The idea which was formed of the Messiah must have been as contradictory as the hopes to which it was meant to respond. Not only were people’s formal notions about him continually changing— questions were being raised, for instance, as to the sort of bodily nature which he would have; above all, his inmost character and the work to which he was to be called appeared in diverse lights. But wherever the moral and really religious elements had begun to get the upper hand, people were forced to abandon the image of the political and warlike ruler, and let that of the prophet, which had always to some extent helped to form the general notions about the Messiah, take its place. That he would bring God near; that somehow or other he would do justice; that he would deliver from the burden of torment within—this was what was hoped of him. The story of John the Baptist as related in our Gospels makes it clear that there were devout men in the Jewish nation at that time who were expecting a Messiah in this form, or at least did not absolutely reject the idea. We learn from that story that some were disposed to take John for the Messiah. What elasticity the Messianic ideas must have possessed, and how far, in certain circles, they must have travelled from the form which they originally assumed, when this very unkinglike preacher of repentance, clad in a garment of camel’s hair, and with no message but that the nation had degenerated and its day of judgment was at hand, could be taken for the Messiah himself. And when the Gospels go on to tell us that not a few among the people took Jesus for the Messiah only because he taught as one with authority, and worked miraculous cures, how fundamentally the idea of the Messiah seems to be changed! They regarded this saving activity, it is true, only as the beginning of his mission; they expected that the wonder-worker would presently throw off his disguise and “set up the kingdom”; but all that we are concerned with here is that they were capable of welcoming as the promised one a man whose origin and previous life they knew, and who had as yet done nothing but preach repentance and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. We shall never fathom the inward development by which Jesus passed from the assurance that he was the Son of God to the other assurance that he was the promised Messiah. But when we see that the idea which others as well had formed of the Messiah at that time had, by a slow process of change, developed entirely new features, and had passed from a political and religious idea into a spiritual and religious one—when we see this, the problem no longer wears a character of complete isolation. That John the Baptist and the twelve disciples acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah; that the positive estimate which they formed of his person did not lead them to reject the shape in which he appeared, but, on the contrary, was fixed in this very shape, is a proof of the flexible character of the Messianic idea at the time, and also explains how it was that Jesus could himself adopt it. “Strength is made perfect in weakness.” That there is a divine strength and glory which stands in no need of earthly power and earthly splendour, nay, excludes them; that there is a majesty of holiness and love which saves and blesses those upon whom it lays hold, was what he knew who in spite of his lowliness called himself the Messiah, and the same must have been felt by those who recognised him as the king of Israel anointed of God.