I have said that it is probable that when Jesus made his public appearance he had already settled accounts with himself, and was therefore clear about his mission as well. By this, however, I do not mean that, so far as he himself was concerned, he had nothing more to learn in the course of it. Not only had he to learn to suffer, and to look forward to the cross with confidence in God, but the consciousness of his Sonship was now for the first time to be brought to the test. The knowledge of the “work” which the Father had intrusted to him could not be developed except by labour and by victory over all opposition. What a moment it must have been for him when he recognised that he was the one of whom the prophets had spoken; when he saw the whole history of his nation from Abraham and Moses downwards in the light of his own mission; when he could no longer avoid the conviction that he was the promised Messiah! No longer avoid it; for how can we refuse to believe that at first he must have felt this knowledge to be a terrible burden? Yet in saying this we have gone too far: and there is nothing more that we can say. But in this connexion we can understand that the evangelist John was right in making Jesus testify over and over again: “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me; he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” And again: “For I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.”
But however we may conceive the “Messiah,” it was an assumption that was simply necessary if the man who felt the inward call was to gain an absolute recognition within the lines of Jewish religious history—the profoundest and maturest history that any nation ever possessed, nay, as the future was to show, the true religious history for all mankind. The idea of the Messiah became the means—in the first instance for the devout of his own nation—of effectively setting the man who knew that he was the Son of God, and was doing the work of God, on the throne of history. But when it had accomplished this, its mission was exhausted. Jesus was the “Messiah,” and was not the Messiah; and he was not the Messiah, because he left the idea far behind him; because he put a meaning into it which was too much for it to bear. Although the idea may strike us as strange we can still feel some of its meaning; an idea which captivated a whole nation for centuries, and in which it deposited all its ideals, cannot be quite unintelligible. In the prospect of a Messianic period we see once more the old hope of a golden age; the hope which, when moralised, must necessarily be the goal of every vigorous movement in human life and forms an inalienable element in the religious view of history; in the expectation of a personal Messiah we see an expression of the fact that it is persons who form the saving element in history, and that if a union of mankind is ever to come about by their deepest forces and highest aims being brought into accord, this same mankind must agree to acknowledge one lord and master. But beyond this there is no other meaning and no other value to be attached to the Messianic idea; Jesus himself deprived it of them.