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At the time of the public appearance of Jesus, the Jews were in a state of subjection to the Romans, not having the power of life and death, and being governed by Roman officers, residing at Cæsarea, but who attend. ed at Jerusalem at the three great fellivals ; at which time there was always a great concourse of people in that city.
With respect to the religious fate of the country, the Jews were divided into two great fects, the Pharisees, and the Saducees ; of whom the former, which coollied of the bulk of the people, and especially the more religious of them, were firm believers in a refur. rection ; whereas the latter, who were in general the richest, and also the more profligate, disbelieved that great article of faith. The Pharisees also held many traditions which had been added to the laws of Moses, and were the foundation of much supersition ; and an attention to fupernumerary duties derived from this fource, took off from their attention to the moral precepts of the law.
But the most remarkable circumstance in the state of the Jewish nation at the time of Chrilt's appearance, was their expectation of the NIefah, a person announced by the prophet Daniel under the character of the Son of Man, who was to come in the clouds of heaven, and to whom God would give a kingdom that should have no end.
It was also generally understood to be foretold that the Messiah should be cut off, and that his appearance was to be leventy weeks (or as the Jews themselves in. terpret it) four hundred and nine:y years, after an or
der (which must have been given by some of the kings of Perfia) to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The Jews must therefore have been sensible this time was expired about the time of Jesus ; and in fact, overlooking what was said about his being to be cut off, which they might think to have some figurative meaning, the whole nation of the Jews, though in a more flourishing and happy state under the Romans than under any of their own princes since the Babylonilh captivity, bore with great impatience their subjection to foreigners, and eagerly expected the appearance of their Melliah, who they thought would rescue them from their subjection ; and many of them from the prohibition in the laws of Mofes (Deut. xvii, 15) to make themselves á king of any but one of their own nation, confidered fubjection to foreigners to be unlawful; and fome time before Christ's appearance in a public char. acter there had been a rebellion in the country, head, ed by Judas, surnamed Gaulonites, on this very account, and much blood had been shed in the suppression of it.
The life of Jesus was written by four persons generally called Evangelists, of whom two, Matthew and John, were apostles, and the other two, Mark and Luke, early disciples. Mark was the son of Barnabas's fifter the companion of Paul and Barnabas in their first journey to preach the gospel, but afterwards he is fup. posed to have attached himself more particularly to the aposle Peter ; and he was certainly well informed con. cerning the history which he undertook to write. Luke was a physician of Antioch, the companion of A 3
Paul in his later travels, and probably also well acquaint: ed with the other apostles. In the introduction to his gospel be mentions his ability to collect and arrange the most authentic accounts that he could collect for his undertaking:
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are said to have written their gospels about the year A. D. 64, when written accounts of the life of Christ would be particularly wanted as the great actors in the scene were then going off the stage, and the principal church at Jerusalem was about to be broken up, and the members of it dispersed, by the approaching Jewish war.
John wrote after the rest, and is said to have intend. ed his gospel to be a supplement to the others, which being composed when he was old, and being probably written in detaclıcd parts, was perhaps put together by other persons. The greatest part of his gospel consists of discourses and incidents not recorded by any of the other evangelists, but other parts are very circumstantial details of events related by them ; being perhaps taken from his mouth before he had seen the other gospels ; and in some cases in which his account differs from that of the other evangelists, he seems to have intended to be more exact than they were.
The style of John is very peculiar, and highly figu. rative, and he represents our Saviour as using a language of which we should have had no idea from the writings of the o:her evangelists. On this account his Gospel, and his other writings, are difficult to be undertood
Tho'we have only four original writers of the life of Jesus, the evidence of the history does not rest on the testimony of four men. Christianity had been propagated in a great part of the world before any of them had written, on the testimony of thousands, and tens of thousands, who had been witnesses of the great facts which they have recorded; so that the writing of these particular books are not to be conlidered as the cause but rather the effect of the belief of christianity ; nor could those books have been written and received as they were, viz. as authentic histories, of the subject of which all persons of that age were judges, if the facts they have recorded had not been well known to be true.
Two of the gospels, viz. those of Luke and John, have introductions, or observations previous to their entering on the history, that of Luke being designed to thew his competency to the undertaking, and that of John indirectly animadverting on some opinions concerning the person of Christ, which were very preva. lent at the time of his writing, and which seem to have been the occasion of all that he wrote. I shall begin with that of Luke.