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§ 23. Consciousness of Messiahship in the Mind of Jesus.—Jesus among the Doctors.
The extraordinary circumstances of the birth of Christ not only served as portents of the greatest event in the world’s history, but also, perhaps, furnished external occasions for the developement, in the mind of Jesus, of the consciousness of his Messiahship. True, this developement, far from admitting of mechanical illustrations, required, above all, an inward light in the depths of the higher self-consciousness, the internal testimony of the Spirit; but such a testimony by no means precludes the agency of external impressions, acting as suggestive occasions. The inward Divine light and the revelation from outward events touch upon each other; and this connexion between the internal and the external belongs to the essence of purely human developement.6565 Weisse maintains (I cannot see on what grounds) that this view degrades the Divine element in the inner calling of Christ to a mechanical result of circumstances, p. 264.
Of the early history of Jesus we have only a singe incident; but that incident strikingly illustrates the manner in which the consciousness of his Divine nature developed itself in the mind of the child. Jesus had attained his twelfth year, a period which was regarded among the Jews as the dividing line between childhood and youth, and at which regular religious instruction and the study of the Law were generally entered upon. For that reason, his parents, who were accustomed6666 Luke (ii., 42) says, “that they went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.” This may mean either that Joseph attended yearly no other feast but this, which would imply that it was not the general custom in Galilee to attend the three chief feasts at Jerusalem, or that Mary used to accompany him to this feast only. In either case, it proves the peculiar eminence of the Passover. to visit Jerusalem together6767 Mary accompanied her husband, although the Jewish law did not demand it. annually at the time of the Passover, took him with them then for the first time. When the feast was over, and they were setting out on their return, they missed their son; this, however, does not seem to have alarmed them, and perhaps he was accustomed to remain with certain kindred families or friends; indeed, we are told (Luke, ii., 44) that they expected to find him “in the company,” at the evening halt of the caravan. Disappointed in this expectation, they returned the next morning to Jerusalem, and on the following day found him in the synagogue of the Temple among the priests, who had been led by his questions into a conversation on points of faith.6868 How little of the mythical there is in this may be seen from the case of Josephus, who states of himself, that when he was fourteen years old the priests of the city met with him to put questions to him about the law. His parents reproached him for the. uneasiness he had caused them, and he replied, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Now these words of Jesus contain no explanation, beyond his tender years,6969 The addition of extravagant and fabulous colourings to historical elements may be seen in such instances as the following from Irenaeus, on the childhood of Jesus, taken out of an apocryphal Gospel originating in Palestine: “When the teacher told the boy to pronounce Aleph, he did so. But when he told him to say Beth, the child replied, ‘Tell me the meaning of Aleph, and then I will tell you what Beth is” (an allusion to the mystical import of the letters, according to the Kabbala). There was any number of such apocryphal Gospels, as Irenaeus says. of the relations which he sustained to the Father; they manifest simply the consciousness of a child, a depth, to be sure, but yet only a depth of presentiment.
We can draw various important inferences from this incident in the early life of Christ. At a tender age he studied the Old Testament, and obtained a better knowledge of its religious value by the light that was within him than any human instruction could have imparted. Nor was this beaming forth of an immediate consciousness of Divine things in the mind of the child, in advance of the developement of his powers of discursive reason, at all alien to the character and progress of human nature, but entirely in harmony with it. Nor need we wonder that the infinite riches of the hidden spiritual life of the child first manifested themselves to his consciousness, as if suggested by his conversation with the doctors, and that his direct intuitions of Divine truth, the flashes of spiritual light that emanated from him, amazed the masters in Israel. It not unfrequently happens, in our human life, that the questions of others are thus suggestive to great minds, and, like steel upon the flint, draw forth their inner light, at the same time revealing to their own souls the unknown treasures that lay in their hidden depths. But they give more than they receive; the outward suggestion only excites to action their creative energy; and men of reflective and receptive, rather than creative minds, by inciting the latter to know and develop their vast resources, may not only learn much from their utterance, but also diffuse the streams which gush with overflowing fulness from these abundant well-springs. And these remarks applying—in a sense in which they apply to no other—to that mind, lofty beyond all human comparison, whose creative thoughts are to fertilize the spiritual life of man through all ages, and whose creative power sprang from its mysterious union with that Divine Word, which gave birth to all things, show us that His consciousness developed itself gradually, and in perfect accordance with the laws of human life, from that mysterious union which formed its ground.
And further—without in the least attempting to do away with the peculiar form of the child’s spiritual life—we can recognize in this incident a dawning sense of his Divine mission in the mind of Jesus: a sense, however, not yet unfolded in the form in which the corruption of the world, objectively presented, alone could occasion its developement. The child found congenial occupation in the things of God: in the Temple he was at home. And, on the other hand, we see an opening consciousness of the peculiar relation in which he stood to the Father as the Son of God. We delight to find in the early lives of eminent men some glimpses of the future, some indications of their after greatness; so we gladly recognize, in the pregnant words of the child, a foreshadowing of what is afterward so fully revealed to us in the discourses of the completely manifested Christ, especially as they are given to us in John’s Gospel.
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