The death of Jesus did not remove the notion entertained by the disciples and apostles concerning the Kingdom.
PROPOSITION 69. The death of Jesus did not remove the notion entertained by the disciples and apostles concerning the Kingdom.
It is asserted in numerous works that the death of Jesus caused such an immediate revolution in the minds of the disciples that it destroyed all their anticipations of the expected restored Davidic Kingdom. This is done without due reflection, seeing that it is opposed by the plainest statement.[*]
Note. Thus e.g. Barnes (Com. Acts 1:9), eager to set aside the Jewish faith in the Kingdom of Israel as expressed by the disciples in Acts 1:6, affirms the following: “If their Saviour was in heaven, it settled the question about the nature of the Kingdom. It was clear that it was not designed to be a temporal Kingdom.” Thus the ascension, and the ignoring of the postponement, is made the basis for denying the grammatically expressed fulfilment of covenant and prophecy, and for sustaining a spiritualizing system! That the Messiah being now “in heaven” does not “settle the question about the nature of the Kingdom” for Barnes, is self-evident from the singular variety of Kingdoms that he has introduced, and which we quote under Prop. 3. Sara S. Hennell (Thoughts in Aid to Faith), takes the ultra view that Jesus, “the noble enthusiast,” influenced by deep feeling aroused by prophecy and his surroundings, ambitiously undertook the mighty project of establishing a Kingdom—“conceive the grandeur of it; to bring down a reign of righteousness on earth!”—but he failed through his enemies, died “a martyr” to his ambition, and before his death taught his followers “to fix all their hopes on heaven.” She eulogizes the “artistic beauty,” the “nobleness” of Jesus while making him a mistaken enthusiast, a fanatic and deceiver, and concludes as a deduction from her unhistorical portraiture of Him and her confessed ignorance of the facts of His life and their basis in the covenants, that the origin of Christianity can be traced to natural causes, for “there is unfolded in one unbroken stream, the most marvellous, though strictly natural, chapter in the world’s experience.” From temporal visions Jesus turned to spiritual, and His death enforced the latter. But this does not satisfy some, for they see that the death of Jesus did not remove the Jewish idea of the Kingdom, and hence they look around to find another founder of Christianity and select the Apostle Paul. Thus e.g. Schlessinger (The Historical Jesus of Nazareth), after exhibiting, more or less correctly, the Messianic idea as it existed in the Jewish nation through the prophets, concludes, in view of the New Test. testimony, that “Jesus was nothing but a Jew,” the disciples being the same, and then, by the grossest perversion of Paul’s teachings, makes the Christian system to originale with Paul, who boldly cut the new religion loose from its parent trunk, Judaism. We shall show again and again, by quoting Paul frequently, that he entertained fully and completely the Jewish view of the kingdom, and with all the other teachers, located its establishment at the Sec. Advent. The death of Jesus made no change in the Kingdom preached by His followers.
Obs. 1. It is true that the death of Jesus (notwithstanding the intimations previously given, as seen in Props. 58, 66, etc.) must have placed them in a perplexed attitude, and must, before His resurrection, have appeared contradictory to their expectations. This much the record intimates. The question how to reconcile this sad event with their continued view of covenant and prophecy pressed them heavily. Not appreciating the necessity (in more respects than one) of that death to seal the covenant and make its fulfilment (as e.g. in the triumph over death) possible, the question would naturally arise, how can this Kingdom be established when the King, David’s Son, Himself yields to death? Still the faith in the wonderful words and works, clouded by this distressing event, was sustained in a measure by the astonishing death itself and the things connected therewith, while the resurrection, restoring the Messiah to them, reconfirmed that faith in His ability, etc., to fulfil the covenants and Prophets, so that it ever after shone forth with undiminished strength and lustre.[*]
Note. Nast (Com. Matt. 16:21–28), following others, gives this as a reason, why Jesus predicted His own death and resurrection: “This very announcement was intended to strike at the root of their carnal Messianic expectations,” i.e. the same “carnal” expectations that they preached! Such a reason is purely imaginative, and derogatory to the truth. If so designed (which we utterly deny) it signally failed with these inspired men, seeing that even after His death they entertained them. Nast himself (Com. Matt. 11:1–6, etc.) admits that the death itself did not remove them, for he undertakes to correct the preachers that Jesus trained, and informs us that before and immediately after the ascension the apostles had still very partial or meagre ideas of the Kingdom of God.
Obs. 2. If writers are correct in their deductions of the effects of Christ’s death in revolutionizing the minds of the disciples, then there ought to be—if it was a result intended by Divine Providence—a distinct announcement of the same in the New Test. We ought to find (1) that they had been mistaken in their previous apprehensions of the Kingdom, and (2) that the death of Jesus and events following indicated this to them. But nothing of this kind is found in the record, and we are not at liberty to infer it.[*]
Note. We append a specimen of the contradictions in which those are involved, who maintain that Christ’s death removed an erroneous view of the Kingdom from the apostles’ minds. Thus e.g. Barnes, Com. Acts 1:6 contends that “the apostles had entertained the common opinion of the Jews about the temporal dominion of the Messiah,” etc. He then informs us that the death of Jesus was calculated to “effectually check and change their opinions respecting the nature of the Kingdom,” etc. (He does not seem to notice how, if the disciples were in error, this reflects upon the Master who then—if Barnes is correct—sent them forth and allowed them to preach error.) In all this Barnes overlooks his own comments in other places. Thus on Matt. 13:11 “because it is given to you to know the mysteries of heaven but to them it is not given,” he professes that to the disciples it was given to know the truth respecting the Kingdom, but not to others. How can his comment on the latter passage be true, if his comment on Acts 1:6 is correct? Commentators, much admired, afford many such palpable antagonisms, and this largely detracts from their many excellences.
Obs. 3. For the present it is sufficient to produce a single passage which amply proves our Proposition; others will be added as we proceed. The death of Jesus took place; His resurrection occurred; He remained after His resurrection with those previously sent-forth preachers of the Kingdom “forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). It is exceedingly difficult to conceive, when the Kingdom was the principal topic of conversation, that if these apostles were still ignorant of the very nature of the Kingdom and Christ’s death was to be the medium for their enlightenment, some decided information to remove the alleged “error” was not granted to them during these forty days. The tenor of the narrative shows that in all their conversations respecting the Kingdom nothing was said that changed the faith of the apostles. They still held the belief that they had authoritatively preached. The proof is found in the question (v. 6), “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?” This is admitted by all—-very reluctantly indeed by some commentators and writers—-to mean that they still believed in a restoration of the Davidic throne and Kingdom under the reign of the Messiah. The reply of Jesus, as we already had occasion to observe, confirms their belief; for instead of rejecting their idea of the nature of the Kingdom, He takes that for granted as substantially correct, and only refers to the time when it should again be restored to Israel as something reserved by the Father, thus meeting the question proposed which related to the time.
Note 1. Aside from the unwilling concessions found in our anti-Millenarian commentaries, it is sufficient to direct the reader to the statements of Brooks’ (El. of Proph. Inter., p. 62, etc.) showing that those who have no sympathy with our views are forced to admit in this place a still believed in national restoration of the Jews. So e.g. “Govinus the Jesuit, in his comment on Acts 1:6, says that Cyprian, Jerome, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Alexandrinus, Augustine, Bede” understood it. Indeed, an interminable list might be produced, but are unnecessary, as we give many under various propositions.
Note 2. Fairbairn (On Proph., p. 183), presses this passage beyond its intent, when he makes it an absolute measure of the future “condition of the church as regards her knowledge of coming epochs in her history,” which “could not be annulled by any subsequent information on the subject.” This is certainly a bold assertion, in the face of additional communications being afterward given relating to epochs of time, when he himself, a few sentences on, is forced to acknowledge that the Apocalypse does give us an idea of intervals of time, etc. Agreeing with Fairbairn that the exact day and hour is unknown, and that we can only approximatively know the periods of ultimate fulfilment, yet we firmly believe, from the information imparted and the signs given, that this approximation is more “than probable grounds of expectation.” This, after all, Fairbairn virtually admits, for on p. 182 is the remark, “He gives certain signs of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and of His own personal return to the world, by the careful consideration of which His followers might not be taken unawares by either event.” But we must not anticipate (see Props. 173 and 174).
Obs. 4. The conversation between Jesus and the disciples pertaining to the Kingdom, and the question of the latter just before the ascension, most effectually disproves the assertions of eminent writers that the Kingdom was already established sometime in the ministry or life of Jesus (Prop. 56). The narrative given by Luke unmistakably proves that such theories are incorrect, since the apostles—hearers and preachers, and confidants—knew nothing whatever of such an already established Kingdom. Their preaching, instructions, etc., manifest that they had not even the most distant idea of such an important measure if it had really existed. It is impossible to credit such theories over against the direct testimony of men, who, of all persons living, were the most likely to know and express the truth.[*]
Note. Strange that learned men and able theologians can find a covenanted Kingdom existing (even if it is one in the heart) during the ministry of Christ, when the apostles, at this most favorable period, were utterly unconscious of the same. Whom shall we credit—preachers appointed by Jesus Himself and under His special instruction, or those who flatly contradict the apostles’ knowledge at this stage of historical development? We give some illustrations of the mode of handling the divine statements. Brown (Com. Acts 1:6), after intimating without a particle of proof that Jesus (v. 3) had imparted instruction respecting a spiritual Kingdom, tells us (v. 6), “Doubtless their carnal views of Messiah’s Kingdom had by this time been modified, though how far it is impossible to say. But as they plainly looked for some restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, so they are neither rebuked nor contradicted on this point.” The apostles then had previously preached a carnal Kingdom, and they still retained a portion of it, but with it all, Brown conjectures, they had some glimmering of Brown’s spiritual Kingdom! How does he reconcile this charge of carnality with his comment on Matt. 3:2 where he says: “A Kingdom for which repentance was the proper preparation behooved to be essentially spiritual” (overlooking that when the Theocracy, a civil and religious organization, was established it also demanded the confession of sin and repentance), when the very men appointed to urge this repentance, failed to acknowledge it. So Killen (The Ancient Church, p. 190) follows the prevailing track. After previously informing us how Jesus specially instructed and trained preachers, who held that which “was vague as well as much that was visionary” concerning the Kingdom (the very thing they were to preach), he then gravely informs us, without the slightest proof, that “during the interval between the resurrection and ascension,” the apostles so profited, because He “then opened their understanding,” that “the true nature of Christ’s Kingdom was now fully disclosed to them,” and this he repeatedly tells us is “the spiritual Kingdom” now established. But where is the evidence of this gross ignorance and this sudden enlightenment? It is simply and solely imaginary, and thus introduced to give his modern ideas an apparent Scriptural support. Much of this loose writing exists. Others in reference to this interval are more cautious, as e.g. Scott (Com. loci), who, however unwilling, is forced to say: “But, notwithstanding all which He had taught them, they still entertained some thoughts of a temporal Kingdom,” and these expectations, he informs us, were eradicated on and after the day of Pentecost. The interval is thus given to us without an effort to retain it; and it poorly accords with various comments, on events and sayings preceding it, found in his commentary. It is sad to find so many writers of ability (as e.g. Ebrard, Gosp. His., p. 332, etc., Art. “Offices of Christ” in M’Clintock and Story’s Cyclop.), who declare that during the ministry of Jesus, He and the disciples taught that “the Kingdom of God had come,” “was come,” when the record so flatly contradicts the usage of such language, and the preachers, who are stated to have said so, were utterly unconscious of any such a Kingdom established, even during this interval. It is refreshing to turn from such contradictory presentations to the simple facts as appreciated by others. Thus Rev. Andrew Fausset, the Commentator, in our “Lord’s Prophecies” (Christ. Herald, Ap. 10th, 1879), refers to “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” and then asking why this Kingdom did not immediately appear, correctly answers by a reference to the non-repentance and unbelief of the nation, as proven by the address of Jesus, Matt. 23:37–39, saying, “these words indicate that the unbelief of the Jews caused the postponement of Christ’s Kingdom.” Such a position enables us to receive Acts 1:6, and kindred passages, without degrading the disciples and apostles into “carnal” believers, etc. The apostles were not “ignorant and mistaken” at this period, and we may well believe, that the question was actuated by the honor and glory it would bring to their Master, by the personal interest they felt in it, owing to the specific promise of rulership in it, and by the blessing, according to prediction, it would prove to the Jewish nation and the world. It was just such a question as hearts full of love, faith, and hope would suggest with a resurrected Messiah before them. The question vindicates their deep interest in “the Christship” of Jesus, and His answer confirms their confidence in Him.