We now move into Chapter 2, titled “The Messianic Mission of Jesus.” The chapter begins with an exploration of the cultural and world context from which Jesus’ thought and ethic grew…
Schweitzer says, “The ideal would be that Jesus should have preached religious truth in a form independent of any connection with any particular period and such that it could be taken over simply and easily by each succeeding generation of man. That, however, He did not do, and there is no doubt a reason for it.”
A look at the world in the time of Jesus may reveal the reason, for more assuredly He did not ignore its thought patterns. The question is – how much of the world and of its prevailing beliefs did he know?
One must pause here to consider the multi-cultural influences that permeated the Middle East at the time of Jesus. The trade route of the Silk Road was the conduit for ideas in all realms of human experience, and the Middle East sat right at it’s crossroads.
From the Asia Society’s website: “The religious beliefs of people along the Silk Road at the beginning of the 1st century BCE were very different from what they would later become. The peoples of the Silk Road in its early decades followed many different religions. In the Middle East, many people worshiped the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pagan pantheon. Others were followers of the old religion of Egypt, especially the cult of Isis and Osiris. Jewish merchants and other settlers had spread beyond the borders of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judea and had established their own places of worship in towns and cities throughout the region. Elsewherein the Middle East, and especially in Persia and Central Asia, many people were adherents of Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the Persian sage Zoroaster in the 6th century BCE. It posited a struggle between good and evil, light and darkness; its use of fire as the symbol of the purifying power of good was probably borrowed from the Brahmanic religion of ancient India. The Greek colonies of Central Asia that had been left behind after the collapse of the empire of Alexander the Great had, by the 1st century BCE, largely converted from Greco-Roman paganism to Buddhism, a religion that would soon use the Silk Road to spread far and wide. In India, on side routes of the Silk Road that crossed the passes to the Indus Valley and beyond, the older religion of Brahmanism had given way to Hinduism and Buddhism; the former never spread far beyond India and Southeast Asia, while the latter eventually became worldwide in extent.”
Preston Harold sees the possibilities here:
In truth there is no way to define the type and limits of Jesus’ education. After the report of his visit to the temple at twelve years of age, with His parents, it is said, “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them…” Here the record breaks off and takes up again with the ministry of John the Baptist. Within the years lost to the record, Jesus coud have traveled to the ends of civilization and back; studying along the way – or in neighboring cities He coud have studied the cultures and philosophies of East and West. In the Gospels there is a statement that could be interpreted as an indication that Jesus was away for many years: when he goes to His native place to teach and heal, people do not seem to know for sure who He is – which is to say, they ask, “Is this not the son of the joiner?” Strange question to ask, even to express incredulity, had Jesus lived there since childhood and been away but a short time. Because the townspeople know His family so well, they are offended at His brilliance even though they are astounded at His teaching.
He goes on to say:
There is a similarity, however, between (Jesus’) words and those of other philosophers. Renan attributes this to “secret channels and…that kind of sympathy which exists among the various portions of humanity…conformable to the instincts and wants of the heart in a given age.” Is this indicated, considering all that surrounded Jesus and His inquisitive, discerning mind?… In many ways His approach resembles that of Socrates, who, as Robert de Ropp describes him, followed the bidding of his “inner voice” endeavoring at all times “to lead men to truth by questioning. And the truth he valued most highly related not to externals but to the laws that govern man’s inner being.” In discussing ancient Greece, Edith Hamilton points to Plato’s philosophy: “Freedom is no matter of laws and constitutions; only he is free who realizes the divine order within himself, the true standard by which a man can steer and measure himself.” (emphasis mine)
And here we have the impetus to jump into how Jesus saw his Messianic role, which we will explore more in depth beginning with the next post. Until then, peace…