The New International Encyclopædia/Jesus Christ

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The New International Encyclopædia
Jesus Christ
Edition of 1905. Written by Melanchthon W. JacobusSee also Jesus on Wikipedia, Wikisource's Christianity portal, and the disclaimer.

JESUS CHRIST. The founder of the Christian religion, whose life and teachings are given in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

In order to appreciate the work of Jesus, it is necessary to understand the political and religious condition of the Jewish people, to whom He belonged and among whom His work was carried out. Politically. — The Jews were subjects of the Roman Emperor, the dominion of the Romans having been established by Pompey in B.C. 63. After that time various adjustments of Palestine's relations within the Empire took place, and when Jesus began His public ministry the government of the country was divided as follows: Galilee, with the land to the north, east, and southeast of the Sea of Galilee, was under the rule of Philip and Antipas, sons of Herod the Great, who, as rex socius, had had the entire land as his kingdom. Philip's territory' was the land north and east of the Sea of Galilee (Iturea and Trachonitis); the territory of Antipas was Galilee itself and the land southeast of the Sea of Galilee (Perea). Both regions were ruled as tetrarchies. On the other hand, Judea, Samaria, and the land of Idumea, south of Judea, were more distinctly provinces under the rule of a Roman procurator (Pontius Pilate), who to a certain degree was subordinate to the Governor of the Province of Syria. This continued to be the political situation throughout the ministry of Jesus. (See Herod.) Religiously. — The Jews had returned from their exile with a new hold upon the monotheism of their religion and a new devotion to Jehovah's law. This spirit had been strengthened by the persecutions which they had undergone under the rule of the Seleueidæ and the revolt by which, under the Maccabees, they had broken from that rule, producing at the time of Jesus' ministry an exaggerated conception of the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law, in the interpretation of which had arisen a body of legal requirements that added greatly to the burden of the law and to the power of those who administered it. See Maccabees; Jews.

It was a characteristic of Jewish life, however, to combine religion and politics. As a result there arose in the nation during the time of the Maccabean revolt, when the religious and political elements in the people's life were brought to accentuation, two great parties, whose significant influence increased as with the religious elements in the national life were mingled with increasing energy the political. These parties were the Pharisees and the Sadducees (qq.v.). The Pharisees (literally Separatists or Purists) were the party of religion. The characteristic of their creed was the scrupulous observance of the law. They represented the religious idea dominant among the people since the return from Babylon, while in their devotion to the conception of the theocracy and their expectation of a Messiah who should restore it to its independency they expressed what in general were the people's political views. They were, in brief, the popular party. The Sadducees (a name derived from Zadok, the priest whom Solomon put in the place of Abiathar, I. Kings ii. 35) were the party of the priesthood. They represented the priestly nobility, and their object was the retention of priestly power in the State. They were largely indifferent to religion as such, giving their thought rather to politics, in which their aim was to keep in favor with the ruling power.

In addition to these were two minor parties, which more or less added to the politico-religious confusion of the times. Of these the political was the party of the Herodians, the religious the party of the Zealots (qq.v.). The Herodians arose with the introduction into Jewish politics of the family whose name they bore, and were committed to the political interests of that family in its effort to establish a rule in Palestine, the spirit of which would be a union of Judaism and Hellenism. With them the religious element was minimized, if it was present at all, though they did not hesitate to combine with the religious parties when their aims could thus be furthered. The Zealots arose with the recession of the Pharisees from active interest in national affairs. Their principles were those of the Pharisees, only they were ready, as the Pharisees were not, to carry these principles into action to any extent. In this party consequently the religious element resulted in a fanaticism which made them the most dangerous factor in the troublous conditions of the times.

Separate from all these parties stood the Essenes (q.v.), who were unique in their absolute removal from all politics and their complete dissociation from the public worship of the temple. They were characterized by the strictness of their community life, their strenuous regard for ceremonial purity, their unselfish practice of the community of goods, and their uprightness of life. Their organization was confined to Palestine, and their main roots were laid in Pharisaic Judaism. Yet they were subject to foreign influences, Oriental rather than Greek, which contributed largely to their isolation among the parties of the land. In fact, they were a sect rather than a party, and as a sect emphasized the idea of an exclusive brotherhood.

Of these parties and sects the people were most influenced by the Pharisees, who best expressed popular ideas, and with whom the people came most vitally in contact, especially through the authoritative channels of the temple, the synagogues, and the schools. In fact, the control of the last two institutions was almost wholly in the hands of the Scribes, who were the expounders and the administrators of the law, and who almost exclusively belonged to the Pharisaic party; while in the temple itself their influence and authority was an increasingly important factor. This popular influence of the Pharisees was naturally most felt in Judea and Jerusalem, where the observance of the national religion was concentrated, and where the religious rulers had their home; but there and elsewhere there were those among the people who, while reverencing the Scribes and following the general line of their directions, still held to a direct fellowship with God in worship and life.

From this survey it is clear that Jesus, while finding a special receptivity among these devout ones of the people, as a religious teacher and worker among the Jews, must have come more or less into contact with the sects and parties of the land; that this contact, in proportion as Jesus' position involved opposition to national ideas and customs, must have been one of conflict; and that this conflict, in proportion as the parties combined politics with their religion, must have been one of menace to His work and to His life.

As given in the Gospel history, Jesus' life and work most naturally divides itself into two prominent periods — the Galilean period, which was largely one of construction, centring upon the gathering around Himself of a body of disciples, and the Judean period, which was largely one of instruction, having as its object both the preparation of His disciples for the closing events of His life, and the presentation to the Jews of His Messianic claims. Between these two main periods lay the short period covered by His withdrawal into the regions of northern Galilee; while preceding them was the preliminary period of His younger years, leading up to His formal induction into His work and His early ministry in Judea; and following them was the culminating period of His life, issuing in His betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

A. The Preliminary Period. (a) The Period of the Early Life. — Jesus was born in the seventh year before the Christian Era, toward the close of the reign of Herod the Great. (See Nativity in the article Gospel; New Testament Chronology.) His mother was Mary, a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth. The circumstances preceding and attending the Child's birth were of such supernatural character as to mark it as miraculous. It occurred in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea, where Joseph and Mary had gone for the purpose of registration, in connection with one of the Imperial enrollments customary in the provinces. After Herod's death Jesus' home was in Nazareth until the time of His formal entrance upon His public work. Of these early years practically no information has come to us, the Gospels giving, besides the summary statements of Luke (ii. 40, 52), but one event of that time — His visit to the temple (Luke ii. 41-51) — while the extra-canonical traditions referring to this period are worthless. (b) Induction Into Public Work. — With the baptism in Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist, it is clear that to Jesus' mind His work was formally undertaken. This work, as He conceived it, was not that of a rabbi, nor even that of a prophet, but that of the Messiah foreshadowed and promised to the people of God in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is this clear realization of His mission that gave significance to the event as Jesus looked at it, and offers the proper meaning to His statement to the Baptist, “Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” as well as to the message which came to Him from the heavens, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. iii. 15-17). Following upon His baptism Jesus retired to the neighboring wilderness. There for a season He was subject to an inward struggle with thoughts which this public consecration to His mission most naturally brought to Him, a struggle rightly termed a temptation. From this He returned to the scene of His baptism, where He met certain of the Baptist's disciples, to whom He had been pointed out by their teacher. They were Andrew, and Simon, his brother, Philip and Nathaniel, and, apparently, also John, all of them residents of Galilee. This acquaintance proved to be the beginning of their discipleship, and their discipleship formed the nucleus of all of Jesus' subsequent following, (c) Early Judean Ministry. — After a short visit to His home, Jesus returned to Judea to be present at the Feast of the Passover, in the spring of the year (A.D. 27). While there He apparently made a public declaration of His mission of religious reform by driving out of the temple the traders and money-changers, who had been gradually permitted by the priests to bring their business within the sacred inclosure. Through this act and the miracles which He wrought in the city, He attracted much attention, and gained a considerable following among the people. For a while — possibly during the summer and autumn — He remained in Judea, carrying on, with such of His disciples as had accompanied Him to the feast, or as had attached themselves to Him in Jerusalem, a simple work among the people. Upon the imprisonment of the Baptist, however, He withdrew permanently into Galilee, passing through Samaria, in a village of which region, Sychar by name (the modern Askar), He spent a few days in successful work. Upon reaching Galilee He repaired to His former home, where He spoke to the people at their Sabbath service in the synagogue. His teaching, however, which clearly forecast the comprehensive character of His mission, involving a practical ignoring of all mere national claims, angered the people and forced Him to withdraw to the more congenial surroundings of Capernaum, which He forthwith made His home and the centre of His work. Here He called to His more formal following Simon and Andrew and John, who had come to Him at the Jordan, and with them James, the brother of John, and in their company He began His stated work.

B. The Galilean Period. Jesus' mission was to win men to God. In this Galilean period His mission entered upon its first stage, which was to arouse the attention of the people to the kingdom of God He announced, and to gather them to His personal following as that kingdom's representative. For the arousing of this attention and the gathering of this following, He directed His work along two lines — the performance of miraculous deeds and the giving of instruction. The deeds were intended to be signs to the people which should give them to understand that the kingdom of God was at hand, and lead them to Him as the divine representative of that kingdom; the instruction was intended to acquaint them with the nature of that kingdom and the conditions of entering and remaining in it. It is thus clear why He gave Himself at the very beginning of His Galilean work to the working of miracles, and why the miracles He selected were of beneficent character. These were not only to be proofs of His power, but evidences of the character of the rule He had come to establish on the earth — a rule which was founded upon the love of God for the world and the need of God to the world. This purpose was especially present in His casting out of demons, His healing of lepers, and His raising of the dead: for demoniac possessions were considered as directly due to Satan, while leprosy was a recognized emblem of the corruption of sin, and death was looked upon as its punishment. In showing Himself master of these, Jesus not simply aroused attention to Himself as a prophet in Israel, but as a prophet who had a direct message to the religious life of the people. This message, however, would not have been understood had His miracles been unaccompanied with instruction. As a matter of fact, it was poorly understood even then; but slow to understand it as were the people to whom it was given, we can comprehend how it came that such portions of it as have been preserved to us in the composite address known as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the group of parables delivered by the Sea of Galilee, are of the character they are. The atmosphere in which the Jew had been religiously trained being that of ceremonial righteousness, it was necessary, from Jesus' point of view, to emphasize the higher character of the righteousness which His religion required, and yet its essential identity with the real righteousness demanded in the law. It was equally necessary to make clear the divisions and separations which such requirements would bring among men, and the judgment involved in such process. The character of this newer righteousness is brought out in the Sermon on the Mount, delivered toward the beginning of His Galilean work. The judicial results involved in it are portrayed to a large extent in the parables which were uttered toward the close of that work.

With this purpose of announcing by deed and word the advent of God's kingdom in the world, Jesus carried on His work from Capernaum as a centre. His method was apparently to make stated tours of the neighboring towns and villages, heralding the fact that the kingdom of God was at hand, and proclaiming His authority in this announcement by miraculous deeds. Three of these tours are reported in the Synoptists during this period of His Galilean work: (1) Mark i. 35-39, Matt. iv. 23-25, Luke iv. 42-44; (2) Luke viii. 1-3; (3) Mark vi. 6, Matt. ix. 35-38, xi. 1. But He did not confine His activity to Galilee. He went up to Jerusalem, the centre of the people's religious life, and there He wrought His miracles and carried on to some extent His instruction, suiting it to the character of the religious leaders in the city and the people who were under their control. We have the record of one such visit made at the time of an unnamed feast (generally now supposed to be either Pentecost, A.D. 27, or Purim, A.D. 28, John v. 1); the Passover of A.D. 28, which is referred to in John vi. 4, .Jesus apparently did not attend (John vii. 2). These tours in Galilee and journeys to Jerusalem afforded Jesus the opportunity He desired of coming widely in contact with the people of the country and bringing before them His message. With His presence among them in the streets and market-places, teaching and working miracles, with His company with them on their pilgrimages to and from the holy city, and His participation with them in their temple devotions, there could be no ignorance of the fact that a prophet had arisen in Israel and a new message had come to the people from Jehovah. As a result, Jesus secured to Himself a large following among the people, who became increasingly enthusiastic as the conviction that He might possibly be the national Messiah grew upon them. As this following increased in numbers, He organized it more formally by the selection of twelve of His disciples to a closer relationship to Himself. (See Apostle.) To these He increasingly directed His instruction, with a view to the work He looked forward to their doing as His future representatives. We have a formal exhibition of such instruction in the discourse of Matthew x.

The religious conceptions of the people, however, having been dulled by ceremonial formalism and hardened by political misfortunes, it was inevitable that such a teacher and worker as Jesus would not find acceptance with their religious leaders, in whom this condition was most realized, nor with that portion of them most under the influence and control of these leaders. For this reason Jesus had selected Galilee as the place for His constructive work. The people of the north were less ecclesiastical and more receptive to such a message as He had to deliver and such a mission as He had to perform. For this reason also more time was given by Jesus to the Galilean tours than to the Jerusalem visits, while during those visits He avoided controversy which would lead to open conflict with the people's leaders. In fact, it was the likelihood of such conflict that prevented Jesus' attendance at the second Passover of His ministry (John vii. 2). If as the Messiah He must give His message to the religious centre of the land, and if the desire of winning that centre to the kingdom of God must have been great in proportion as the centre held in itself the people's future, yet it was clear that such winning of men to the kingdom was more probable in Galilee than in Jerusalem and Judea. On this principle He had done the greater part of His work and spent the greater part of His time in the northern portion of the country. And yet the fact of hostility to Jesus among the Jerusalem leaders not only early manifested itself in that city; but, as their representatives from time to time went into Galilee and came in contact with Jesus' work, it showed itself even there — on one occasion (Mark iii. 1-6) the Pharisees going so far as to take counsel with the Herodians against Him. In fact, all the political parties were opposed to Him, and came gradually to combine in persecution of Him. The offense which united them was the spiritual character of His mission; though, under the leadership of the Pharisees, the main point of attack, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, was the free and independent attitude Jesus maintained toward the ceremonial regulations of the law, particularly those which gathered around the observance of the Sabbath; in addition to which bitter resentment was aroused in Jerusalem by the claims He there made to special relationship to God.

As His popularity with the multitude increased, and this hostility to Him among the leaders grew in strength, it became necessary for Jesus to meet the issue thus raised. This He did by placing before His Galilean following the true religious character of His mission (John vi.). It was delivered in the synagogue at Capernaum just after the feeding of the five thousand, a wonder work which had aroused the growing enthusiasm to the highest pitch, leading them to a seeming determination to force Jesus, as the nation's Messiah, into a political revolution against Rome. The effect of the discourse was confusing to their false views of Jesus and benumbing to their superficial devotion to His cause. In fact, it broke His influence with them and practically ended His work in Galilee.

C. The Intervening Period. In consequence of these changed conditions, Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the semi-Gentile regions to the north of Galilee, spending there some six months (April to October, A.D. 28; John vi. 4 and vii. 2). His motive in thus going to a newer field was not apparently to begin there another popular ministry, though miracles were wrought and instruction was given. It was rather, by absence from the excited crowds of Galilee, to prepare His disciples for the final outcome of His mission, which was to issue in Jerusalem. This is gathered from the chief event recorded for us in this period — the confession of His Messiahship by the twelve, made in the neighborhood of Cæsarea Philippi. This evidently formed a turning-point in the development of His work, since He immediately followed it with His first distinct announcement to the disciples of the divine necessity of His death, which He foresaw would ultimately result from the hostility toward Him on the part of the authorities at Jerusalem. This announcement naturally His disciples could not comprehend. The falling away from Him which had been occasioned by His recent discourse in Capernaum had depressed them, especially as they came to realize its positive and permanent character. On the other hand, they themselves shared the popular conceptions of the promised Messianic age as an age which would be national as well as religious (see Acts i. 6), so that to their mind the ultimate issue of their Master's mission could not possibly involve His death. They were thus disposed to resent such an outlook on His part. But Jesus was clearly conscious of the issue, and equally conscious that it must be finally met in Jerusalem. His final return to Galilee from the north consequently was not to resume there His work among the people, but to pass through that region on His last journey to Jerusalem.

D. Judean Period. This journey brought Him to the city at the Feast of Tabernacles (A.D. 28) (John vii. 1-10). Whatever hopes He may have had of finally winning the city were doomed to disappointment. He found the people full of discussion about Him, and largely divided in their opinions regarding Him. This situation He met with a discourse, bold in its criticism of the people's unbelief and assertive in its claims of His own divine authority, the result of which was such embitterment of feeling against Him that His life was endangered and He withdrew from the city. Shortly before the Feast of Dedication, however. He returned, throwing the people anew into discussion and division by a notable miracle upon a man born blind, and by further discourses. The result was another threatening of His life, which again compelled Him to leave the city. This withdrawal was of longer duration, and for the greater part spent at a distance from the city. It was mostly occupied with an instruction of the disciples and the multitudes, having in view the approaching crisis of His work and life. Miracles, however, were performed, among them the remarkable one at the grave of Lazarus, the result of which, in its impression upon the people, was so significant as to crystallize the enmity against Him among the authorities into a definite determination to put Him to death.

E. Closing Period. On the approach of the Passover (A.D. 29), Jesus returned for the last time toward the city, reaching Bethany six days before the event. On the Sunday of Passover week, in the midst of a large concourse of people, attracted to Him from among the pilgrims to the feast, He entered the city with a publicity of popular enthusiasm superficial as that in Galilee had been, and yet impressive enough to arouse to renewed bitterness the enmity of both Sadducees and Pharisees. During the rest of that day, as well as on Monday and Tuesday, He remained in the city, withdrawing to Bethany for the night, where He also spent in retirement the whole of Wednesday and most of Thursday. These days in the city were given to an unrestrained presentation of His Messianic claims by miracle, parable, discourse, and discussion that brought Him into open conflict with Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians together. The effect of this was to bring to final issue the hostile purpose of His enemies. This issue was reached on the night of Thursday. On that night Jesus had eaten with His disciples the Passover meal. In connection with this meal He had instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the purpose of which apparently was not so much to make a last announcement of His approaching death as to present it clearly before His disciples in its character as a sacrifice for sin. (See Lord's Supper in the article Gospels.) After this supper, while Jesus, in company with certain of His disciples, was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was apprehended by a band from the chief priests and Pharisees. This band was under the lead of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve, and who had betrayed Him to the authorities. Upon His apprehension He was taken before Annas, and then Caiaphas, the high priest, by whom He was examined. Later, when the morning came. He was led before a hastily gathered meeting of the Sanhedrin, where such process of trial as might be called by that name was gone through with. This resulted at last in the taking of Jesus, bound as a prisoner, to the Governor, Pontius Pilate, with charges which provoked discussion between Pilate and the leaders, and induced Pilate to question Jesus as to Himself and the charges brought against Him. From this questioning Pilate was convinced of Jesus' innocence, and resorted to various expedients to save Him from the hatred of the rulers. This, however, was a difficult task; for the rulers bad gathered to their aid and support the populace, who, disappointed at Jesus' failure to realize their political hopes, had turned revengefully against Him, and, with the chief priests and elders, were insistent on His death. Finally, through a shrewd presentation of the case as one involving His political attitude to the Emperor, Pilate was induced to yield and give Jesus over for crucifixion. This was carried out on that same day, Friday, at the usual place of crucifixion outside the city, Jesus being crucified between two condemned insurrectionists. Around the crosses were gathered a riotous mob of people and religious officials from the city, a few of the more loyal disciples, and the Roman guard, who watched the agony of the hours till the death of Jesus came. Upon them all the event evidently wrought a deep impression, though it is doubtful whether those whose enmity to Jesus had brought the event about had conscience enough to suffer remorse, while it is certain that to Jesus' disciples it marked the end of all their hopes. On the evening of the day the body was taken by Jesus' friends from the cross, through Pilate's permission, and buried in a sepulchre near at hand. On the Sunday following, upon the visit of certain of the women disciples to the tomb for the purpose of embalming the body, it was found that the stone had been rolled away and the sepulchre itself was empty. Later Jesus Himself appeared to the women, and then to other of the disciples in various places and to varying numbers. These appearances were repeated at intervals during forty days. Jesus seems to have given Himself in them to interpreting to His disciples the meaning of His death in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures, and to further instructing them in “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts i. 3). At some time within this period He laid upon them the specific commission to go out into all the world as His representatives and bring men into His discipleship (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). Finally, in a company of the disciples whom He had led out from the city to Bethany, He was taken from them into heaven. (See Resurrection, in the article Gospel.) From Bethany the disciples returned to Jerusalem, where they waited until the day of Pentecost, at which time, under manifestations of special inspiration from heaven, they began their work of the proclamation of Jesus' religion to the world.

Bibliography. Consult, among the more recent books: (1) For General Survey of Narrative: Keim, Geschichte Jesu von Nazara (Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1876-81); Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1880); B. Weiss, Das Leben Jesu (Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1883); Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (London, 1883); Andrews, The Life of Our Lord (New York, 1892); Beyschlag, Das Leben Jesu (Halle, 1893); Gilbert, The Student's Life of Jesus (New York, 1896); Réville, Jésus de Nazareth (Paris, 1897); Rhees, The Life of Jesus of Nazareth (New York, 1901); O. Holtzmann, Leben Jesu (Leipzig, 1901); Didon, Jesus Christ (trans., New York, 1901); Fouard, The Christ the Son of God (trans., London, 1890). (2) For Jewish background: Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (Eng. trans., New York, 1896); Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu im Lichte der messianischen Hoffnungen seiner Zeit (Strassburg, 1892). (3) For history of the land: G. A. Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (New York, 1896). (4) For teachings of Jesus: Wendt, Die Lehre Jesu (Eng. trans. of 2d vol. only, Edinburgh, 1892); Dalman, Die Worte Jesu (Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1902).