The Gospel of Mark. Lecture 6 of 10.
Rudolf Steiner, September 20, 1912:
Yesterday an attempt was made to give you an idea of Krishna's revelation and its relation to what entered later into human evolution, the revelation through the Christ. It was especially noted how the revelation of Krishna can appear to us as the conclusion of the clairvoyant epoch, the primitive clairvoyant epoch of human development. If we once more place before our souls from this point of view the understanding we obtained yesterday about the revelation of Krishna as a conclusion, we may say that whatever was gained through this revelation is still present in human evolution, but in a certain way it has reached an end and can go no further. Some teachings handed down at that time must be accepted during all subsequent evolution just as they were given then.
Now it is necessary for us to study the peculiar nature of this revelation from one particular point of view. We might say that it does not really reckon with time and the sequence of time. Everything that does not reckon with time as a real factor is already contained in Krishna's teaching. What do we mean by this?
Every spring we see the plants spring forth from the earth, we see them grow and ripen, bring forth fruit and drop their seeds, and from these seeds when they have been laid in the ground we see similar plants begin to grow again in the same way, come to maturity, and again develop their seeds. This process is repeated year after year. If we reckon with the time span that man is able to survey we must say that we are here concerned with a real repetition. The lilies of the valley, the primroses and hyacinths look the same every year. Their nature is repeated within them every year in the same way, in the same form. We can ascend further to the animal kingdom in a certain way, and we shall still find something similar in it. When we consider the individual animal, the separate species of lions, hyenas, the separate species of monkeys, we find that every creature is from the beginning directed to become what it does become. So we may with a certain justification say that no education is possible among the animals. Although some foolish persons have recently begun to apply all kinds of educational and pedagogical concepts to animals, this cannot be considered as something essential, nor does it lead to a correct characterization of animals. When we have short time-spans in mind we see this repetition in nature fundamentally confirmed, in the same way as we see how spring, summer, autumn, and winter repeat themselves regularly through the centuries. Only when we consider really large spans of time, so large that they cannot in the first place be observed by man, would we see something resembling the need to take account of the concept of time. Then we should see how in the far distant past things happened differently from the way they do now, and we should, for example, be able to take into account the fact that the present way in which the Sun rises and sets will in the far distant future be different. But these are realms which will come into our view only when we enter into the field of true spiritual science. But as regards what man is first of all able to observe, for example the field of astronomy, the fact of recurrence, the recurrence of the same or similar, holds good, as we can especially notice in the annual recurrence of plant forms. With this kind of recurrence time has no special significance; time itself, as time, is essentially not a real, active factor.
It is different when we think of individual human lives. As you all know, we also divide human life into successive, recurring periods. We distinguish one such period from birth to the coming of the second teeth, or about the seventh year, then a period from the seventh to the fourteenth year, to puberty, then one from the fourteenth to the twenty-first year, and so on. In short, we distinguish successive seven-year periods in individual human lives; and it is quite true to say that in these seven-year periods certain things recur. But far more striking than the mere recurrence is something else: the constant changing, the progress that is actually made. For human nature is quite different in the second period of seven years from what it was in the first period; and again in the third period it is different. We cannot say that in the case of man the first seven-year period repeats itself in the second, as we can say that the plant repeats itself in another plant. We can see that time as it passes plays a real role in human life. It has a meaning.
When we thus come to see how what is significant for the individual human being is applicable to all mankind, we can say that in the consecutive periods of evolution this can in a sense be seen to be true for both the individual and for humanity as a whole. We need not go beyond the post-Atlantean epoch. Here we differentiate in this era the ancient Indian or first post-Atlantean cultural epoch, the Old Persian as the second, the Egypto-Chaldean as the third, the Greco-Roman as the fourth, and our own as the fifth. Two more epochs will follow ours, until there is again a great catastrophe. This evolutionary progress in successive epochs does often show similarities that can be compared in a certain way with the kind of recurrence that may be observed, for example, in the plant kingdom. We see how these periods run their course so that in a certain respect at the beginning of each epoch humanity receives certain revelations; a stream of spiritual life is given to mankind as an impulse, in the same way as the plants of the earth receive an impulse in springtime. Then we see how a further development is built on the first impulse, how it bears fruit and then dies away when the period comes to an end, as plants wither at the approach of winter. However, in addition, something appears during the successive epochs that is similar to the progress of an individual human being, and of this we can say that time plays a significant role, and it proves to be a real factor. It is not only the case that in the second, the Old Persian epoch, seeds are again planted, as was the case in the first epoch, or that in the third epoch the same thing happened as in the first. The impulses are always different, always at a higher level and always new, in just the same way that in human life the seven-year periods can be differentiated, and there is progress.
Now, that which came to humanity in the course of time came in such a way that we could say that the things which comprise the sum total of human knowledge were opened up to man slowly and gradually. Not all the streams of peoples and nations always had the same perceptions of things at the same time. Thus we see that in that human evolutionary stream that came to an end at about the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, the sense for time as a real factor was missing. Indeed, in all Eastern knowledge this sense of time as a real factor was fundamentally missing. Characteristically the Eastern knowledge has a sense for the recurrence of the same. Therefore everything that is concerned with recurrence is magnificently grasped by the knowledge of the East.
When we think of this recurrence of the same in successive cultural epochs, what is it that comes into consideration? Take, for example, the question of plant growth. We see how in springtime the plants shoot forth from the earth; we witness their “creation.” We see how these plants grow and flourish until they reach a kind of culmination. Then they wither, and in withering they carry in themselves the seed for a new plant. Thus we have to do here with a threefold process: coming into being, growth and flourishing, and then withering, and this withering is accompanied by the production of the seed of a similar plant. When time does not come into question, when it is a question of recurrence, then this principle of recurrence is best understood as a triad. It was the special talent of Oriental wisdom, pre-Christian wisdom, to understand recurring development as a triad. The grandeur of this ancient worldview was limited by what we may think of as a predisposition in favor of events that recur and are timeless. And when this worldview comes to a conclusion, trinities confront us everywhere, and fundamentally these represent the clairvoyant perception of what lies behind coming into being, passing away, and renewal. Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, this trinity of creative forces, is the foundation of all things. In the time preceding Krishna's revelation it was recognized as a trinity that could be perceived through clairvoyance, and it was seen as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The image of this trinity exists wherever time is seen only as the successive recurrence of the same.
The significance of a new era is recognized when the gift of seeing events in historical perspective arises, that is, when time is taken into account in relation to evolution, when time is looked upon as a real factor. It was a special task of Western knowledge to develop a historical sense, to penetrate into the truths of history. And the two streams in human evolution coming from East and West differ in that the East looks at the world unhistorically, while the West, prompted by a new impulse, begins to look at the world from a historical point of view. It was the worldview of the Hebrews that gave the first impulse to this historical viewpoint.
Let us now consider together what the essential elements of the Oriental worldview actually are. We are always told of recurring world ages, of what happens at the beginning of the first and at the end of the first cosmic age. Then we are told of the beginning of the second world age, and its end, then the beginning of the third and its end. And the secret of world development is correctly presented when it is said that when the ancient culture of the third world age had become dry and arid and the culture had entered the phase of autumn and winter, then there appeared Krishna. The son of Vasudeva and Devaki, his task was to sum up for later ages, namely for the fourth period, what could be carried from the third into the fourth period as the germ, the new seed for that period. The individual world ages appear to us like successive years in the life of a plant. In the Oriental worldview the cycles of time, which constantly recur, are the essential element.
Now let us compare these worldviews in their timelessness, their profoundest aspect, with what confronts us in the Old Testament. What a mighty difference we find from the worldviews of the East! Here we perceive as an essential part of this view a real continuous line in time. We are first led to Genesis, to the Creation, and linked to Creation is the whole history of mankind. We see a continuous sequence through the seven days of Creation, through the era of the patriarchs, from Abraham down through Isaac and Jacob, everything developing, everything a part of history. Where is there any recapitulation? The first day of Creation is by no means repeated in an abstract way in the second. The patriarchs are not repeated in the prophets, nor does the era of the kings repeat the era of the judges. In due course comes the time of the captivity. We are everywhere led through an entire dramatic process, in which time plays a real part as it does in an individual human life. Irrespective of what is repeated, time is shown as a real factor in all that happens. The special element in the picture presented by the Old Testament is progress. The Old Testament is the first great example of a historical approach to events, and it is this historical approach that was bequeathed to the West.
Men learn only slowly and gradually what in the course of time has been revealed to them; and we may say that in a certain sense when there are new revelations there is a kind of reversion to what had gone before. Great and significant things were revealed at the beginning of the theosophical movement. But it was an extraordinary feature of this revelation that the historical approach permeated the movement very little. You can convince yourselves of this especially if you glance at Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism, [ Note 15 ] which in other respects is an excellent and meritorious book. All the chapters in it that are pervaded by history will be found acceptable by the Western mind. But side by side with this is another element that we may call an “unhistorical” element, curious passages in which large and small cycles are spoken of, the procession of rounds and races, where the material is presented in such a way that recurrence is of central importance — how the third round follows after the second, how one root-race follows after the other root-race, one sub-race follows after the other sub-race, and so on. One really becomes caught up in a kind of working of a clock, and the greatest importance is given to recurrence. This was a reversion to a kind of thinking that had already been outgrown by mankind, for the way of thinking suited to Western culture is in truth historical.
What is the consequence of this historical element that belongs to Western culture? Precisely the knowledge of the one focus of all earthly development. The Orient regarded development as similar to the process of plant growth that recurs every year. Thus the individual great initiates appeared in each period and repeated — at all events it was what they repeated that was especially stressed — what had been done earlier. It was particularly emphasized in an abstract manner how each initiate was only a particular form of the one who continues his development from epoch to epoch. There was in the East a special interest in picturing how this continuous development of the same also is easily seen in the plant world as the form reveals itself each year, and the individual years are not distinguished from each other. Only in one particular case do people notice that there is a difference from year to year. If someone wants to describe a lily or a vine leaf it is of no consequence whether the plant grew in 1857 or 1867, for lilies all resemble each other if they belong to a particular variety of lily. But when what we may think of as the general, recurring, identical “Apollonian” element passes over into the “Dionysian,” even in the realm of plant life, then we attach special importance to the fact that individual “vintages” do differ, and it becomes important to distinguish the different years. In all other cases no one cares whether a lily flowered in 1890 or 1895.
Similarly, the Orient saw no particular point in distinguishing the incarnation of the Boddhisattva in the third epoch from his incarnation in the second or first epoch. This comparison should not be carried too far, however. For the Easterner the Boddhisattva was always an incarnation of the One. This abstract concentration on the One, this tendency to look for the One, demonstrates the unhistorical nature of Oriental thought; and fundamentally this is equally characteristic of all the unhistorical conceptions of the pre-Christian era. The single exception is the historical point of view that appears in the Old Testament. In the case of the Old Testament this historical viewpoint was only a beginning, which reached a more perfected stage in the New Testament. The important thing here is to look at the whole line of development, as such, and not confine ourselves to looking at what is repeated in the individual cycles, but rather to try to see what constitutes the focus of all development. Then we shall be justified in saying that it is absolute nonsense to say that there can be no such focus of development.
This is the point about which the various peoples, scattered across the world, must come to an understanding: the subject of historical development. The first thing they must realize is that for a true and genuine study of mankind it is absolutely vital to take the historical element into consideration. Even today one may have the experience that if a true and genuine Christianity is taken to the East — not a fanatical or denominational Christianity but a Christianity that wishes to hold its own beside the other Eastern religions — then one may be received with the words “It is true that you have only the one God who incarnated only once, in Palestine. But we are ahead of you, for we have many embodiments of God.” For an Oriental such an answer would be a matter of course. It is connected with his special gift for looking always for the recurrence of the One. By contrast, what is important for the Westerner is that everything should have a center of gravity. So if people speak of several incarnations of Christ they are making the same mistake as if they were to say that it is ridiculous to pretend that only one fulcrum is needed for a pair of scales, and that the load on one side is balanced by the weights on the other; and moreover that the pair of scales can be supported in two, three, or four places. But this of course is nonsense — a pair of scales can have only one fulcrum. So if we wish to understand evolution as a whole we must look for the one fulcrum, the single center of gravity, and not think it would be better if we looked for successive incarnations of the Christ. Regarding this question the nations and peoples spread across the world will have to come to the understanding that in the course of human history it was necessary for men to come to a historical way of thinking, to a concept of history, as the only conception in a higher sense truly worthy of man.
This manner of looking at human evolution from a historical standpoint came about only very slowly; it began in the most primitive conditions. We find this historical evolution first indicated in the Old Testament through the repeated emphasizing of the nature of the people of the Old Testament, how they belong to the bloodstream of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, how the blood flows through successive generations; fundamentally what develops in this people is a form of descent through the blood, of propagation through the blood. As a man progresses through the successive periods in his life and time plays its part in this process, so it is also in the case of the entire people of the Old Testament. And if we examine the process down to its very details we shall find that in truth the sequence of the generations of the Old Testament peoples is analogous to the life of an individual human being insofar as he develops naturally, developing in himself everything that we may think of as being possible through his physical disposition. What could happen as a result of the passing on of his heritage from father to son as an invariable process is described for us in the Old Testament; and it also describes the kind of religious faith that came into being because later generations always clung to those who were their blood relatives. The significance to be attached to the bloodstream in the natural life of the individual human being is made applicable to the entire people of the Old Testament. And just as the soul element, as it were, emerges in individual man at a particular time and plays a specific part in his life, so — and this is an especially interesting fact — does something similar occur in the historical evolution of the Old Testament.
Let us take the case of a child. Here we see that nature predominates; its bodily needs are at first dominant. The soul-element is still concealed within the body; it does not wish to emerge fully. Bodily well-being is produced through pleasant external impressions; unpleasant, painful impressions of the external world are also reflected in the manifestations of the child's soul-nature. Then the child grows up, and through his natural development his soul-element begins to be dominant; we then enter a stage in life — the age varies in different people, but in general this occurs in the twenties — when men give full expression to the element of soul that is within them. Purely bodily pains and necessities recede into the background and the soul configuration emerges in a marked manner. There follows a period during which the soul-element in man is inclined to recede more into the background — and this period will be longer or shorter in different men. It may happen that a man will retain his specific soul-nature his whole life long. Nevertheless something else is really present, even if in his twenties someone persists in emphasizing what he is, as if the world had been only waiting for just that specific soul-element that he bears within him. This is likely to happen especially when a man has strong spiritual potential, as, for example, when he possesses a marked talent for philosophy. It then seems as if the world had only been waiting until he came and established the correct philosophical system, for which only his soul configuration was suited. And it may happen that what is right and good may emerge in this way. Then there comes a time when we begin to see what the world may give through others. Then we allow something different to speak through ourselves, and we take up what others have achieved before us.
The whole body of the ancient Hebrew people is presented in the Old Testament as analogous to an individual man. We see how in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob everything in this people develops through its racial characteristics. And if you follow up what has been described here you will say that it was certain racial characteristics that provided the impulses in the Old Testament. Then came the time when this people formed its soul, in the same way that individual man forms his personal soul in his twenties. It is at this point that the prophet Elijah appears, for Elijah seems in himself like the whole soul peculiar to the Hebrew people. After him came the other prophets of whom I spoke a few days ago, telling you that they were the souls of the widely varying initiates of other peoples who came together in the people of the Old Testament. Now the soul of this people listens to what the souls of the other peoples have to say. What Elijah left behind and what the souls of other peoples have to say through their prophets, who now reincarnate in the people of the Old Testament, is blended as in a great harmony or symphony.
Thus did the body of the old Hebrew people come to maturity. Then in a certain way it dies by retaining only the spiritual, what remains spiritual, in its faith and religion, as we see so wonderfully in the picture of the Maccabees. We could say “Here appears in a picture of the Maccabees the Old Testament people, now grown old, slowly lying down to rest in its old age, yet at the same time proclaiming, through the sons of the Maccabees, its awareness of the eternity of the human soul. The eternity of individual man confronts us as the consciousness of the people. And it seems as though while the body of the people is sinking to its destruction, its soul continues as a soul seed in an entirely new form. Where is this soul to be found?
This Elijah-soul is at the same time the soul of the Old Testament people, as it enters the Baptist and lives in him. When he was imprisoned and then beheaded by Herod, what happened then to his soul? This we have already indicated. His soul left the body and worked on as an aura; and into the domain of this aura Christ Jesus entered. Where then is the soul of Elijah, the soul of John the Baptist? The Mark Gospel indicates this clearly enough. The soul of John the Baptist, of Elijah, becomes the group soul of the Twelve; it lives, and continues to live in the Twelve. We can say that it is artistically and pictorially shown in a remarkable manner how the teaching of Christ Jesus, his way of teaching, differed when he taught the crowd and when he taught his own individual disciples — and this, even before the Mark Gospel has told us of the death of John the Baptist. We have already spoken of this. However, a change takes place when the soul of Elijah is freed from John the Baptist and works on further in the Twelve as a group soul. And this is indicated, for from this time onward — this is quite clear if we read the passage and reread it — Christ makes greater demands on His disciples than before. He calls upon them to understand higher things. And it is very remarkable what He expects them to understand, and what later on He reproaches them for not understanding. Read it in the Gospel just as it is written. I have already referred to one aspect of these events, namely that mention was made of an increase of bread when Elijah went to the widow at Sareptah, and how, when the soul of Elijah was freed from John the Baptist, again an increase of bread is reported. But now Christ Jesus demands of His disciples that they should understand in particular the meaning of this increase of bread. Before that time He had not spoken to them in such terms. Now they ought to understand what was the destiny of John the Baptist after he had been beheaded through Herod, what happened in the case of the feeding of the five thousand when the fragments of bread were collected in twelve baskets, and what happened when the four thousand were fed from seven loaves and the fragments were collected in seven baskets. So He said to them:
“Do you notice and understand nothing? Are your souls still in the darkness? You have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear, and you do not think of what I did. I broke the five loaves for the five thousand. How many baskets of the fragments did you gather?” They answered, “Twelve.”“And when seven loaves were divided among four thousand, how many basketsful of fragments did you gather?” And they answered, “Seven.”Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17-21.)
He reproaches them severely because they cannot understand the meaning of these revelations. Why does He do this? Because the thought was in His mind: “Now that the spirit of Elijah has been freed, he lives in you, and you must gradually prove yourselves worthy of his penetration into your souls, so that you may understand things that are higher than what you have hitherto been able to understand.” When Christ Jesus spoke to the crowd, He spoke in parables, in pictures, because there was still in their souls an echo of what had formerly been perceived in the supersensible world in imaginations, in imaginative knowledge. For this reason He had to speak to the crowd in the way used by the old clairvoyants. To those who came out of the Old Testament people and became His disciples He could interpret the parables in a Socratic manner, in accordance with ordinary human reasoning capacities. He could speak to the new sense that had been given to mankind after the old clairvoyance had died out. But because Elijah's spirit as a group soul came near to the Twelve and permeated them like a common aura, they could become, or at least it was possible for them to become, clairvoyant in a higher sense. Enlightened as they were through the spirit of Elijah-John they could, when the Twelve were united together, perceive what they could not attain as individual men. It was for this that Christ wished to educate them.
To what end did He wish to educate them? Fundamentally what is this story of the increase of bread, the first time the division of five loaves among five thousand and the gathering of twelve basketsful of fragments? Then the second time, when seven loaves were divided among four thousand, with seven basketsful over? This has been a difficult theme for commentators. In our time they have come to an agreement and simply say that the people had brought bread with them, and when they had been made to sit down in rows they unpacked their fragments. Even those who wish to adhere to the letter of the Gospel story seem to have agreed on this interpretation. But when things are taken in this external manner they are reduced to nothing but external trappings and external ceremony; and one cannot tell why the whole story should have been related at all. On the other hand we cannot of course think of black magic, though if a plentiful quantity of bread had really been conjured up out of five or seven loaves respectively then it would indeed have been black magic. But it can neither be a question of black magic, nor yet a process found satisfactory by Philistines who suppose that the people had brought bread with them and unpacked it. Something special is meant by the story. I have indicated this when I interpreted the other Gospels, and in this Gospel it is clearly indicated what is the point at issue:
And the apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him everything they had done and what they had taught. And he said to them: “Withdraw to a solitary place apart and rest for a short time.” (Mark 6:30-31.)
We should pay careful attention to this saying. Christ Jesus sends His apostles away to a solitary place so that they could rest for a while; that is, to put themselves into a condition which comes naturally when one goes into solitude. What now do they see? In this different condition what do they see? They are led into a new kind of clairvoyance, which they are able to enter because the spirit of Elijah-John now overshadows them. Until this time Christ has interpreted the parables for them; now He allows a new clairvoyance to come over them. And what do they see? They see in comprehensive pictures the development of humanity, they see how the peoples of the future gradually come near to the Christ Impulse. The disciples see in the spirit what is described here as the multiple increase of bread. It is an act of clairvoyance. And like other such clairvoyant perceptions it flits past if one is not accustomed to it. It is for this reason that the disciples could not understand it for so long.
In the lectures that are to follow we shall have to occupy ourselves ever more intensively with the fact, especially evident in the Mark Gospel, that the stories concerned with outer events in the world of the senses pass over little by little into reports of clairvoyant moments and the Gospel is then understandable only through spiritual research. Let us, for example, imagine ourselves in the period just after the beheading of John, and let us suppose ourselves to be affected by the Christ Impulse, which was already in the world. From the point of view of ordinary sense perception Christ first of all seems to us like a lonely personality, unable to achieve much. But a clairvoyant vision, schooled in a modern manner, perceives the element of time. Christ did not appear only to those who were living then in Palestine, but to all who will appear in future generations. All of them gather around Him; and what He is able to give to them He gives to thousands upon thousands. This is the way the apostles see Him. They see Him actively working from His own epoch onward through countless millennia, casting His impulse forward spiritually into all perspectives of the future. They perceive how all human beings of the future come near. In this process they are indeed in very special measure united with the Christ.
We must especially recognize that from now on the entire presentation of the Mark Gospel is permeated by the spiritual. How the Gospel grows ever more profound because of this permeation we shall perceive in the lectures that are to follow. But let us focus our attention on one thing — a scene that can be understood only through the spiritual scientific method of research. This scene follows closely on the one we have just quoted:
And Jesus and his disciples went into the areas around Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “What do people say of me? Who do they say I am?”So they told him, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others that you are Elijah, and yet others that you are one of the prophets.”And he asked them, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”Peter answered and told him, “You are the Christ.”And he warned them not to tell anyone about him.And he began to teach then that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes; and that he would undergo death and after three days be raised. And he spoke quite openly of the matter.Then Peter went close to him and began to scold him. But he turned around and when he saw his disciples he scolded Peter in this way. “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking only of what is convenient for men, not for God.” (Mark 8:27-33.)
Surely a tough nut for Gospel commentators to crack! For what does the entire passage really mean? Unless we engage in spiritual research nothing in the passage is comprehensible. Christ asks the disciples “Who do the people say I am?” And they answer “Some say you are John the Baptist!” But John the Baptist had been beheaded a short time before, and in any event Christ was already teaching while John was still alive! Could the people have been talking such obvious nonsense when they took Christ for John the Baptist while the Baptist was still living? It might have been still acceptable when they said He was Elijah or another prophet. But then Peter says “You are the Christ!” That is to say, he reveals something of a sublime nature that could have been spoken only from the holiest part of his being. Then, a few lines later, Christ is supposed to have told him “Satan, get behind me! You are thinking only of what is convenient for men, not for God.” Is it possible for anyone to believe that after Peter had made his sublime affirmation Christ would have insulted him by calling him Satan? Or can one believe what was said just before, that Christ warned them not to tell anyone about Him, that is to say, to tell no one that Peter believes Him to be the Christ? Then the Gospel goes on to say “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer much, and be rejected and killed, and then after three days be raised. And he spoke quite openly about the matter.” Then after Peter scolded Him because of what He had said He calls Peter a “Satan.” But most curious of all is the remaining passage where it is said that “Jesus and his disciples went into the areas around Caesarea Philippi,” and the rest. The Gospel always tells how they speak to Him, and then later it is said “and he began to teach them ...” and so on. But then it says “But he turned around, and when he saw his disciples he scolded Peter.” Earlier it is said that He spoke to them and taught them. Did He do all this with His back turned to them? For it is said that “he turned around and saw his disciples.” Did He really turn His back on them and talk into the air?
You see what a tangle of incomprehensible things is to be found in this single passage. We can only marvel that such things are accepted without ever looking for real and truthful explanations. But if you look at the Gospel commentaries they either hurry over such passages or they are interpreted in a most curious way. It is true that there have been some discussions and controversies; but few will claim they have made them any wiser.
At this moment we wish to stick to only one point, and bring before our souls a picture of what has been said. We pointed out that after the death of John the Baptist when the soul of Elijah-John passed over into the disciples as a group soul, then the first true “miracle” was accomplished, and it will become ever clearer how this word is to be understood. Here we come upon a completely incomprehensible passage in which Christ Jesus is portrayed as having said to His disciples “What do people believe is now happening?” In truth the question can be put also in this way, for what concerned these people most of all was what the source of these actions was, where these happenings came from. To this the disciples reply “People think it has something to do with — to use a trivial expression — John the Baptist, or it has to do with Elijah or one of the other prophets. And because of this connection the deeds that we have witnessed have taken place.”
So Christ Jesus then asks, “But where do you believe these things come from?” and now Peter answers “They come from the fact that you are the Christ.” With these words Peter, in the sense of the Mark Gospel, placed himself through this knowledge at the midpoint of the evolution of mankind. For what did he actually say with these words? Let us picture to ourselves what he said.
In former times it was the initiates who were the great leaders of humanity, those who were taken up to the final stage of initiation in the sacred Mysteries. It was these men who approached the gate of death, who had been immersed in the elements, had remained for three days outside their bodies and during these three days were in the supersensible worlds. Then they were brought back again into their bodies and became thereafter emissaries, ambassadors, from the supersensible worlds. It was always those initiates who had become initiates by means such as these who were the great leaders of mankind. Now Peter says “You are the Christ,” that is, “You are a leader who has not gone through the Mysteries in this way but has come down from the cosmos and become a leader of mankind.” Something which in all other cases had happened in a different way, through initiation, was now to take place on the Earth plane once and for all as a historical fact. It was something colossal that Peter had just proclaimed. So what had he to be told? He had to be told that this was something that must not be brought before the people. It is something that according to the most sacred laws of the past must remain a Mystery; it is not permissible to speak of the Mysteries. That is what Peter had to be told at that moment.
Yet the whole meaning of the further evolution of humanity is that with the Mystery of Golgotha something that otherwise took place only in the depths of the Mysteries had now been manifested on the plane of world history. Through what happened on Golgotha — the lying in the grave for three days, the resurrection — through this what otherwise had taken place only in the depths and darkness of the Mysteries was placed historically on the Earth plane. In other words, the moment in time had now come when what had hitherto been regarded as a sacred law — that silence must be preserved about the Mysteries — must be broken. The law that one has to be silent about the Mysteries had been established by men. But now, through the Mystery of Golgotha, the Mysteries must become manifest! Within the soul of the Christ a decision was taken, the greatest world-historical decision, when He resolved that what until now had always, according to human law, been kept secret must now be made manifest before the sight of all, before world history.
Let us think of this moment in world history when the Christ meditated and reflected in this way: “I am looking at the whole development of mankind. The laws of mankind forbid me to speak about death and resurrection, about raising from the dead, and about the sacred Mystery of initiation. Yet no! I have in truth been sent down to the Earth by the Gods to make these things manifest. It is not for me to conform to what people say, but I must act in conformity with what the Gods tell me.” It is in this moment that the decision to make the Mysteries manifest is prepared. And Christ must shake off the irresolution that might arise from a wish to maintain within human evolution what human commands have enjoined: “Get behind me, irresolution; and decision: grow in me, the decision to place before all mankind what hitherto has been kept in the depths of the Mysteries.” Christ addresses His own resolution after He had rejected everything that could make Him irresolute when He says “Get behind me,” and at this moment He resolves to fulfill what He had been sent down to Earth by God to accomplish.
In this passage we have to do with the greatest monologue in world history, the greatest that has ever taken place in the whole of Earth evolution, the monologue of a God about making manifest the Mysteries. No wonder that the God's monologue is from the beginning incomprehensible to the human intellect. If we wish to penetrate into its depths we must wish, at least in some measure, to make ourselves worthy of understanding the God's monologue through which the deed of the God moves one step further toward realization. More of this tomorrow.
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