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struck them* that their master, the Messiah, had been favoured with a similar proof of the Divine approbation as had been granted of old to Enoch, Moses, and Elias, and that he had been raised from the dead in order to be taken into heaven, whence they might expect to see him when the time for revealing his kingdom should arrive. This idea was soon eagerly adopted. The mystery of the Messiah's sudden death appeared to be thus explained; and
passages of scripture were remembered, of which the Messiah's resurrection seemed to afford a new and sublinie fulfilment.f It was natural also to suppose that, in his superhuman state, Jesus might, before ascending into heaven, make himself visible to his faithful followers. Accordingly, accounts of actual appearances of Jesus soon found their way into the narratives of the events attending his supposed resurrection; imagination or mistake continually afforded fresh materials for stories of a kind so honourable to the relator and the head of the church
; and of these stories we have at this day such as were current from forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea succeeded in diverting the attention of the disciples from himself, and in preventing a disposition to raise tumults. But the excitement, which he probably expected would die away on their return to Gasilee, I continued, and took a somewhat new form.
* Luke xxiv. 12, Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre, and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
John xx. 649, Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie; and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
† See ch. xii. The Jews never expected that the Messiah was to rise from the dead. Rosenm. Schol. in Esaiam xlii.
| Although Matthew's account of the disciples' return into Galilee is not confirmed by the other three Evangelists, it seems most likely that the command to go into Galilee, which is related by all the first three, should have been followed by a journey thither, on the part of some, at least, of the disciples. There was time enough for it between the Passover and the day of Pentecost. The The most confidential of the followers of Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, were fishermen of Galilee, who had followed hiin at first in the hope of sharing the twelve thrones over the tribes of Israel, and afterwards from habit and attachment. After their longimagined exaltation into companions of the Messiah, they could not return contentedly to obscurity. Although dismayed at first by the fate of their expected king, their hopes easily revived on behalf of a cause for which they had forsaken all.- The apparently mysterious circumstances attending the death of Jesus strengthened their belief in his Messiahship, and the expectation of his approaching kingdom returned as the belief of his future reappearance gained ground.
gained ground. The leadership of their society seemed due to Peter, whom Jesus had distinguished as his chief supporter. To be raised to the command over former associates and equals is gratifying to men in almost any circumstances; therefore, independently of the motives arising from religious zeal and a sincere attachment to a common cause, it was natural that succeeding to John the Baptist and Jesus, and presiding over a company of their followers, although attended with some danger, should seem to Peter preferable to casting nets again upon the sea of Tiberias.
The attainment of the Messiah's kingdom by means of a national revolution, if it ever had been contemplated by Jesus, had ceased to be so, at latest, after his arrival at Jerusalem; and now the expectation of his approaching miraculous re-appearance precluded any such idea on the part of the disciples. They fell, therefore, into the form of a small religious fraternity, having for their bond of union the same doctrine as that which had been preached by John the Baptist, and afterwards by Jesus viz. the approach of the kingdom of heaven foretold by the prophets; as a preparation for which, it was necessary for men to repent of the prevailing wickedness of the age and adopt purity of life. To this they now added, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, that he had risen
accounts of Mark, Luke, and John, of the proceedings after the crucifixion are so imperfect as to leave room for such a journey.
from the dead, that he would soon appear in his proper character of King of Israel,* and introduce the kingdom.
The Essenes had set the example of societies living in voluntary union, having their property in common, and acting in a remarkable degree on the principles of benevolence and moral purity. Jesus had also recommended mutual attachment as the distinctive sign of his followers. Their society bore, therefore, a close resemblance to those of the other Essenes ;t but it was free from the more rigid austerities of that sect, and animated by all the new views which Jesus had introduced.
There was much in such a society to attract the better sort of the Jews. In it were to be found in full force all the themes of interest peculiar to their nation, the acknowledgment of Moses, the law, and the prophets, refreshed by an application to present times and events, and by the addition of some new and stirring topics. Antiquity alone could not maintain the interest of the Mosaic worship amidst the growing wants of the age, and the followers of Jesus brought the necessary revival. In the system of Moses also there was this important omission, that nothing was said of the resurrection of the dead. This doctrine, which had grown up in different forms in almost every nation of the world, had spread rapidly amongst the Jews since their contact with the Chaldeans. At the time of Christ it was one of the chief questions of the day, and his opponents, the Sadducees, were a small minority. The
* Acts ii. 22—40, In this sermon Peter mentions Christ as him who was to sit on the throne of David. iii. 13—26, Here Peter insists that Jesus was he whom the prophets had foretold. All the Jews understood this to be a great king of Israel. iv. 10-12, 25-27; v. 29–32.
† It seems probable that most of the disciples were Essenes; because, Firstly, They were neither Pharisees nor Sadducees. Secondly, The Essenes were chiefly of the lower orders. Thirdly, The society formed by them, as described in the Acts, resembles closely those of the Essenes generally, as described by Josephus. Fourthly, The name Essene never occurs in the New Testament, whilst the Pharisees and Sadducees are frequently alluded to; which is singular, except on the supposition that the disciples were Essenes themselves, and have therefore noticed this third important sect under the names, brethren, disciples, elect, saints, &c.
asserted resurrection of Jesus, strikingly confirmed the Pharisaic, which was also the popular, belief of a resurrection of the dead. Moreover, the favourite Jewish notion of the future greatness of their nation was not yet laid aside. Also, the system of having all property in common, and of living in a state of brotherhood, has many attractions. To all which was added the claim of miraculous powers of an unusual extent, supported continually by highly-coloured versions of ordinary occurrences, by pious fictions, and, in some fortunate instances, by apparently visible proofs.*
The hundred and twenty persons, therefore, of whom Peter and the other apostles found themselves the leaders, were soon joined by increasing numbers.The aspect of the society became less obnoxious to the Jewish rulers than in the lifetime of Jesus, because there was now amongst them no living claimant of the throne of David. The doctrine of a Messiah to come from heaven did not appear very dangerous to men of the world, and in other points the followers of Jesus appeared outwardly merely
new and zealous branch of a religious sect. Besides, the doctrine of the resurrection, which they made so prominent, was calculated to conciliate towards them the Pharisaic part of the community. I Consequently the priests, after some irresolute efforts to stop the Apostles public preaching, $ more calculated to stimulate than effectually check them, decided upon letting them alone. The society soon afterwards became respectable in a worldly sense, by the open accession of
* See remarks on the miracles in the Acts, ch. X.
† By three thousand on the day of Pentecost, or about seven weeks after the death of Jesus (Acts ii. 41); and by five thousand soon after (Acts iv. 4). In this latter case, however, it is only said, they believed on Peter's preaching, and not as in the former, that they were baptized and added unto them.
| The Sadducees are represented as their chief opponents in the Acts, iv. 1, v. 17.
Acts iv. 21, So when they had further threatened them, they let them go; v. 38—40, And to him (Gamaliel) they agreed: and when they had called the Apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let
Barnabas and other men of wealth, and in a few years even of part of the priests. *
This state of calm and prosperityť lasted long enough for the infant church to become a numerous, compact, and well-organized society, appearing to outward observers merely as a modification of the Essene sect, but having within itself all the zeal and vitality which newborn notions usually impart. But after a time, a question arose which ended in separating them from the rest of the Jews, and shewing them to the world as a distinct body.
Jesus had himself observed the ritual laws of Moses, and had not authorized their disuse. But the spirit of his preceptive discourses was to make light of ceremonies in comparison with morality. Hence Moses and Jesus came to appear somewhat at variance; and as there are always found men to widen a difference, some of the new converts went so far as to preach that the law of Moses was entirely superseded by the new prophet of Nazareth.$ This brought the society into dislike with the stricter part of the Jews; a zeal was re-kindled for the honour of Moses and the law ; the fury of part of the populace was excited by the adherents of old customs against the supposed innovators; and Stephen, one of the most forward of the liberalizing converts, was stoned.
The decided hostility of the rigid Mosaic party procured to the church the reputation of indifference, at least, to the laws of Moses. The church thus became an object of persecution; but was, at the same time, forced into a position which more than compensated for the
* Acts iii. 36, iv. 3–7.
† Acts iv. 32—34, And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul... neither was there any among them that lacked. vi. 1, And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
| Matt. xxiii. 23.
Stephen was accused of having said that “ Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered.” Although the writer calls the accusers false witnesses, Stephen does not at all contradict this in his defence. Acts vi. vii.