It is a point of deep interest to know how far the Lord in His own teachings confirmed or corrected the prevalent Messianic beliefs. A part of these were already verified in His person; for He was of the house of David, and born in Bethlehem, and was recognized by the people as a prophet, and a worker of miracles. He had been preceded by one sent of God to prepare His way. He was, also, in a sense in which they knew it not, the Son of God. But how far did He in His teachings confirm the general beliefs respecting the Messianic Kingdom, and His own functions as the Messiah?
These teachings may be best arranged under distinct heads.
(a) That there was to be such a kingdom, He taught by His preaching " the gospel of the kingdom," and announcing that it was "at hand." "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark i. 15.)
(b) It was His kingdom, the Messianic Kingdom, that of the Son as distinguished from the Theocracy, or kingdom of the Father. "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom." (Luke xxii. 29, 30.) "My kingdom is not of this world. . . . Now is my kingdom not from hence." (John xviii. 36.) But although His kingdom became administered by Him, yet was it the kingdom of God, He ruling in it with delegated authority. "All power " — authority — " is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt, xxviii. 18.) He speaks of it as both His kingdom and that of the Father. (Matt. xiii. 41-43.)
(c) This kingdom was future, and not to be set up till the Lord should return from heaven. "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory." (Matt. xxv. 31.) He must depart, and go to the Father, and be invested with authority, and at His return He would establish His kingdom. "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. . . . And it came to pass that when he was returned, having received the kingdom." (Luke xix. 12. See Matt. xvi. 27.)
(d) He identifies His kingdom with "the world to come." His coming should be at the end of "this world," or age, and at the beginning of the new. During His absence, the tares and wheat were to grow together; the harvest would be at the end of the world. "The harvest is the end of the world. ... As the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this world." (Matt. xiii. 39.) The same is taught also in the parable of the net. (Verse 49.) Hence His disciples asked Him, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. xxiv. 3.)
(e) During the whole period of His absence, there should be troubles and trials for His people. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. . . . Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. . . . The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. . . . They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." (John xv. 18.) So, also, there would be disturbances in society, and convulsions in nature, wars and rumors of wars, and famines and pestilences and earthquakes. "All these are the beginning of sorrows," — of the "birththroes" of the Messianic Kingdom.
(/) Immediately before His coming should be a time of "great tribulation," marked by many physical signs in the sun, moon, and stars; "the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." (Matt. xxiv. 29.) Then shall be great distress and perplexity among the nations, and the Jews be sorely oppressed by their enemies, and tempted by false prophets and false Christs, and many shall be led away and perish. (Luke xxi. 24.) At this time should Elias be sent to prepare a people for the Lord. (Matt. xvii. 11.) "And the Son of man shall be seen coming in a cloud with power and great glory," to deliver His people, and to punish their enemies.
(jg) At His coming He will enter upon His functions as the Judge, and will separate between the good and the evil, the tares and the wheat. "The Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works." (Matt. xiii. 41, 42; xvi. 27.) He will judge the nations according as they have treated His people. "Before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." (Matt. xxv. 32.) Those who have rejected His rule will be destroyed. "Those mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Luke xix. 27.) The unfaithful of the covenant people will be cast out. "The children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." (Matt. viii. 12.)
(K) In His kingdom the believing Gentiles will have part. "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. viii. 11.)
(t) Then will be the resurrection of the holy dead, or of the just. "This is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John vi. 40.) This resurrection is at the end of this age, and those raised from the dead enter into the blessings of the world to come. "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, . . . are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." (Luke xx. 35.) This resurrection is partial, and embraces only those "accounted worthy" of such honor.
(7) After the resurrection follow the holiness and blessedness of the Messianic Kingdom. Then all the wicked are cast out, and only the righteous are left. "The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. . . . Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Then these glorified saints, especially the apostles, will be helpers of the Messiah in the administration of His kingdom. "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration," — restoration, when all things are to be delivered from their present bondage of corruption,— "when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. xix. 28, xx. 23.) To the servants faithful during His absence, on His return and possession of the kingdom, He gives rewards; one to rule over ten, and another over five cities. (Luke xix. 15.) "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me." (Luke xxii. 29, 30.)
Thus, in all these points, — the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, its administration under one of the house of David, the coming of a forerunner, the judgments attending its introduction, the separation of the holy and unholy among the covenant people, the judgment of the nations and the rule of the Messiah over them, the resurrection of the pious dead, and the bringing in of a new age, "the world to come," — the Lord confirmed the general beliefs.
But although the Lord confirmed in these important points the current Jewish Messianic beliefs, He also in other points corrected them. There was, as we have seen, much doubt as to the official relations of the Messiah to Jehovah, and as to the work to be done by each at the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, some affirming that the Messiah's part was of very little importance. The Lord early takes occasion to declare that it was given to Himself to do all that the Father would do. The Messiah — the Son — was Jehovah's instrument to work the whole work of redemption. (John v. 19, etc.) "What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." But He does all in virtue of authority derived from God. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do." The Lord illustrates this fullness of power given Him in two particulars, both of highest moment — resurrection and judgment — in regard to which the Jews were much perplexed whether to be done by Jehovah or the Messiah: "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." And this authority to raise the dead and to execute judgment was without limitation: "All judgment" was committed unto Him. Not only would He raise the righteous dead, but the wicked also of all generations: "All that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth." Thus the Lord corrected the unworthy notions of the office of the Messiah then prevalent, as if His place and work were of little importance; and taught them that He was to be honored even as Jehovah is honored. (Verse 23.) Nor does He anywhere give any intimation that His kingdom was to be limited in duration.
Another point was His relation to the law. Would He be subject to it and obey it, or would He change and annul it? His words were explicit: "Think not I am come to destroy the law. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." (Matt. v. 17.) Yet He asserts His authority to set aside all traditions that made it vain or violated its spirit. He said on one occasion, "The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath." (Mark ii. 28.) He claimed, also, the authority to forgive sins, which the scribes thought to be the prerogative of God alone, and accounted blasphemy. (Mark ii. 5.) The observance of the law could not bring them to God: "No man cometh to the Father but by me." "I am the Way and the Truth."
But the Lord opened to them a wholly new field of Messianic truth when He taught them of the mystery of His Person, and of the prerogative given Him to be the source of the new and eternal life: "For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." To be the last Adam, and to give His life to men,—a new and higher form of life, — was His high dignity. Therefore He said of Himself, "I am the Life. He that believeth on me hath eternal life." And the Author of this life must Himself nourish it. "I am the Bread of Life." "The Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." "I am the Resurrection and the Life." "He that believeth on me hath eternal life." "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
Thus the Lord confirmed the Jewish beliefs respecting the Messiah and His work in some chief particulars, corrected them in others, and brought forth some distinctively new. Through the revelation of His Divine personality as the Incarnate Son, the whole Messianic conception was so enlarged and exalted that the most majestic predictions of the prophets fall far short of the realit}r of the glory of His Kingdom.
It will be observed that the Lord says little respecting the national restoration of the covenant people, and the re-union of the tribes, so often and emphatically declared by the prophets. But His words respecting the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and its treading down, and the captivity of the people until "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled," imply clearly that when they are fulfilled, it will be rebuilt and they regathered. And if His words respecting the rule of the apostles over the twelve tribes are to be taken in their literal sense, as is most probable, they are a confirmation of the prophetic promises. (Matt. xix. 28; Luke xxi. 20-28, xxii. 28.) But this comparative silence is easily explained from the relation in which He stood to them during His ministry among them. He came as their Messiah, and they were put on trial whether they would receive Him or reject Him. If they rejected Him, a new stage of Divine judgment must come upon them; a new destruction of their city and temple, and a new dispersion. It was not till they had clearly manifested their hatred to Him, and near the end of His ministry, that the Lord declared to them their impending overthrow, and that "their house should be left unto them desolate." But this desolation was not to be forever. The time would come when, brought to repentance, they should say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." In foresight of their continued disobedience, and fresh punishment, He was about to found the Church,—a new Election gathered from both Jews and Gentiles, — and this should be His instrument during His absence of proclaiming and ministering the truth and grace of God to the world. As a nation they had rejected Him, and the punishment about to come upon them was national. What should be the future of the nation when it should repent, what further purpose of God was to be fulfilled by it, was fully declared in the Old-Testament prophets. Respecting this the Lord was silent, for there was no need that He should speak.
To explain the special position of His Church yet to be gathered, and its relation to the Jewish nation, and their respective places in His kingdom, was not a part of the Lord's teaching. When the Church had been established by the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, then the Jews that believed could understand, what they could not have understood before, that the purpose of God embraced another election taken from all nations; and that in it larger grace would be ministered to those believing than could be given under the institutions of Moses. To gather this election, to educate it, and prepare it for its high calling, was God's present work, — a work to be continued during the Messiah's absence. And this accomplished, — the fullness of the Gentiles being brought in, — then would "come the Deliverer out of Sion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob." It was by the actings of God in their punishment and in the Christian election, that the Jews must come to the right apprehension of His purpose.