstained from animal food, omits the mention of the 'locusts,' of St. Matt. 3:4. (see Mr. Nicholson's 'The Gospel of the Hebrews,' pp. 34, 35). But proof positive is derived from Jer. Nedar. 40 b, where, in case of a vow of abstinence from flesh, fish and locusts are interdicted.
42. 2 Kings 1:3.
43. Our A.V. wrongly translates 'a hairy man,' instead of a man with a hairy (camel's hair) raiment.' This seems afterwards to have become the distinctive dress of the prophets (comp. Zech. 13:4).
Concerning this 'Kingdom of Heaven,' which was the great message of John, and the great work of Christ Himself,44 we may here say, that it is the whole Old Testament sublimated, and the whole New Testament realised. The idea of it did not lie hidden in the Old, to be opened up in the New Testament - as did the mystery of its realisation.45 But this rule of heaven and Kingship of Jehovah was the very substance of the Old Testament; the object of the calling and mission of Israel; the meaning of all its ordinances, whether civil or religious;46 the underlying idea of all its institutions.47 It explained alike the history of the people, the dealings of God with them, and the prospects opened up by the prophets. Without it the Old Testament could not be understood; it gave perpetuity to its teaching, and dignity to its representations. This constituted alike the real contrast between Israel and the nations of antiquity, and Israel's real title to distinction. Thus the whole Old Testament was the preparatory presentation of the rule of heaven and of the Kingship of its Lord.
44. Keim beautifully designates it: Das Lieblingswort Jesu.
45. Rom. 16:25, 26; Eph. 1:9; Col. 1:26, 27.
46. If, indeed, in the preliminary dispensation these two can be well separated.
47. I confess myself utterly unable to understand, how anyone writing a History of the Jewish Church can apparently eliminate from it what even Keim designates as the 'treibenden Gedanken des Alten Testaments' - those of the Kingdom and the King. A Kingdom of God without a King; a Theocracy without the rule of God; a perpetual Davidic Kingdom without a 'Son of David' - these are antinomies (to borrow the term of Kant) of which neither the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigraphic writings, nor Rabbinism were guilty.
But preparatory not only in the sense of typical, but also in that of inchoative. Even the twofold hindrance - internal and external - which 'the Kingdom' encountered, indicated this. The former arose from the resistance of Israel to their King; the latter from the opposition of the surrounding kingdoms of this world. All the more intense became the longing through thousands of years, that these hindrances might be swept away by the Advent of the promised Messiah, Who would permanently establish (by His spirit) the right relationship between the King and His Kingdom, by bringing in an everlasting righteousness, and also cast down existing barriers, by calling the kingdoms of this world to be the Kingdom of our God. This would, indeed, be the Advent of the Kingdom of God, such as had been the glowing hope held out by Zechariah,48 49 the glorious vision beheld by Daniel.50 51 Three ideas especially did this Kingdom of God imply: universality, heavenliness, and permanency. Wide as God's domain would be His Dominion; holy, as heaven in contrast to earth, and God to man, would be his character; and triumphantly lasting its continuance. Such was the teaching of the Old Testament, and the great hope of Israel. It scarcely needs mental compass, only moral and spiritual capacity, to see its matchless grandeur, in contrast with even the highest aspirations of heathenism, and the blanched ideas of modern culture.
49. 'And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and His Name one.'
50. 7:13, 14.
51. 'I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.'
How imperfectly Israel understood this Kingdom, our previous investigations have shown. In truth, the men of that period possessed only the term - as it were, the form. What explained its meaning, filled, and fulfilled it, came once more from heaven. Rabbinism and Alexandrianism kept alive the thought of it; and in their own way filled the soul with its longing - just as the distress in church and State carried the need of it to every heart with the keenness of anguish. As throughout this history, the form was of that time; the substance and the spirit were of Him Whose coming was the Advent of that Kingdom. Perhaps the nearest approach to it lay in the higher aspirations of the Nationalist party, only that it sought their realisation, not spiritually, but outwardly. Taking the sword, it perished by the sword. It was probably to this that both Pilate and Jesus referred in that memorable question: 'Art Thou then a King?' to which our Lord, unfolding the deepest meaning of His mission, replied: 'My Kingdom is not of this world: if My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight.'52
52. St. John 17:33-37.
According to the Rabbinic views of the time, the terms 'Kingdom,' 'Kingdom of heaven,'53 and 'Kingdom of God' (in the Targum on Micah iv. 7 'Kingdom of Jehovah'), were equivalent. In fact, the word 'heaven' was very often used instead of 'God,' so as to avoid unduly familiarising the ear with the Sacred Name.54 This, probably, accounts for the exclusive use of the expression 'Kingdom of Heaven' in the Gospel by St. Matthew.55 And the term did imply a contrast to earth, as the expression 'the Kingdom of God' did to this world. The consciousness of its contrast to earth or the world was distinctly expressed in Rabbinic writings.56
53. Occasionally we find, instead of Malkhuth Shamayim ('Kingdom of Heaven'), Malkhutha direqiya ('Kingdom of the firmament'), as in Ber. 58 a, Shebhu. 35 b. But in the former passage, at least, it seems to apply rather to God's Providential government than to His moral reign.
54. The Talmud (Shebhu. 35 b) analyses the various passages of Scripture in which it is used in a sacred and in the common sense.
55. In St. Matthew the expression occurs thirty-two times; six times that of 'the Kingdom;' five times that of 'Kingdom of God.'
56. As in Shebhu 35 b; Ber. R. 9, ed Warsh, pp. 19 b, 20 a.
This 'Kingdom of Heaven,' or 'of God,' must, however, be distinguished from such terms as 'the Kingdom of the Messiah' (Malkhutha dimeshicha57), 'the future age (world) of the Messiah' (Alma deathey dimeshicha58), 'the days of the Messiah,' 'the age to come' (sœculum futurum, the Athid labho59 - both this and the previous expression60), 'the end of days,'61 and 'the end of the extremity of days' Soph Eqebh Yomaya 62). This is the more important, since the 'Kingdom of Heaven' has so often been confounded with the period of its triumphant manifestation in 'the days,' or in 'the Kingdom, of the Messiah.' Between the Advent and the final manifestation of 'the Kingdom,' Jewish expectancy placed a temporary obscuration of the Messiah.63 Not His first appearance, but His triumphant manifestation, was to be preceded by the so-called 'sorrows of the Messiah' (the Chebhley shel Mashiach), 'the tribulations of the latter days.'64
57. As in the Targum on Ps. xiv. 7, and on Is. liii. 10.
58. As in Targum on 1 Kings iv. 33 (v. 13).
59. The distinction between the Olam habba (the world to come), and the Athid labho (the age to come), is important. It will be more fully referred to by-and-by. In the meantime, suffice it, that the Athid labho is the more specific designation of Messianic times. The two terms are expressly distinguished, for example, in Mechilta (ed. Weiss), p. 74 a, lines 2, 3.
60. For example, in Ber. R. 88, ed. Warsh. p. 157 a.
61. Targ. PseudoJon. on Ex. xl. 9, 11.
62. Jer. Targ. on Gen. iii. 15; Jer. and PseudoJon. Targ on Numb. xxiv. 14.
63. This will be more fully explained and shown in the sequel. For the present we refer only to Yalkut, vol. ii. p. 75 d, and the Midr. on Ruth ii. 14.
64. The whole subject is fully treated in Book V. ch. 6.
A review of many passages on the subject shows that, in the Jewish mind the expression 'Kingdom of Heaven' referred, not so much to any particular period, as in general to the Rule of God - as acknowledged, manifested, and eventually perfected. Very often it is the equivalent for personal acknowledgment of God: the taking upon oneself of the 'yoke' of 'the Kingdom,' or of the commandments - the former preceding and conditioning the latter.65 Accordingly, the Mishnah66 gives this as the reason why, in the collection of Scripture passages which forms the prayer called 'Shema,'67 the confession, Deut. 6:4 &c., precedes the admonition, Deut. 11:13 &c., because a man takes upon himself first the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and afterwards that of the commandments. And in this sense, the repetition of this Shema, as the personal acknowledgment of the Rule of Jehovah, is itself often designated as 'taking upon oneself the Kingdom of Heaven.'68 Similarly, the putting on of phylacteries, and the washing of hands, are also described as taking upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of God.69 To give other instances: Israel is said to have taken up the yoke of the Kingdom of God at Mount Sinai;70 the children of Jacob at their last interview with their father;71 and Isaiah on his call to the prophetic office,72 where it is also noted that this must be done willingly and gladly. On the other hand, the sons of Eli and the sons of Ahab are said to have cast off the Kingdom of Heaven.73 While thus the acknowledgment of the Rule of God, both in profession and practice, was considered to constitute the Kingdom of God, its full manifestation was expected only in the time of the Advent of Messiah. Thus in the Targum on Isaiah xl. 9, the words 'Behold your God!' are paraphrased: 'The Kingdom of your God is revealed.' Similarly,74 we read: 'When the time approaches that the Kingdom of Heaven shall be manifested, then shall be fulfilled that "the Lord shall be King over all the earth."'75 76 On the other hand, the unbelief of Israel would appear in that they would reject these three things: the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of the House of David, and the building of the Temple, according to the prediction in Hos. iii. 5.77 It follows that, after the period of unbelief, the Messianic deliverances and blessings of the 'Athid Labho,' or future age, were expected. But the final completion of all still remained for the 'Olam Habba,' or world to come. And that there is a distinction between the time of the Messiah and this 'world to come' is frequently indicated in Rabbinic writings.78
65. So expressly in Mechilta, p. 75 a; Yalkut, vol. ii. p. 14 a, last line. 66. Ber. ii. 2.
67. The Shema, which was repeated twice every day, was regarded as distinctive of Jewish profession (Ber. iii. 3).
68. For example, Ber. 13 b, 14 b; Ber. ii. 5; and the touching story of Rabbi Akiba thus taking upon himself the yoke of the Law in the hour of his martyrdom, Ber. 61 b.
69. In Ber. 14 b, last line, and 15 a, first line, there is a shocking definition of what constitutes the Kingdom of Heaven in its completeness. For the sake of those who would derive Christianity from Rabbinism. I would have quoted it, but am restrained by its profanity.
70. So often Comp. Siphré p. 142 b, 143 b. 71. Ber. R. 98.
72. Yalkut, vol. ii. p. 43 a.
73. Midr. on 1 Sam. viii 12; Midr. on Eccl. i. 18. 74. In Yalkut ii. p. 178 a.
75. Zech. 14:9.
76. The same passage is similarly referred to in the Midr. on Song. ii. 12, where the words 'the time of the singing has come,' are paraphrased; 'the time of the Kingdom of Heaven that it shall be manifested, hath come' (in R. Martini Pugio Fidei, p. 782).
77. Midr. on 1 Sam. viii. 7. Comp. also generally Midr. on Ps. cxlvii. 1.
78. As in Shabb. 63 a, where at least three differences between them are mentioned. For, while all prophecy pointed to the days of the Messiah, concerning the world to come we are told (Is. 64:4) that 'eye hath not seen, &c.'; in the days of the Messiah weapons would be borne, but not in the world to come; and while Is. 24:21 applied to the days of the Messiah, the seemingly contradictory passage, Is. 30:26, referred to the world to come. In Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exod. xvii. 16, we read of three generations: that of this world, that of the Messiah, and that of the world to come (Aram: Alma deathey=olam habba). Comp. Ar. 13 b, and Midr. on Ps. lxxxi. 2 (3 in A.V.), ed. Warsh. p. 63 a, where the harp of the Sanctuary is described as of seven strings (according to Ps. 119:164); in the days of the Messiah as of eight strings (according to the inscription of Ps. 12); and in the world to come (here Athid labho) as of ten strings (according to Ps. 92:3). The references of Gfrörer (Jahrh. d. Heils, vol. ii. p. 213) contain, as not unfrequently, mistakes. I may here say that Rhenferdius carries the argument about the Olam habba, as distinguished from the days of the Messiah, beyond what I believe to be established. See his Dissertation in Meuschen, Nov. Test. pp. 1116 &c.
As we pass from the Jewish ideas of the time to the teaching of the New Testament, we feel that while there is complete change of spirit, the form in which the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven is presented is substantially similar. Accordingly, we must dismiss the notion that the expression refers to the Church, whether visible (according to the Roman Catholic view) or invisible (according to certain Protestant writers).79 'The Kingdom of God,' or Kingly Rule of God, is an objective fact. The visible Church can only be the subjective attempt at its outward realisation, of which the invisible Church is the true counterpart. When Christ says,80 that 'except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,' He teaches, in opposition to the Rabbinic representation of how 'the Kingdom' was taken up, that a man cannot even comprehend that glorious idea of the Reign of God, and of becoming, by conscious self-surrender, one of His subjects, except he be first born from above. Similarly, the meaning of Christ's further teaching on this subject81 seems to be that, except a man be born of water (profession, with baptism82 as its symbol) and the Spirit, he cannot really enter into the fellowship of that Kingdom.
79. It is difficult to conceive, how the idea of the identity of the Kingdom of God with the Church could have originated. Such parables as those about the Sower, and about the Net (St. Matt. 13:3-9; 47, 48), and such admonitions as those of Christ to His disciples in St. Matt. 19:12; 6:33; and 6:10, are utterly inconsistent with it.
80. St. John 3:3. 81. in ver. 5.
82. The passage which seems to me most fully to explain the import of baptism, in its subjective bearing, is 1 Peter, 3:21, which I would thus render: 'which (water) also, as the antitype, now saves you, even baptism; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the inquiry (the searching, perhaps the entreaty), for a good conscience towards God, through the resurrection of Christ.' It is in this sense that baptism is designated in Tit. 3:5, as the 'washing,' or 'bath of regeneration,' the baptized person stepping out of the waters of baptism with this openly spoken new search after a good conscience towards God; and in this sense also that baptism - not the act of baptizing, nor yet that of being baptized - saves us, but this through the Resurrection of Christ. And this leads us up to the objective aspect of baptism. This consists in the promise and the gift on the part of the Risen Saviour, Who, by and with His Holy Spirit, is ever present with his Church. These remarks leave, of course, aside the question of Infant-Baptism, which rests on another and, in my view most solid basis.
In fact, an analysis of 119 passages in the New Testament where the expression 'Kingdom' occurs, shows that it means the rule of God;83 which was manifested in and through Christ;84 is apparent in 'the Church;'85 gradually develops amidst hindrances;86 is triumphant at the second coming of Christ87 ('the end'); and, finally, perfected in the world to come.88 Thus viewed, the announcement of John of the near Advent of this Kingdom had deepest meaning, although, as so often in the case of prophetism, the stages intervening between the Advent of the Christ and the triumph of that Kingdom seem to have been hidden from the preacher. He came to call Israel to submit to the Reign of God, about to be manifested in Christ. Hence, on the one hand, he called them to repentance - a 'change of mind' - with all that this implied; and, on the other, pointed them to the Christ, in the exaltation of His Person and Office. Or rather, the two combined might be summed up in the call: 'Change your mind', repent, which implies, not only a turning from the past, but a turning to the Christ in newness of mind.89 And thus the symbolic action by which this preaching was accompanied might be designated 'the baptism of repentance.'
83. In this view the expression occurs thirty-four times, viz: St. Matt. 6:33; 12:28; 13:38; 19:24; 21:31; St. Mark 1:14; 10:15, 23, 24, 25; 12:34; St. Luke 1:33; 4:43; 9:11; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 12:31; 17:20, 21; 18:17, 24, 25, 29; St. John 3:3; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 20:25; 28:31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:9.
84. As in the following seventeen passages, viz.: St. Matt. 3:2; 4:17, 23; 5:3, 10; 9:35; 10:7; St. Mark 1:15; 11:10; St. Luke 8:1; 9:2; 16:16; 19:12, 15; Acts 1:3; 28:23; Rev. 1:9.
85. As in the following eleven passages: St. Matt. 11:11; 13:41; 16:19; 18:1; 21:43; 23:13; St. Luke 7:28; St. John 3:5; Acts 1:3; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9.
86. As in the following twenty-four passages: St. Matt. 11:12; 13:11, 19, 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52; 18:23; 20:1; 22:2; 25:1, 14; St. Mark 4:11, 26, 30; St. Luke 8:10; 9:62; 13:18, 20; Acts 1:3; Rev. 1:9.
87. As in the following twelve passages: St. Mark 16:28; St. Mark 9:1; 15:43; St. Luke 9:27; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; Acts 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:9.
88. As in the following thirty-one passages: St. Matt. 5:19, 20; 7:21; 8:11; 13:43; 18:3; 25:34; 26:29; St. Mark 9:47; 10:14; 14:25; St. Luke 6:20; 12:32; 13:28, 29; 14:15; 18:16; 22:29; Acts 1:3; 14:22; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; 15:24, 50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; 2 Thess. 1:5; St. James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev. 1:9; 12:10.
89. The term 'repentance' includes faith in Christ, as in St. Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31.
The account given by St. Luke bears, on the face of it, that it was a summary, not only of the first, but of all John's preaching.90 The very presence of his hearers at this call to, and baptism of, repentance, gave point to his words. Did they who, notwithstanding their sins,91 lived in such security of carelessness and self-righteousness, really understand and fear the final consequences of resistance to the coming 'Kingdom'? If so, theirs must be a repentance not only in profession, but of heart and mind, such as would yield fruit, both good and visible. Or else did they imagine that, according to the common notion of the time, the vials of wrath were to be poured out only on the Gentiles,92 while they, as Abraham's children, were sure of escape - in the words of the Talmud, that 'the night' (Is. xxi. 12) was 'only to the nations of the world, but the morning to Israel?'93
91. I cannot, with Schöttgen and others, regard the expression 'generation of vipers' as an allusion to the filthy legend about the children of Eve and the serpent, but believe that it refers to such passages as Ps. 58:4.
92. In proof that such was the common view, I shall here refer to only a few passages, and these exclusively from the Targumum: Jer. Targ. on Gen. xlix. 11; Targ. on Is. xi. 4; Targ. on Amos ix. 11; Targ. on Nah. i. 6; on Zech. x. 3, 4. See also Ab. Z. 2 b, Yalkut i. p. 64 a; also 56 b (where it is shown how plagues exactly corresponding to those of Egypt were to come upon Rome).
93. Jer. Taan. 64 a.
For, no principle was more fully established in the popular conviction, than that all Israel had part in the world to come (Sanh. x. 1), and this, specifically, because of their connection with Abraham. This appears not only from the New Testament,94 from Philo, and Josephus, but from many Rabbinic passages. 'The merits of the Fathers,' is one of the commonest phrases in the mouth of the Rabbis.95 Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, to deliver any Israelite96 who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors.97 In fact, by their descent from Abraham, all the children of Israel were nobles,98 infinitely higher than any proselytes. 'What,' exclaims the Talmud, 'shall the born Israelite stand upon the earth, and the proselyte be in heaven?'99 In fact, the ships on the sea were preserved through the merit of Abraham; the rain descended on account of it.100 For his sake alone had Moses been allowed to ascend into heaven, and to receive the Law; for his sake the sin of the golden calf had been forgiven;101 his righteousness had on many occasions been the support of Israel's cause;102 Daniel had been heard for the sake of Abraham;103 nay, his merit availed even for the wicked.104 105 In its extravagance the Midrash thus apostrophises Abraham: 'If thy children were even (morally) dead bodies, without blood vessels or bones, thy merit would avail for them!'106
94. St. John 8:33, 39, 53.
95. 'Everything comes to Israel on account of the merits of the fathers' (Siphré on Deut. p. 108 b). In the same category we place the extraordinary attempts to show that the sins of Biblical personages were not sins at all, as in Shabb. 55 b, and the idea of Israel's merits as works of supererogation (as in Baba B. 10 a).
96. I will not mention the profane device by which apostate and wicked Jews are at that time to be converted into non-Jews.
97. Ber. R. 48; comp. Midr. on Ps. vi. 1; Pirké d. R. Elies. c. 29; Shem. R. 19 Yalkut i. p. 23 b.
98. Baba Mez. vii. 1; Baba K. 91 a. 99. Jer. Chag. 76 a. 100. Ber. R. 39. 101. Shem R. 44.
102. Vayyikra R. 36. 103. Ber. 7 b. 104. Shabb. 55 a; comp Beer, Leben Abr. p. 88.
105. Professor Wünsche quotes an inapt passage from Shabb. 89 b, but ignores, or is ignorant of the evidence above given.
106. Ber. R. ed. Warsh. p. 80 b, par. 44.
But if such had been the inner thoughts of his bearers, John warned them, that God was able of those stones that strewed the river-bank to raise up children unto Abraham;107 108 or, reverting to his former illustration of 'fruits meet for repentance,' that the proclamation of the Kingdom was, at the same time, the laying of the axe to the root of every tree that bore not fruit. Then making application of it, in answer to the specific inquiry of various classes, the preacher gave them such practical advice as applied to the well-known sins of their past;109 yet in this also not going beyond the merely negative, or preparatory element of 'repentance.' The positive, and all-important aspect of it, was to be presented by the Christ. It was only natural that the hearers wondered whether John himself was the Christ, since he thus urged repentance. For this was so closely connected in their thoughts with the Advent of the Messiah, that it was said, 'If Israel repented but one day, the Son of David would immediately come.'110 But here John pointed them to the difference between himself and his work, and the Person and Mission of the Christ. In deepest reverence he declared himself not worthy to do Him the service of a slave or of a disciple.111 His Baptism would not be of preparatory repentance and with water, but the Divine Baptism in112 the Holy Spirit and fire113 - in the Spirit Who sanctified, and the Divine Light which purified,114 and so effectively qualified for the 'Kingdom.' And there was still another contrast. John's was but preparing work, the Christ's that of final decision; after it came the harvest. His was the harvest, and His the garner; His also the fan, with which He would sift the wheat from the straw and chaff - the one to be garnered, the other burned with fire unextinguished and inextinguishable.115 Thus early in the history of the Kingdom of God was it indicated, that alike that which would prove useless straw and the good corn were inseparably connected in God's harvest-field till the reaping time; that both belonged to Him; and that the final separation would only come at the last, and by His own Hand.
107. Perhaps with reference to Is. 2:1, 2.
108. Lightfoot aptly points out a play on the words 'children' - banim - and 'stones' - abhanim. Both words are derived from bana, to build, which is also used by the Rabbis in a moral sense like our own 'upbuilding,' and in that of the gift of adoption of children. It is not necessary, indeed almost detracts from the general impression, to see in the stones an allusion to the Gentiles.
109. Thus the view that charity delivered from Gehenna was very commonly entertained (see, for example, Baba B. 10 a). Similarly, it was the main charge against the publicans that they exacted more than their due (see, for example, Baba K. 113 a). The Greek oywnion, or wage of the soldiers, has its Rabbinic equivalent of Afsanya (a similar word also in the Syriac).
110. For ex. Jer. Taan. 64 a.
111. Volkmar is mistaken in regarding this as the duty of the house-porter towards arriving guests. It is expressly mentioned as one of the characteristic duties of slaves in Pes. 4 a; Jer Kidd. i. 3; Kidd. 22 b. In Kethub. 96 a it is described as also the duty of a disciple towards his teacher. In Mechilta on Ex. xxi. 2 (ed. Weiss, p. 82 a) it is qualified as only lawful for a teacher so to employ his disciple, while, lastly, in Pesiqta x. it is described as the common practice.
112. Godet aptly calls attention to the use of the preposition in here, while as regards the baptism of water no preposition is used, as denoting merely an instrumentality.
113. The same writer points out that the want of the preposition before 'fire' shows that it cannot refer to the fire of judgment, but must be a further enlargement of the word 'Spirit.' Probably it denotes the negative or purgative effect of this baptism, as the word 'holy' indicates its positive and sanctifying effect.
114. The expression 'baptism of fire' was certainly not unknown to the Jews. In Sanh. 39 a (last lines) we read of an immersion of God in fire, based on Is. 66:15. An immersion or baptism of fire is proved from Numb. 31:23. More apt, perhaps, as illustration is the statement, Jer. Sot. 22 d, that the Torah (the Law) its parchment was white fire, the writing black fire, itself fire mixed with fire, hewn out of fire, and given by fire, according to Deut. 33:2.
115. This is the meaning of asbestoV. The word occurs only in St. Matt. 3:12; St. Luke 3:17; St. Mark 9:43, 45 (?), but frequently in the classics. The question of 'eternal punishment' will be discussed in another place. The simile of the fan and the garner is derived from the Eastern practice of threshing out the corn in the open by means of oxen, after which, what of the straw had been trampled under foot (not merely the chaff, as in the A.V.) was burned. This use of the straw for fire is referred to in the Mishnah, as in Shabb. iii. 1; Par. iv. 3. But in that case the Hebrew equivalent for it is #qa (Qash) - as in the above passages, and not Tebhen (Meyer), nor even as Professor Delitzsch renders it in his Hebrew N.T.: Mots. The three terms are, however, combined in a curiously illustrative parable (Ber. R. 83), referring to the destruction of Rome and the preservation of Israel, when the grain refers the straw, stubble, and chaff, in their dispute for whose sake the field existed, to the time when the owner would gather the corn into his barn, but burn the straw, stubble, and chaff.
What John preached, that he also symbolised by a rite which, though not in itself, yet in its application, was wholly new. Hitherto the Law had it, that those who had contracted Levitical defilement were to immerse before offering sacrifice. Again, it was prescribed that such Gentiles as became 'proselytes of righteousness,' or 'proselytes of the Covenant' (Gerey hatstsedeq or Gerey habberith), were to be admitted to full participation in the privileges of Israel by the threefold rites of circumcision, baptism,116 and sacrifice - the immersion being, as it were, the acknowledgment and symbolic removal of moral defilement, corresponding to that of Levitical uncleanness. But never before had it been proposed that Israel should undergo a 'baptism of repentance,' although there are indications of a deeper insight into the meaning of Levitical baptisms.117 Was it intended, that the hearers of John should give this as evidence of their repentance, that, like persons defiled, they sought purification, and, like strangers, they sought admission among the people who took on themselves the Rule of God? These two ideas would, indeed, have made it truly a 'baptism of repentance.' But it seems difficult to suppose, that the people would have been prepared for such admissions; or, at least, that there should have been no record of the mode in which a change so deeply spiritual was brought about. May it not rather have been that as, when the first Covenant was made, Moses was directed to prepare Israel by symbolic baptism of their persons118 and their garments,119 so the initiation of the new Covenant, by which the people were to enter into the Kingdom of God, was preceded by another general symbolic baptism of those who would be the true Israel, and receive, or take on themselves, the Law from God?120 In that case the rite would have acquired not only a new significance, but be deeply and truly the answer to John's call. In such case also, no special explanation would have been needed on the part of the Baptist, nor yet such spiritual insight on that of the people as we can scarcely suppose them to have possessed at that stage. Lastly, in that case nothing could have been more suitable, nor more solemn, than Israel in waiting for the Messiah and the Rule of God, preparing as their fathers had done at the foot of Mount Sinai.121
116. For a full discussion of the question of the baptism of proselytes, see Appendix XII.
117. The following very significant passage may here be quoted: 'A man who is guilty of sin, and makes confession, and does not turn from it, to whom is he like? To a man who has in his hand a defiling reptile, who, even if he immerses in all the waters of the world, his baptism avails him nothing; but let him cast it from his hand, and if he immerses in only forty seah of water, immediately his baptism avails him.' On the same page of the Talmud there are some very apt and beautiful remarks on the subject of repentance (Taan. 16 a, towards the end).
118. Comp. Gen. 35:2 119. Ex. 19:10, 14.
120. It is remarkable, that Maimonides traces even the practice of baptizing proselytes to Ex. 19:10, 14 (Hilc Issurey Biah xiii. 3; Yad haCh. vol. ii. p. 142 b). He also gives reasons for the 'baptism' of Israel before entering into covenant with God. In Kerith, 9 a 'the baptism' of Israel is proved from Ex. 24:5, since every sprinkling of blood was supposed to be preceded by immersion. In Siphré on Numb. (ed. Weiss, p. 30 b) we are also distinctly told of 'baptism' as one of the three things by which Israel was admitted into the Covenant.
121. This may help us, even at this stage, to understand why our Lord, in the fulfillment of all righteousness, submitted to baptism. It seems also to explain why, after the coming of Christ, the baptism of John was alike unavailing and even meaningless (Acts 19:3-5). Lastly, it also shows how he that is least in the Kingdom of God is really greater than John himself (St. Luke 7:28).
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