Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: The Prophecies. - The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861)
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CHAPTER IV.: The Prophecies. - Lysander Spooner, The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861) 
The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
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Of those predictions in the Old Testament, which are sometimes regarded as prophecies, only one, beside such as are said to relate to Jesus, will be particularly noticed; and that, not because it has any resonable claims to be considered a prophecy, but because it is frequently mentioned as such.
It is said to refer to the present state of the Jews. It is contained, I believe, principally, in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy, and the 26th of Leviticus—and was uttered by Moses—how many centuries before the time of Jesus, I leave to others to calculate. I have refered to these chapters, and if the reader attaches a feather’s weight to the predictions interspersed through them, I ask him, before going farther, to turn to the chapters, and read the whole of them. I hardly believe there is, in the country, a man of common sense and common intelligence, who will read them, and will then look an unbeliever in the face, and say he believes that Moses had any, the most distant, reference to the state of the Jews at this time, or that he intended the most remote intimation that any of those punishments, which he threatened, would be visited upon the Jews on account of their rejection of any Messiah, or any being like a Messiah.
Moses was in the habit of pretending to have personal communications from Deity, in private, and to receive (Mahomet-like) from him those instructions, which, as the pretended agent of God, he imparted to the ignorant, superstitious, simple and credulous Israelites.* In this way he imposed upon, and preserved his influence over them. He was in the habit also of promising to them every variety of worldly prosperity, if they would obey the commands, which he, as if in the name of God, enjoined upon them, and of threatening them apparently with all the worldly evils that he could conceive of, in case of their disobedience.
In the context immediately preceding these chapters, he gives the Israelites various commands as usual, and then follows them with such promises and threatenings as would naturally appear to him necessary to insure obedience. Among a variety of other threatened calamities, he enumerates dispersion by their enemies, and, on the other hand, among the promises, he enumerates, in palpable, and almost literal, contrast to the threat, success in putting their enemies to flight; but in all this he says no more about a Messiah than he does about Vulcan or Neptune. And those predictions, which some would fain have understood as intended to refer to the present condition of the Jews, are such as would not now be thought of by Christians, as having any reference to any thing but the case then in hand, had not the advocates of Christianity, in order to support the truth of the Bible, been driven to the necessity of grasping at shadows instead of realities.
But there is one way, in which every man can settle all questions in relation to these predictions, viz: by answering to himself the question, whether, if the Jews had never been dispersed, he would consider these predictions intended as prophecies, and as having so failed, as that their failure would be substantial evidence against the truth of the Bible? If such a failure would not have been evidence against the truth of the Bible, such a fulfilment, as is set up for them, cannot be evidence in support of it.
The idea that God dispersed the whole nation of Jews, and that he continues them in that dispersed state, simply because they were and are not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, or because a few of their nation, many centuries ago, put him to death, is consistent with the Old Testament doctrine that Cod punnishes the children for the iniquities of the parents, and also with the New Testament doctrine that God will punish men for not believing what appears to them improbable—but it is not consistent with the views that unbiassed minds have of the nature of justice.
Many people think the present temporal condition of the Jews is evidence that God is puning them for their obstinacy in not believing in Jesus. Now the condition of many millions of Africans is far worse than that of the Jews; but can any one of those, who know so much about God’s designs in bringing calamities upon particular nations, tell us what he is punishing the Africans for?
Do the ancient and modern conditions of the Jews furnish any more evidence that they were once God’s favorite nation, (as the Bible pretends), or that they are now the objects of his dislike, than do the ancient and modern conditions of the Africans, of their having once stood, and of their now standing, in the same relations to God?
Suppose the inhabitants of some petty province in India should pretend that their ancestors had once been the favorites of Deity, could they not, by referring to their history, and to the Shaster which they suppose God has given them, support their pretensions to that distinction just as strongly as the Bible does those of the Jews? And could not we, in their present condition, find as much proof that Deity had become offended with them, as we can, in the present condition of the Jews, that God is offended with them?
Let us now look at those predictions, that are said to foretell a Messiah, and to have been fulfilled by Jesus. I know of three only that are worthy of notice.
The first commences at the thirteenth verse of the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah, and extends through the subsequent chapter.
It is a sufficient answer, for the present, to this description of the “servant of the Lord,” as he is called, to say, that it is so indefinite, that it would apply to many others as well as to Jesus—and even if it delineated the character and history of Jesus a little more nearly than those of any other person, still it is entirely too indefinite to furnish any thing like reasonable grounds for believing that Isaiah foresaw either a Messiah, his character or history. Almost every paragraph, that applies with any justness to Jesus, would also apply equally well to a great number of those men who pretended to be prophets, and who were killed by the Jews.
In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew (30th, 31st, and 34th verses). Jesus accuses the Jewish nation of having “persecuted, scourged, killed and crucified the prophets, the wise men and scribes, which had been sent unto them.” In the thirty-seventh verse he says, “O! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee,” &c. It appears from these declarations, that if Isaiah intended by his description of a “servant of the Lord,” only a general description of the characters and fates of those, who, in different ages of the Jewish nation, professed to speak to the Jews in the name of the Lord, his language would apply to them, with the same propriety that it would to Jesus; and it is far more probable that he should have had those men in his mind than a Messiah, because he had personal opportunity of observing their characters and fates. They were men, to whom the Jews not only refused to listen, but whom also (as appears by the language of Jesus before quoted) they treated with the greatest indignity, insult and cruelty. They, far more than Jesus, might be said to be “men of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” for they could have had but few friends or followers. They “had no form, or comeliness, or beauty, that caused them to be desired”—they were “brought as lambs to the slaughter”—they must have been, by those who believed in them, “esteemed stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”—they were “cut off out of the land of the living”—they had “done no violence, nor was any deceit found in their mouths.” They were probably inoffensive, deluded men, whose imaginations were filled with extravagant notions about God’s intercourse with men, and his method of governing them; and, owing to this cause, they were continually dreaming that God came to themselves, and commanded them to declare to the Jews that this evil, and that evil, would come upon them, and that this and that great and important religious event was about to happen. But the Jews, having no confidence in them, persecuted and destroyed them.
Isaiah speaks of the Almighty making the soul of his “servant an offering for sin”—and this language perhaps may at first view appear to have more relation to Jesus than it could have to a prophet. But, if—as all men of common sense, who disregard authority, believe—sacrifices are of no avail, and the doctrine that God requires them imputes to him, not only absurdity, but injustice also, and unnecessary and barbarous cruelty, then this intimation, that the soul of the “servant of the Lord” was to be made an offering for sin, is one, which Isaiah could not have been dictated by God to have uttered, and it could with truth apply neither to Jesus, nor any one else.
But should it yet be contended that Jesus was made an offering for sin, (a supposition, which certainly cannot be proved), it might then be replied that there can be little doubt that Isaiah, who, of course, believed in the utility of sacrifices, believed that every one of those, who were slain for preaching (as he supposed) in the name of the Lord, were made offerings for sin. It was perfectly natural that he should believe so. How otherwise would a man, with his views about God, about the moral condition of the Jews, about the necessity of sacrifices, and about the religious character of those who were slain, account for the fact that God permitted them to be slain, than by supposing that they were made offerings for sin?
If he considered them offerings for sin, it was then perfectly natural for him to believe that these sacrifices would redeem many, and that the individuals, supposed to be offered as sacrifices, would “see their seed,” (for those redeemed by them could be called their seed, with the same propriety that those redeemed by Jesus could be called his seed)—that they “should see the travail of their souls and be satisfied,” &c. So that considering this description of the “servant of the Lord,” in whatever light we may, it will still apply to many of these supposed prophets with nearly, if not entirely, the same force that it would to Jesus, even if he were what Christians suppose him to have been.
There are strong reasons for believing that Isaiah referred to such, generally, as he esteemed the servants and prophets of the Lord, but who were despised and persecuted by the Jews. If he meant a Messiah, and if he himself were actually a prophet, why did he not (as well as Daniel) use the word Messiah, instead of one so indefinite and general in its application as servant? If he meant a Messiah, why did he not tell us more about him—when he would appear, &c.? Above all, why did he not describe him so that, when he should appear, he might be identified by the Jews, and distinguished from all others?
But suppose he did actually mean a Messiah—what then? The fact that Isaiah expected a Messiah, or that he dreamed or imagined that the Lord told him a Messiah was to come, does not prove at all that there ever was to be a Messiah. The fact, that the whole Jewish nation expected a Messiah, is no evidence that a Messiah was actually to come. The combined facts, that a Messiah was predicted, that a Messiah was generally expected by the inhabitants of Judea, that he was expected near a particular time, and that, about that time, one or seventy appeared, each pretending to be the Messiah, do not prove, or have any sort of tendency to prove, that there ever was, or ever was to be, any such being as a Messiah. Judging naturally on all these facts, they are only evidence that some superstitious man, whose head was full of marvellous thoughts about what God would do for those whom the individual supposed to be his favorite nation, dreamed, or imagined that God told him, that He would send a Messiah; that this individual proclaimed what he supposed God had told him; that the nation, who were always ready to expect some extraordinary interposition in their behalf, were favorably struck with the idea of a Messiah; that the belief, that one would come, became prevalent; and that, in consequence of that general belief, a great many, were so infatuated as to imagine, or so dishonest as to pretend, (knowing the contrary), that they themselves were the individuals appointed by God to be Messiahs, and did actually claim to be such: There is nothing mysterious, or supernatural, or improbable, in such a combination of facts. They all, in a community so superstitious as that of Judea, would naturally follow the simple one, that some priest, or some one whom the people regarded as a prophet, imagined that God would send a Messiah, or dreamed that God told him he would send one.
This idea of a Messiah is one, that would be very likely to occur to the mind of a priest, or one who should believe himself a prophet, among a people like the Jews, who believed in sacrifices, believed themselves the special favorites of God, and believed also that God frequently interposed miraculously for their welfare. This priest, from the nature of his office and employment, would naturally have his mind occupied with thoughts about God’s intentions respecting his favorite people, and his designs in relation to their religious welfare. It would be nothing remarkable if such an individual, who should imagine that there was a necessity for some new interposition of God in favor of his people, and should believe that God frequently sent messengers to them, should hit upon the idea that God, in order to meet this new and uncommon necessity, would send an extraordinary messenger to them, and, (since this priest believed in the necessity of sacrifices), that he should also believe that this messenger would be made a sacrifice for the sins of the nation. Nor would it be remarkable, if such an idea, expressed by a priest, for whom the people had some veneration, or by a supposed prophet, should strike the minds of so superstitious a people as the Jews so favorably, and as being so probable, that the belief should become prevalent, that God had supernaturally conveyed this idea to the mind of the priest, or supposed prophet, and, of course, that it would be realized. If such were the fact, it would then be very natural that, among a people where many were so infatuated as to imagine themselves prophets, there should be many, who should imagine themselves, or claim to be, Messiahs—and if a supposed prophet had predicted the time of the coming of this Messiah, that would be the time when these deluded or dishonest Messiahs would appear, and proclaim their characters, and set up their claims.
Supposing such to have been the cause of the appearance of all the pretended Messiahs that appeared about the time of Jesus, and supposing him to have been one of these deluded or dishonest men, the mystery of the fulfilment (such as it was) of the prediction is then all explained in a natural and probable manner, with the exception of Jesus’s being put to death,—a fact, which cannot be explained by the existence of any general belief that the Messiah was to be cut off—since Jesus was not crucified on account of any intention, on the part of those who crucified him, to make good the prediction. Still, if it be said that his being slain is a proof of the prophesy, and of his being the Messiah, then, the answer is, that others of these pretended Messiahs were also slain—so that by this means also it is impossible to identify the real Messiah.
One of these pretended Messiahs was killed by order of Festus;* another was burnt alive by Vespasian.† One Theudas got a sect after him (probably under the pretence of being the Messiah), and was then slain: also one Judas, (Acts 5—36 and 37). How many others were slain I know not. It is probable however that a considerable number of them were. (See Josephus, Book 2d—Chap. 13).
The prediction then, that the Messiah should be offered as a sacrifice for sin, (if in reality there were any such prediction), would doubtless apply to some, and perhaps to many, others, as well as to Jesus. So that here too there is a complete failure of identity.
But I apprehend that Christians, who may read this book, will, before they have gone through with it, find still another difficulty in the way of their making Jesus answer the description of their predicted Messiah. That difficulty will consist in their inability to prove that Jesus was ever slain at all. I think they will find that the evidence, instead of proving that he was slain, comes much nearer proving directly the reverse, viz: that he was not slain. If such should be the case, their Messiah will then most surely be “cut off.” Should the fact of his death be left, by the evidence, in the least uncertainty, the prediction, as applicable to him, must be considered to have failed; because prophecy, no more than any other supernatural event can be reasonably proved by doubtful evidence. Both the prediction and the fulfilment must be incontestibly established, or no prophecy is shown.
Another prediction, that was to be noticed, is in Daniel 9th,—25 and 26.* It is here stated that the Messiah shall appear in sixty-nine weeks “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem,” which appears, from the context, to have been about the time of the prediction. Commentators have said that a week here means seven years. Whether they have sufficient authority for saying so, I neither know nor care. Still, if by calling it seven years, instead of seven days, the prediction can be made to look any more nearly like a prophecy, why, then call it seven years. The time for the appearing of the Messiah would then be fixed at the period of four hundred and eighty-three years from the time of the prediction. Did Jesus appear precisely at that time? The little search I have made does not enable me to settle that question, or to say certainly whether any one else ever did. I can only say that I have never known it to be even hinted that he did. He undoubtedly appeared about that time, as did a great number of others; and the reason why all appeared near that time, undoubtedly was, that that was the time when a Messiah was expected.
In the twenty-sixth verse it is said that “after three score and two weeks, Messiah shall be cut off.” Calling the week seven years, in this case as in the other, the true Messiah ought then to have lived four hundred and thirty-four years; (He was to have been a marvellous personage in point of age as well as in other respects)—but Jesus lived to be only about thirty-two or thirty-three years old—leaving the slight deficiency of four hundred years.
There is no way, that I have discovered, by which the believer can get rid of this dilemma. If the week mean but seven days, Jesus did not, in the first place, appear at the proper time for the true Messiah, and he also lived too long; but if we call the week seven years, then he did not live long enough.
But this prediction fails in another particular. Daniel calls “the Messiah, the Prince.” He then says, after having previously spoken of “the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem,” that “the street shall be built again, and the wall even in troublous times.” It is evident from this language and the context, that Messiah was to be a temporal prince, and it is probable that he was to restore and build Jerusalem.
Daniel says also, that “after three score and two weeks, Messiah shall be cut off, and the people of the prince that shall come, shall destroy the City and the sanctuary,” &c. It is evident from this language also, that Messiah was understood to be a temporal prince, and that he was to be succeeded by a foreign prince and an enemy.
Passages also in the New Testament, applied to Jesus by his biographers, show that a temporal prince had been expected. Matthew (2—6) represents one of the old supposed prophets as saying that “out of Bethlehem should come a Governor, that should rule God’s people Israel.” Luke also (1—69, 71) puts into the mouth of Zecharias a prediction, that the nation was to be saved by the Messiah “from their enemies, and from the hand of all them that hated them.” Such things could be spoken only of a temporal ruler or deliverer.
There can be no doubt, indeed all Christians admit, that the Jews expected a temporal prince, (although perhaps one, who was also to be made a spiritual sacrifice, after having liberated the nation from all its temporal dangers and calamities), and the language of Daniel, above quoted, most clearly authorized that expectation. To say that it did not, is to say no less than that since that time words have changed their meaning. If then such were the true meaning of the prediction, Jesus certainly fulfilled it not in the least tittle, and of course was not the Messiah. But if such were not its meaning, the least that can then be said of the prediction, is, that it was made in such deceitful language as to cheat the Jews, and prevent their identifying the true Messiah, whenever he might appear.
Unless the prediction described the Messiah so accurately that he could be unequivocally identified, certainly it was no prophecy. Such was the case here. The very people, to whom it was predicted that he should be sent, and whom he was to redeem and reign over, did not identify him in the person of Jesus. He did not in any important particular, or at least in any greater degree than many others, answer the description; and therefore, even if he were the true Messiah, the Jews did rightly in rejecting him, because it was their duty to be governed by the description.
Furthermore, it is evident, from various circumstances, that Jesus himself originally understood the prediction as did the Jews, and that he did, at one time, expect to have become a temporal prince.
The particulars of his journey from the mount of Olives to Jerusalem, recorded by Matthew (21—1 to 11), Mark (11), Luke (19—28 to 44) and John (12—12 to 15), show that he at that time expected to have been received, as King of the Jews. Matthew says “a very great multitude” attended him; that they spread even their garments in the way; that they cut down branches of trees and strewed them in the way, and that they cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Mark says they cried “Blessed be the Kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Luke says they cried “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord.” John says that much people, that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried “Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Is there here room for the slightest reasonable doubt that this multitude believed him to be a temporal prince, specially sent by God to rule over the Jewish nation? There certainly can be none, justified and authorized as such a belief was, in relation to the Messiah, by the predictions of those whom the Jews supposed to be prophets. The question then arises, how came this multitude, at this time, to believe him to be their temporal king? Why, in this way only, viz: he himself must have directly or indirectly given to their minds the impression that he was to be, or it could not have become so general among them—and if he did either create or sanction that impression, he must himself have expected to be a temporal prince, or he intentionally deceived this multitude. By barely consenting to be attended by this great body of men, by these shouts, and these hosannas, and by approaching Jerusalem in this triumphal and kingly manner, he proves that he either expected to have been made a king, or that he practised a deception on the people—for, be it remembered, he could not have been ignorant that these demonstrations of loyalty were offered to him, by his attendants, solely because they thought he was about to become their king. John has removed all doubt that they were so offered. He says (12—16) that even “Jesus’s disciples understood not these things at the first,” that is, at the time, and on the spot, they did not understand that he was to be a spiritual king—and if they did not, there is but one answer to the question, what did they understand him to be? But John adds, in substance, that “when Jesus was glorified,” they then saw what their conduct had meant, and how they had in reality been paying their homage to a spiritual prince under the mistaken apprehension that he was to be an earthly one. The amount of this ridiculous equivocation is, that Jesus took to himself, at this time, the Hosannas which he must have known were intended for another, and trusted to the future, when he should be “glorified,” to set the matter right—or, in other words, that, for the time being, he practised a little pious deception, for the glory of God, and the good of that spiritual kingdom, which he was laboring to establish.
If Christians would save the character of Jesus for honesty and plain dealing, they must disclaim for him this miserable trick that John attributes to him, and must acknowledge that he intended to have become a king. All the accounts of this transaction go to show that such was the fact, that he expected to have been received as king at that time; that he rode that ass’s colt solely because he knew that “it had been written, Behold thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt,” and that he supposed the Jews would therefore consider his being mounted on an ass good evidence of his right to be their king.
It is manifest also that he was disappointed in the reception he met with as he approached Jerusalem. Luke says (19—39) the Pharisees told him to rebuke his followers. This incident shows that the Pharisees would not acknowledge him as king. From this occurrence, and from what follows, it seems hardly possible to doubt, that Jesus then saw that he could not be king. He then, as he naturally would if such were the case, (I here, on account of its importance, repeat substantially what I have said in a former chapter), “falls into a lamentation for the fate of the City—not for the souls of the Jews, as he would have been likely to do, if he had intended to be only a spiritual redeemer, but for the fate of the City itself. He virtually says (Luke 19—42 to 44) that if the Jews had but received him as king, their City would have been preserved; but since they had rejected him, the City would he destroyed. He says that “enemies shall compass it around, shall cast a trench about it, and keep it in on every side, and lay it even with the ground,” &c. This is not the language of a purely spiritual deliverer—it is precisely such language as we might reasonably expect to hear from a man, who wished to make himself the ruler of a people, but who, on being rejected as such, should endeavour to alarm their fears for the safety of their City. Or it is such language as we might reasonably expect to hear from a man so deluded as to imagine that God had specially appointed him to be the deliverer of a people, and the preserver of a City. Such an one, on finding that he would not be accepted as king, would naturally infer, that inasmuch as the deliverer, whom God had appointed to save the city, had been rejected, the city would of course be destroyed.”
In these facts too is to be found the secret of the prediction, that he made soon after, (Mat. 23—37 to 39, and c. 24—Mark 13—Luke 21), respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, and which has been regarded as wonderful evidence of his power of prophecy. How wonderful the evidence is, here clearly appears. The fact, that Jerusalem was afterwards destroyed, has nothing to do with the prediction; because we can see the grounds, and probably the only grounds, on which he formed his opinion that it would be destroyed—grounds sufficient to lead such a man, as I have supposed him to be, to believe that it would be destroyed, or to predict that it would, whether he thought so or not—and we are not to suppose him possessed of the power of prophecy, when his language can be accounted for without such a supposition.
But to return to the inquiry—did Jesus ever attempt to make himself king of the Jews? Another important item of testimony to prove this fact, is, that it was very soon after this triumphal ride from the Mount of Olives, to Jerusalem, that he was apprehended and crucified, and the universal charge against him then was, that he had set himself up to be King of the Jews.
As the remaining evidence of his design to make himself king of the Jews, has probably been sufficiently set forth in the former chapter on the nature and character of Jesus, it need not here be repeated.
Perhaps some persons may think it rather extraordinary that a man like Jesus should have conceived such a design as that of making himself a king. But if such persons look at Josephus (Book 2d—Chap. 13, &c. &c.) and at Newton on the Prophecies, Chap. 19,—they will find that, about the time of Jesus, characters very much like him, were no great novelties among the Jews.
If these views are correct, Jesus did not, although he labored to do so, answer the prediction concerning a Messiah, viz: that he was to be a temporal king—but was simply a deluded or dishonest man, like many others, who set up similar pretensions, and all his talk about being “sent of God,” &c., was but the insane gibberish of a deluded fanatic, or the knavish pretences of an impostor.
But supposing the predicted Messiah to have been intended only as a spiritual prince—even then Jesus does not answer the description. This Messiah was to be “the glory of God’s people Israel.” He was “to save God’s people from their sins.” By “God’s people,” as then understood by the authors of the Bible, were meant the Jews. Jesus also himself virtually predicted that he should redeem the Jews, for he appointed his disciples in number corresponding with the number of the original tribes of Jews, and he also promised to these twelve disciples that they should sit (Christians must say, in heaven, although he at the time probably meant on earth) on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. He, by these acts, and by his whole conduct, showed that he expected to have redeemed the Jews. But none of these predictions or expectations have been fulfilled. Some Christians believe that the Jews will sometime be converted to Christianity—but where is the foundation for such a belief? Jesus can never answer the description given of the Messiah any better than he did while on earth, and therefore there is no reason why the Jews should ever believe him to have been the Messiah. Even if we suppose that the Jews, at the time when Jesus was alive, were mistaken as to his character, still, if eighteen centuries do not afford a sufficient time for them to discover their mistake, how long a time will probably be necessary?
But, further, if a Messiah were necessary to redeem the Jews, was it not just as important to redeem those Jews who have died during the last eighteen centuries, as to redeem any that may live hereafter?
Since the time of Jesus about sixty generations of Jews have died, without being redeemed, as believers must say; and yet these same believers virtually say, that if the Jews should hereafter be converted to Christianity, Jesus will then fairly answer the description of that Messiah who was to be the Saviour of the Jewish nation. Every generation is a nation of itself, and if Messiah was not to save either of the first sixty nations of Jews that should succeed him, the prophet ought to have been more explicit in designating what nation of Jews he would save.
To say that Jesus would have saved the Jews, if they would but have received him, is no answer to the objection. If a man predict that a certain event will come to pass, he virtually predicts that every necessary intermediate event will also happen. And if a supposed prophet predicted that a Messiah should redeem the Jews, such a prediction was equivalent to one that they would believe on him—and if they did not believe on him—no matter for what reason—the prediction then failed as essentially as if no pretended Messiah had ever offered to save them.
Jesus, then, did not come in the same character, (of a temporal prince) that it was predicted Messiah would come in;—nor has he been received by that nation, who, it was predicted, would receive the Messiah. We therefore have no authority, on the ground of prophecy, for believing that he was the expected Messiah; on the contrary, we have much express authority for believing that he was no Messiah at all.
The remaining prediction relating to a Messiah, which was to be noticed, is, that he was to be of the family of Jesse, and a Son of David. Matthew (1) and Luke (3) have attempted to show that Jesus was a descendant of David—and how have they attempted to show it? Why, solely by pretending to trace the genealogy of Joseph, who, as they both agree, was not his father, but simply became the husband of his mother a short time before the birth of Jesus. They might therefore with the same propriety have traced their own genealogies, in order to prove that Jesus was a descendant of David, as that of Joseph.
This blunder, it would seem, besides proving that there is not the slightest ground for the pretence that Jesus was a descendant of David, must also be considered as having a slight tendency to show how much those two stupid blockheads knew.
These chroniclers, who, with all good fidelity, did so much for posterity, have also shown, in attempting to trace the genealogy of Joseph, an accuracy, a faithfulness, and a knowledge of the importance of being exact in all matters of revelation, corresponding to the character of their intellects. Luke makes there to have been forty generations between Joseph and David, while Matthew connects the two by a chain of less than thirty, and running through an almost totally different list of names. Even if Joseph had been the acknowledged father of Jesus, a disagreement of this kind would prove that there was no more reason for pretending that Jesus was a descendant of David, than for pretending that he was a descendant of any other Jew, who might be named at random from among those who lived in the times of David.
The necessary falsehood of one or the other, and the probable falsehood of both, of these pretended genealogies, would tend to discredit any but an inspired book.
Let us now examine Jesus’s own predictions, and see how he sustained the character of a prophet.
His only important predictions, that I have discovered, are included in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, and in the last three verses of the preceding chapter. Mark also in his thirteenth, and Luke in his twenty-first chapter, have recorded a part of the same predictions, although not so fully as Matthew.
The only one of his predictions, which has been fulfilled, and which is definite and important enough to have any claims to be noticed, is that which foretels the destruction of the temple.
It is evident from the whole of Matthew’s record of the prediction, (beginning at the 37th verse of the 23d chapter), that Jesus did not intend to convey the idea that the temple was devoted to any particular destruction, distinct from that which was to befal the City at large. He merely speaks of the destruction of the temple, because they happened to be standing by it, and speaking of it—but he only conveys the idea that it would be involved in the general ruin.
I attempted, on a former page, to account for this prediction, in this way, viz: Jesus had read in the Old Testament, that Messiah was to be a temporal prince, who was to be raised up specially by God for the purpose of saving the Jewish nation, perhaps from their sins, but especially from their enemies, and he inferred, as he reasonably might from these premises, that some great temporal danger threatened the nation, and that an extraordinary deliverer was necessary to save them from this danger. He believed himself to be, or dishonestly wished to make others believe him to be, this Messiah, this appointed deliverer and king. When then he found himself rejected by this nation, whom he supposed, or dishonestly pretended, that he was to have saved, he inferred as a matter of course, or threatened as a matter of policy, that the calamity would come upon them. He would also, in such a case, naturally infer, if honest, or threaten, if dishonest, that this calamity should come soon, and therefore he ventured to predict that it would come in the course of one generation.
The last three verses of the twenty-third chapter of Matthew tend strongly to confirm this view. The language of Jesus, as there recorded, evidently means this. “O! Jerusalem, I would have protected thy children as a hen protects her chickens under her wings, but they would not suffer me to do it—now therefore their house (homes, or possibly temple) shall become desolate, for I say unto you they shall not see their deliverer, until they will receive the one that was sent to them by the Lord (to wit: myself”).
If such be a correct view of his thoughts, and a fair interpretation of his language, the question is at an end, for here we see sufficient causes to induce a man like him to make such a prediction—and we are not to suppose him a prophet, if we can account for his language in any other way, because it is unphilosophical to attribute, to supernatural causes, things that might have been naturally produced.
But beside the reasonableness, and the manifest probability of the above supposition, there are one or two other circumstances, that corroborate its truth. One is, that but a short time before this prediction was made, (as appears by the order in which the two events are recorded both by Matthew, Mark and Luke), and immediately after his triumphal ride from the mount of Olives to Jerusalem, and his (unquestionable) rejection as king by the Pharisees and principal men of the Jews, he, apparently in the midst of the disappointment or chagrin occasioned by that rejection, uttered a prediction or threat almost precisely similar to the one we have now been considering, (Luke 19—39 to 44).
Another circumstance tending most satisfactorily to confirm the above view of this matter, is that he could not fix the time when the temple should be destroyed. He only ventured to say that it would be in the course of that generation, but expressly told his disciples (Mark 13—32) that he did not know either the day or the hour when the event would happen.
If he had the power of foreseeing future events, why could he not have known the time of the occurrence, as well as the occurrence itself?
Let us now look at some of his predictions, that were not fulfilled.
He predicted (Mat. 24—3, &c.) that “the end of the world” should come in the course of that generation. But here we are met by the reply, that he did not mean that the end of the world itself would come, or, in other words, that he said what he did not mean, (a practice, to which, according to modern Christians, he was very much addicted). But if he did not mean what he said, what did he mean? “I don’t know,” says the Christian, “but I think he must have meant this, or if he did not, perhaps he meant that—but I am sure he could not have meant the end of the world, because if he had, the end of the world would have surely come.” This logic is so satisfactory, that I might perhaps despair of convincing a believer on this point, were there no external evidence tending to prove that Jesus, in this particular case, meant as he said. It therefore very fortunately happens that such evidence is to be found. For example,—he had told his disciples the same thing before. In Matthew 16—28, he holds to them this solemn and unequivocal language, “verily, I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
We have also further evidence that the twelve understood him to mean the end of the world, and what they understood him to mean, Christians cannot deny to be his true meaning. Peter declares (Acts 2—16 and 17) on the day of Pentecost, that the conduct, which the apostles had there exhibited, was that, which it had been predicted by Joel, should happen “in the last days.” Peter also, in his first epistle 4—7, says, “the end of all things is at hand.” Paul also (1 Thess. 4—15 to 17) speaks of Christ’s coming as an event, that was to take place during the lifetime of some of those whom he was addressing. John also (Rev. 1), speaks of it as an event near at hand.
Jesus also said that the time of the destruction of the temple should be the time of his coming, (Mat. 24—3, &c). It is manifest from this circumstance too that he supposed the end of the world, and the destruction of the temple would happen at one and the same time, for he would not, of course, have fixed the time of his coming before the end of the world.
It was natural also that he should suppose the end of the world and the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem would happen at the same time, because both the temple and the city were esteemed sacred, and as under the special protection of God, and it was therefore natural for those, who believed thus, to suppose that God would not permit them to be destroyed before the rest of the world.
And here too we find another false prediction, viz: in relation to the time of his coming. He has here left no doubt of his meaning, for he particularly described the manner of his coming—and this manner is just such as we might reasonably suppose a deluded man would picture in his imagination, or an impostor conjure up to impose upon the miserable dupes who were his followers. He said (Mat. 24—30 and 31) that “all the tribes of the earth should see him, coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” And, said he, “he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
That his disciples understood this prediction as one that was to be fulfilled literally, is sufficiently proved by Paul’s declaration before referred to, (1 Thess. 4—15 to 17), where he says explicitly that “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shoul, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we, which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord, in the air.”
His predicting also that he should “gather his elect” at the time of the destruction of the temple, shows that he intended to say that the end of the world would then come. But he has never thus come to gather his elect. and this is the third false prediction.
There is still a fourth. He said (Mat. 24—14) that before these occurrences should happen, “this gospel of the kingdom should be preached in all nations, and to this declaration, as well as to the others, he adds this sweeping clause, that “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” None pretend that in the course of that generation his gospel was preached in all nations. The most that is pretended, is, that some one or other of his apostles preached in all the principal nations with which they were acquainted. But the prediction was that it should be preached in all nations, and if it were not so preached, the prediction failed, let the cause of the system’s not being preached, be what it may. Jesus himself was probably as ignorant of what nations there were in the world as his apostles, for he gave them no directions unless this general one, to preach every where.
But not only the letter of this prediction failed, but the spirit of it also failed even in relation to those countries that were known and visited by the apostles. The great mass of men in those countries, during that generation, had no proper opportunity to hear the doctrines of the apostles, to learn the character of their system, and to judge of its truth. A great pertion probably, so general was the ignorance that prevailed, did not, for the first forty years after the death of Jesus, know any thing of consequence respecting him. The apostles just set foot, as it were, in various countries, but the mere setting foot in a country did not spread a general and full knowledge of Christianity throughout that country—yet it ought so to have done in order to fulfil the spirit of this prediction. Jesus undoubtedly meant, that within the period mentioned, his religion should be made so universally known, that all, who would, might have an opportunity to embrace it, and be saved.
Here then are four several predictions, viz: that the end of the world would come—that he himself would come visibly in the clouds of heaven—that his angels should gather his elect from the four winds,—and, that his gospel should be preached in all the nations of the earth, in the course of the then present generation—all of which predictions proved false nearly eighteen centuries ago.
There is no room for any quibble on his language, or for pretending that these predictions were carelessly or thoughtlessly made. After having described the events in plain and unambiguous terms, he adds (Mat. 24—34) “verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” He goes still farther, and follows even this declaration with one of the most solemn asseverations that man could utter. Says he (Mat. 24—35) “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.”
This dishonest or infatuated man was predicting events, of the occurrence of which he knew nothing, for time has proved that those various predictions, and that solemn asseveration were falsehoods.
These predictions of Jesus, in relation to his gospel’s being preached throughout the world, his coming, his gathering, his elect, &c., have thus far been considered as having reference to events of a religious character, and as such have been shown to be false. But there is another and more probable interpretation to be given to them, and that is, that they refer to a second attempt, which he then had in contemplation, to make himself king of the Jews.
There are many circumstances tending strongly to confirm this view. One is, that this prediction, that he should come again, was made very soon after he had once attempted to get himself accepted as king of the Jews, and had failed. It is natural that he should have it in his mind to make another effort, if he saw any possibility of his doing it with better prospects of success. And as he was looking forward to a time when the nation would be in danger from their enemies, it is natural that he should suppose that such a season of peril and calamity would be a favorable one for the triumph of his scheme.
A great part of his account (Mat. 24) of the scenes that were to precede his coming, indicate that he expected only a temporary calamity to the Jewish nation, and that the declaration ascribed to him, that the “end of the world” was then to come, must be a misrepresentation.
His prediction that he should come “in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory,” (if indeed he made such an one—which Deists are not at all bound to believe), is not inconsistent with the supposition that he intended to come as a temporal deliverer; for such a pretension was hardly more extravagant than ought to have been expected from such a man; nor was it too extravagant to gain credit among his disciples; and it was indispensably necessary that he should hold out a very extravagant expectation of some sort in order to keep up the delusion and faith of his ignorant followers until his arrival. Besides, he said that his competitors (whom he called “false Christs”) “should show great signs and wonders,” and it was necessary that he should represent that the pageantry of his coming would be still more marvellous than that of theirs, otherwise he could not have sustained his own reputation, in the eyes of his disciples, for being the true Messiah. He must also promise something corresponding with the dignity of a Messiah, else his disciples would not have cared to wait for him, when they should be in the way of having so many opportunities and inducements, as he expected they would have, within the ranks of other pretended Messiahs. Finally, a man, who, like Jesus, could have the likelihood to assert, without ever putting any thing of that kind to the test of experiment, that he could rebuild the temple of Jerusalem in three days, (John 2—19), or that if he were but to question his father, the Almighty, he should immediately receive from him more than twelve legions of angels to protect his person, (Mat. 26—53), or that his followers, if they had faith could move mountains, and cast them into the sea, (Mark 11—23), would not be [Editor: illegible words] when, as in this case, his circumstances required a large story of some [Editor: illegible words] the foolish dupes, that followed him, and were ready to swallow anything from his lips, that he should sometime make a second appearance among them, and should then come in the clouds of heaven, &c.—especially if he could tell them, as he did in this instance, that it might be many years before the thing would happen.
Another circumstance worthy of especial notice, is, that (Mat. 23—37 to 39) a short time before his prediction in relation to a second coming, after having declared how willingly he would have protected the people of Jerusalem, and how they would not permit him to do it, he proceeded to say that calamity should come upon them, and that “they should not see him thenceforth, until they should say blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” What is the meaning of such language as this, unless it be that he had resolved to absent himself, until the nation should find itself so involved in danger that they would receive him gladly as their deliverer? Here then is an express intimation that he expected, at a future time, to come and be received as the temporal deliverer of the nation. Now when was this second coming as a temporal deliverer to be, unless it were at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, as spoken of in the very next chapter, when he should come with power and great glory?
He tells his disciples also (Mat. 24—14) that before the time of his next coming, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations.” It was expected by the Jews that under the reign of their Messiah, their nation would acquire great temporal splendor, and great importance and high rank among the nations of the earth, and that people from all nations would flock together at Jerusalem. What then did Jesus mean, when he said that “this gospel of the kingdom should be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations,” before the time of his coming? Did he not mean that his project of an earthly kingdom, or the good news of the earthly kingdom, which he designed to establish should be so proclaimed abroad, that all, who should desire it, might, at the time of his coming to take the throne, assemble and become subjects of his government? The terms used indicate most strikingly that such was his meaning. He does not say merely his gospel, nor does he say his spiritual gospel, nor his system of religion, nor the gospel of a future world; but he says “this gospel of the kingdom.” Besides, we ought to suppose that when he spoke of the kingdom, he alluded to some particular kingdom, with the idea of which his disciples were familiar—and yet, with the idea of what kingdom were they then familiar, except the kingdom of their expected Measiah, which, as they all understood, was to be an earthly one? They had, at that time, as Christians themselves admit, never dreamed of his kingdom being an heavenly one.
He said also (Mat. 21—31) that his angels* “should gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Now who were these “elect,” that were to be “gathered together,” from the four winds? Why, it is clear that they were living men, and that they were to be gathered together at some place on the earth; for after describing the tribulation that should come upon Jerusalem as being so great, that unless the duration of it should be shortened, no “flesh should be saved,” he adds (22d verse) that “for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened”—that is, this time of calamity shall be shortened that the elect may not die in consequence of it. If therefore the “elect” were to be exposed to the distress attending the destruction of Jerusalem, and the time of that distress was to he shortened that then might be saved, from death, and if they wore to be thus saved, they of course were living men. It is perfectly absurd to speak of any others, than men living on the earth, being saved from death at the sacking of a city. Now, these “elect,” who were to be saved at the destruction of Jerusalem, were undoubtedly a part of those “elect,” who were to be “gathered together” immediately afterwards, at the time of his coming; and those, that were to be gathered from other nations, or “from the four winds,” were doubtless of the same kind of “elect,” that is, living men.
Considering it settled, therefore, that these elect were living men, and that they were to be gathered together on the earth, what could be the object of Jesus in thus gathering them together, unless it were to compose his kingdom? He, of course, would not wish to carry these living men’s bodies to heaven, and if he wished to carry their souls there, it probably would not be absolutely necessary to “gather them together” for that purpose—much less to gather their living bodies together, as it appears that he intended to do.
That the Jews expected that, under the reign of their Messiah, people would be gathered from all nations to compose his kingdom, the following passages, selected from the many of similar import in the Old Testament, are abundant evidence.
Isaiah 27—13. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpe shall be blown, and they shall come, which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcast in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Genesis 49—10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh (Messiah) come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
Isaiah 2—2. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
Isaiah 11—10. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek.
Isaiah 11—12. And He (the Lord) shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Isaiah 55—4 and 5. Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee.
Is. 60—10, 11 and 12. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee.
Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.
If these passages were designed as predictions that Jerusalem was to be built up, as a temporal kingdom, under the reign of the Messiah, by accessions from foreign nations, we have here additional evidence that Jesus, when he predicted that his angels should gather his elect from the four winds, had in his mind the building up of a temporal kingdom; because he evidently had always intended to be guided by, and had always pretended to be destined to fulfil, the predictions which had been made concerning a Messiah.
Another most important fact, and one which appears to me decisive evidence that Jesus, at his second coming, designed but to renew his attempts to make himself king of the Jews, is, that he expected to have competitors, (Mat. 24—23 to 28). It is admitted and asserted by Christians, and proved by history, that these pretended Messiahs, whom Jesus called “false Christs,” were men who attempted to obtain the temporal government of the Jews. Yet these are the men, against whose pretensions Jesus found it necessary, in the strongest manner, to warn his disciples, lest they, mistaking one of these for himself, or for the true Messiah, should espouse the cause of a wrong one. The question here arises, whether a man, who is undisguisedly engaged in endeavoring to acquire temporal power, so nearly resembles a genuine Son of God and spiritual Saviour, that men, who should once have been intimately acquainted with the latter, would not afterwards be able, without difficulty, to distinguish between him and the former? A further question also arises, viz: whether men must not have the same object in pursuit, in order to be such rivals to each other?
Look now, but for a moment, at the monstrous absurdity involved in the interpretation, that must be given to this affair by Christians. They must admit that Jesus, at the very time when he made these predictions in relation to his second coming, must have foreseen his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension; and that he must also have known that these events would open to the understandings of his disciples (what until then they are said never to have understood) the spiritual nature of his kingdom. He must have known that as soon as these events should have happened, all their former misapprehensions as to the nature of his reign would immediately vanish; that all, that they had before misunderstood, would then become to their minds perfectly clear and certain; that they would then know, with the most absolute knowledge, that he never had designed to be, and never would be, an earthly deliverer or king; that Messiah was never to have been an earthly monarch; but that he was the genuine Messiah, and that his kingdom was solely spiritual, and he a purely moral deliverer, redeemer or saviour. Christians must say also that at this time, (that is, at the time of making these predictions), Jesus also knew that in a few years these very disciples would have, in a measure, established a religion, bearing his name. And yet these same Christians must say further, that although he foresaw all these things, he yet was troubled with fears lest these disciples, after they should have come to all this light, after they should be possessed of all this certain knowledge as to his character and the nature of his kingdom, and even after they should have witnessed his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, and should have labored years for the establishment of his religion, might yet forget all these things, and be deceived by some one of those vagabond leaders (for such, or little better than such, these false Christs were), of insurgent bands of Jews, into the belief that such leader, and not Jesus, was the Christ; that they might be so hoaxed as to espouse the cause of some one who should be attempting to become a temporal king; might be cheated into the delusion that such an one was the real Messiah instead of himself; and might be duped into the conviction that some one, who should be notoriously aiming at an earthly throne, was the “Sent of God,” who was destined to fulfil all that was expected to be done by their spiritual Saviour, Messiah, Redeemer, &c., in relation to the spiritual redemption of the human race.
When before was such a bundle of absurdities ever offered to the credulity of men?
But if we suppose that Jesus designed only to absent himself for a while, (as he intimated that he intended to do, when he said (Mat. 23—37 to 39) that the people of Jerusalem should not see him again until they would be glad to receive him), and then to come again and renew his attempt to make himself king of the Jews, his conduct in warning his disciples against being enticed, in the mean time, into the train of the other pretended kings, is all perfectly explained; because it is perfectly natural, that under such circumstances, he should have fears that before his return, his followers might suspect, either that he would not return at all, or that he was not the genuine Messiah, and might therefore abandon their hopes of him, and be persuaded to attach themselves to some of his rivals.
[* ] He pretended to them that the Almighty wrote the ten commandments “with his own finger,” on the two tables of stone, and gave them to him—although he acknowledges that he was absent in the mountain forty days—a time sufficient for him to have written them himself, and a little longer than would probably have been necessary for the Almighty, (Deut. 9—9 to 11).
He also, when there were thunder and lightning and a cloud (and nothing more, as any body may satisfy himself by reading the verses hereafter referred to) on Mount Horeb, told the Israelites that the Lordwas speaking to them, out of the fire. He also stood between them and the mountain, and pretended to interpret the thunder, and to give to them the meaning of the Lord in their own language, (Deut. 4—11 and 12—also 5—4, 5, 22 to 28).
[* ] See Newton on the Prophecies, Chap. 19.
[† ] Same.
[* ] Connected with this prediction about a Messiah is one circumstance, that shows that Daniel knew nothing of what he was talking about; and that is, that when predicting that Jerusalem should sometime be destroyed, he says “the end thereof shall be with a flood”—whereas (unluckily for inspiration) such happened not to be the fact.
[* ] Such angels probably as he referred to when he said he could call upon his father, and he would give him more than twelve legions of angels to protect him, (Mat. 26—53).