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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


1. Did Jesus enter on His ministry with a deliberate plan  ?—If so, what was its nature, and how far was it subsequently modified by the pressure of events? These questions, of the first importance for a right understanding of the Gospel story, are doubly complicated by the insufficiency of our records and by the mystery in which our Lord’s self-consciousness is shrouded.

The Fourth Evangelist, looking back on the Saviour’s life when it had now receded into the distance, sees in it, from first to last, the unfolding of a vast design. He represents Jesus as bending outward circumstances to His will, and moving forward, without haste and without rest, towards the set ‘hour’ in which His purpose would fulfil itself. He assumes, in like manner, that the future development of the Church was foreseen and directed by Jesus Himself. All had happened in accordance with a Divine plan, already determined on before the Word became flesh. This Johannine view is largely the result of theological reflexion, but it also arises in part from a feeling which still impresses itself on every reader of the Gospel narrative. There is a harmony and completeness in this Life by which it is distinguished from all others. The events appear to follow each other in inevitable sequence, as if they had all been ordered beforehand in a conscious plan.

It cannot be assumed, however, that this inward necessity which we now discern in the life of Jesus was clearly present to His own mind. Such an assumption seems to be precluded by the prayer in Gethsemane, which appears to imply that our Lord was uncertain, almost to the very end, of the Father’s will concerning Him. The absolute faith in God which finds its highest expression in that prayer was at all times the chief motive in the life of Jesus. In the face of a great darkness He surrendered Himself utterly to the will of God, assured that it would lead Him wisely. Whatever may have been the programme which He had set before Him, He was prepared at any moment to change or abandon it, if God should so direct Him. This must always be borne in mind in any attempt to discover His inward purposes. The dogmatic conception that Jesus knew the end from the beginning, and gave mechanical fulfilment to a prearranged plan, is not only untrue to facts, but destroys the whole moral worth and significance of the Divine life.

At the same time it is at least equally unwarrantable to construe the life as nothing but the unforeseen result of fortuitous circumstances. It has been argued from the notices which describe the beginning of the ministry (and more particularly from  Matthew 4:17), that Jesus at the outset had no distinctive plan. As a disciple of John, He took up the Baptist’s work after he had been cast into prison, and awoke gradually to a new conception of the Kingdom of God and to a sense of His own special calling. According to this view, His Messianic work was in a manner thrust upon Him, and was never followed out deliberately except perhaps for a brief season at the very close. Granting, however, that the appearance of John may, have given the immediate impulse to the ministry of Jesus, we have no ground for supposing that it, in any sense, produced it. The connexion between John and Jesus appears to have been at most a. casual one. There is no indication that the two teachers ever met before the Baptism, and John’s, imprisonment must have followed almost immediately afterwards. From the beginning, moreover, the contrast between the work of Jesus and that of John was the subject of common remark. It was recognized that the new Teacher was not merely continuing the movement of His predecessor, but had begun another movement, different in its aim and character. The facts of the narrative all bear out the only conjecture which is psychologically probable, that Jesus in His years of retirement had already planned out an independent mission. What He owed to the Baptist was merely the occasion of declaring Himself and carrying His purpose into action.

2. We assume, then, that Jesus took up His ministry deliberately, with a programme, more or less definite, already formed in His mind. Was the Messianic claim an original part of this programme  ? We have here the crucial issue on which the whole question of the plan of Jesus may be said to hinge.

That Jesus declared Himself the Messiah is established beyond all doubt by the fact of His trial and crucifixion. The process against Him can admit of no other explanation than that He had laid open claim to the Messianic office. It has been maintained, however, by several modern writers ( e.g. A. Réville) that this claim was an after-thought. The first intention of Jesus was, they say, simply to proclaim the Kingdom of God; and the assumption of Messiahship was forced upon Him by the failure of His original message. In order to retrieve His declining cause, He consented, though against His will, to bring it into line with the national hope, and appeared in Jerusalem as the declared Messiah.

It may indeed be accepted as one of the most certain results of the modern study of the Gospels, that in the earlier part of His ministry Jesus was silent regarding His Messianic claim. But the evidence is almost conclusive that He only held it in reserve, and intended from the first to make it. (1) The Messianic hope was inseparably bound up with the idea of the Kingdom of God.’ From the moment that He knew Himself called by God to inaugurate the Kingdom, Jesus must have recognized His title to the office of Messiah. No other form was possible, under Jewish modes of thought, by which He might express to Himself His own relation to the Kingdom. (2) The accounts of His earliest teaching all lay stress on the authority with which He spoke, reflecting in His manner of utterance the consciousness of a unique personal dignity ( Matthew 7:29,  Mark 1:27). This sense of authority is especially marked in the Sermon on the Mount, with its repeated ‘I say unto you.’ It seems evident that even while confining Himself to the rôle of teacher, Jesus was fully aware that He was much more. As yet He made no open claim to the place of Messiah, but the knowledge that it belonged to Him coloured His whole action and thought. (3) At Caesarea Philippi, when He at last broke the silence, He elicited a spontaneous confession from His disciples. If the incident has been rightly. reported (and few passages in the Gospels bear stronger marks of authenticity), we are compelled to infer that, while concealing His claim, He had only been waiting till the disciples should recognize it of themselves. In His previous intercourse with them He had been leading them, step by step, to this final recognition. His choice of the title ‘Son of Man’ may have been determined by a like motive. The title was ambiguous, and did not necessarily involve the more explicit title; but it served to awaken reflexion, and to prepare the way for the definite claim to Messiahship.

We are justified, therefore, in concluding that Jesus intended from the first to declare Himself, and that His silence was part of His deliberate plan. The two chief motives that weighed with Him can be gathered, almost with certainty, from the whole tenor of the Gospel narrative. (1) He had resolved on a method of working which would have been impossible if the people had immediately known Him as the Messiah. The Kingdom, as He conceived it, was a spiritual magnitude, and He could fulfil it only by effecting an inward change in the hearts and minds of men. As Messiah, He would have been committed at once to action of a conspicuous nature, and could never have pursued His work of teaching, healing, comforting. The story of the Temptation, which probably rests on some authentic communication of Jesus to His disciples, represents Him as choosing between the two methods of activity which were open to Him at the outset. He decided to trust Himself to the purely spiritual forces, and His silence was the necessary consequence of this decision. (2) He desired to rid the Messianic idea of the national and political character with which the popular imagination had invested it. By assuming the title prematurely He would have awakened false hopes and exposed His mission to a fatal misapprehension. It was necessary, first of all, to create a new ideal in the mind of the people by the revelation of His own character and life. When they had learned to replace their worldly conception of the Messiah by a truer and more spiritual one, He would be able to declare Himself. It was this that happened at last in the case of His immediate followers. Through their intercourse with Jesus they had attained to a higher knowledge of the Divine purposes, and recognized in Him the true Messiah. But ‘he charged them that they should tell no man of him’ ( Mark 8:30). The nation as a whole was engrossed with its hope of a political deliverer, and was still incapable of receiving His secret.

Thus far we can regard our Lord as acting consistently on a plan, formed, most probably, before He commenced His public ministry. He knew Himself to be the Messiah, but had determined to conceal His claim until His teaching and His personal influence should produce a change in the minds of His countrymen. It is difficult, however, to avoid the conclusion that from Caesarea Philippi onward His original plan was set aside. Instead of continuing His chosen work until the whole people should spontaneously confess Him as His own disciples had done, He resolved to go up to Jerusalem and proclaim Himself openly at the Passover feast. That this was the express purpose of His journey to Jerusalem is indicated in the two symbolic acts by which He marked His arrival—the solemn entrance in fulfilment of an unmistakable prophecy ( Zechariah 9:9), and the cleansing of the Temple by right of His Messianic prerogative. The abrupt transition from a consistent reserve to a studied publicity can be accounted for only on the ground that He had entirely changed His plan. It had become evident to Him that the expectation with which He started had missed its fulfilment. The people, so far from responding to His message, had settled into a mood of apathy or even of declared hostility. There was no longer any purpose in maintaining silence, and He determined to assert Himself at the great gathering of the nation, and bring His Messianic work to a final issue.

3. A question rises here of the profoundest interest and importance. When our Lord decided on this second plan, did He fully realize that it would involve His sacrificial death  ? To this question we can offer no definite answer. That He contemplated the possibility of His death at Jerusalem appears certain. Apart from the actual statement that He foretold the end to His disciples ( Mark 8:31;  Mark 9:31;  Mark 10:32 ff.),—a statement which may be influenced by later reflexion,—we cannot doubt that He knew the temper of the national authorities, and consciously hazarded His life. His teaching also in that closing period assumes a new character. He no longer speaks of the Kingdom as immediately at hand, but prepares His disciples for an indefinite delay. He dwells much on the thought that whatever may befall Himself, the triumph of His work is certain. But while He surmised, with an ever clearer conviction, that the assertion of His Messiahship would involve His death, it does not appear that He chose death deliberately as necessary to His plan. We may rather infer, from the prayer in Gethsemane, that up to the very end He entertained the possibility of a different fulfilment. This only can be affirmed with entire certainty: that He was resolved to pursue His vocation to the very uttermost, leaving the manner of its final accomplishment in the hands of God.

4. We have dealt hitherto with our Lord’s plan as it concerned His personal life and calling; but there is a further problem which cannot well be separated from this one. How did He intend that His work should be completed  ? How far did He contemplate the world-wide extension of the Christian community after His death? The answer must largely depend on the interpretation of His idea of the Kingdom of God, which is still in many points obscure. If He believed (as is maintained by Bousset, J. Weiss, and other recent writers) that the Kingdom would come almost immediately by a sudden act of God, there could be no anticipation in His mind of the gradual development of a Christian Church. If (as appears more probable) He allowed room for an interval, more or less protracted, before the dawning of the Kingdom, we have still to question whether He planned a development on the lines which were actually followed. The direct allusions to the Church ( Matthew 16:18;  Matthew 18:17) bear evident traces of later modification, and it would be hazardous to employ them as the basis of any theory. More consideration is due to the sayings ( Matthew 8:11-12;  Matthew 21:43) which foretell the rejection of Israel and the opening of the Kingdom to those of every nation who were worthy of it. Such thoughts may well have been present to the mind of Jesus, especially in the later days, when the hostility of His own countrymen became more and more decided. It seems clear, however, from numerous indications in the Gospels, that His original plan was confined to a mission to Israel. He chose twelve disciples, with obvious reference to the number of the tribes (cf.  Matthew 19:28 =  Luke 22:30). He hesitated to exercise His healing power in the Gentile province, lest He might exceed the limits of His mission ( Mark 7:27). He charged His disciples to avoid the Gentile and Samaritan cities and confine themselves to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ ( Matthew 10:5-6). These indications are all sufficiently explicit; and they are confirmed by the actual history of the primitive Church. Peter and his fellow-Apostles, on the day of Pentecost and long afterwards, were still unaware that their Master desired them to proclaim His message to the wider Gentile world. The mission of Paul was a grave departure from the accepted programme, and was sanctioned only after long and anxious deliberation, and under strict conditions. It could hardly have been so regarded if the disciples had known that such a mission had been contemplated from the first, in the plan of Jesus Himself.

We can only conclude that our Lord made no definite provision for the establishment of an outward Church and its world-wide extension. He delivered His message to His own people, and formed no clear design of a work that should embrace all men. None the less He had entirely broken with Jewish particularism. Even the Messianic title, as claimed by Him, assumed a new meaning in which the traditional patriotic idea was wholly lost. His message was in its spirit universal, and made appeal to that which is permanent and central in our common nature. Whether He consciously planned the future expansion of His Church is not, therefore, a matter of the first importance. He gave the impulse which could not but result after His departure in the work of St. Paul, and in a missionary enterprise which can never know pause or limit. The inward purpose of Jesus, if not His express commandment, is rightly summed up in the closing words of St. Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.’

Literature.—Besides the many Lives of Jesus ( e.g. Keim, A. Réville, O. Holtzmann), the following are among the most useful recent books: Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu (1891); J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (1900); Bousset, Jesus (1904, English translation 1905); O. Schmiedel, Die Hauptprobleme der Leben-Jesu-Forschung; T. Adamson, Studies of the Mind in Christ , 233; ii. Bushnell, The New Life , p. 1; see also the earlier chapters of books relating to the Apostolic Age (e.g. Weizsäcker, McGiffert, etc.).

E. F, Scoff.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( a.) A draught or form; properly, a representation drawn on a plane, as a map or a chart; especially, a top view, as of a machine, or the representation or delineation of a horizontal section of anything, as of a building; a graphic representation; a diagram.

(2): ( v. t.) To scheme; to devise; to contrive; to form in design; as, to plan the conquest of a country.

(3): ( a.) A scheme devised; a method of action or procedure expressed or described in language; a project; as, the plan of a constitution; the plan of an expedition.

(4): ( v. t.) To form a delineation of; to draught; to represent, as by a diagram.

(5): ( a.) A method; a way of procedure; a custom.