The Gospel of Matthew. Lecture 10 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, September 10, 1910:
We showed in the last lecture that what Christ Jesus means for human evolution is the gradual equipment of the human ego with those forces and capacities formerly only possible of attainment in the Mysteries of the past, when the ego was to a certain extent suppressed. In all ancient initiations it was possible to rise up into the spiritual worlds, into what we called the Kingdoms of Heaven, but with human nature constituted as it was in pre-Christian times this could not be done while within the ego or while the nature of the ego remained as it was on the physical plane. We have, therefore, to distinguish two conditions of the human soul: one, recognized today as normal during waking life, when the objects of the physical plane are perceived by means of the ego; another, in which the ego is clouded, and there is no clear consciousness. It was during this latter condition of his soul that man was exalted to the Kingdoms of Heaven in the days of the ancient Mysteries.
These Heavenly Kingdoms were now to be brought down to Earth — first, in accordance with the preaching of John the Baptist, and then in accordance with that of Christ Jesus Himself — so that man might receive an impulse to a more far-reaching development, and be able in his normal ego-consciousness to experience the higher worlds. It was, therefore, not only natural that all the statements concerning incidents in the life of the Christ Jesus should reproduce what a candidate for initiation experienced in the ancient Mysteries, but that at the same time it should be emphasized that there was to be a difference: these things were to take on a new coloring — a new condition of soul was to arise, a condition in which the ego would be fully conscious.
It was from this point of view that in the last lecture we considered the nine Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Still further elucidation of what is found in the present text of the Gospel of Matthew might be given, for in the translation from the Aramaic language into Greek much has been obscured. Yet even in the obscure Greek text, and especially in the later part of the Sermon on the Mount, we are aware of clear reference being made to what it was possible to experience formerly through suppression of the ego. If formerly men felt: ‘When my ego was darkened I could enter the spiritual world and in this condition I was able to grasp this or that fundamental fact,’ in future it will be possible for them to do this while retaining full consciousness.
Full understanding of this presupposes some knowledge of something I have already mentioned: the way in which names were used in ancient times. Formerly names were chosen, unlike those of today, to indicate the essential nature of the thing designated. And it is clearly shown in all the designations employed in the Sermon on the Mount that Christ felt it was He Himself Who had raised the ego-consciousness to a higher plane than had been hitherto attainable, so that henceforth it would be able to experience within itself the Kingdoms of Heaven. Therefore He placed before the souls of His disciples this contrast: ‘Formerly this or that was revealed to you from the Kingdoms of Heaven; but henceforth ye will be aware of these things when ye listen to what your “I” says to you.’ Hence the ever-recurring expression ‘I say unto you,’ showing how Christ felt Himself to be representative of every human soul. This is expressed in the words ‘I say it!’ ‘I, in full consciousness.’ The expression ‘I say unto you,’ words found all through the Sermon on the Mount, should not be taken lightly. They are the repeated reference to a new impulse that was being implanted in humanity through Christ Jesus. Read in this way the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, and you will feel that Christ wished to say: ‘Until now, ye were unable to appeal to your own ego, but henceforth, through My gift, through the power of your own inner being, of your own ego, ye will be able gradually to gain the Kingdoms of Heaven.’ The whole spirit of the Sermon on the Mount is pervaded by this new impulse; so also is that which follows, leading on as it does to the so-called miracles of healing.
The ‘healings’ by our Lord, and more especially the ‘miracles,’ have been the subject of a vast amount of discussion, as is well known. Great stress has been laid on the fact that miracles are spoken of in the Gospels. We will now consider these more closely. Yesterday I pointed out to you that man quite underestimates today the changes that have taken place in his being during the course of evolution. A comparison in the finer, not the coarser, sense between a physical body of the time of Christ or earlier and one of today reveals a real difference. This difference, which is not apparent to ordinary science, can be established by occult investigation. The physical body at the beginning of our era was more plastic than it is today. It is now denser and more contracted. In those days the powers of perception were such that men knew of certain forces working in and molding all bodies, so that the muscles were more clearly revealed. Knowledge of this was gradually lost. Childish nonsense in the history of art points to old drawings where the formation of the muscles seems exaggerated, and supposes that this indicates the ancient artist's lack of skill. People who criticize such drawings are unaware that they are the result of actual observation, which was quite correct for those days but false in ours. This is, however, of less concern to us at the moment than the main fact, which is that bodies were then constituted differently.
The power of the soul and of the spirit had a far greater momentary influence on the human body at one time than was later the case. As the body became denser, the soul lost power over it. Therefore, healing through the soul was formerly more possible than it is today. The soul had then far more power to permeate a disordered body with active health-giving forces drawn from the spiritual worlds, and to restore it to harmony from within itself. With the progress of evolution the power of the soul over the body declined. Healing became less and less a spiritual process. The physicians of those times, unlike those of today, were healers who worked on the body by influencing the soul. They purified the soul by their spiritual influences, filling it with healthy perceptions, impulses, and will-power. These were exercised either under the ordinary conditions of physical perception or through ‘temple sleep,’ which was but a means of rendering men clairvoyant. In considering that ancient culture, we are obliged to say that those who were strong of soul and able to draw upon their own acquired resources could influence the souls of others, and through them their physical bodies, to a considerable degree. These men, who were filled with spirit, so that they radiated healing forces, were called ‘healers.’ Fundamentally not the ‘Therapeutæ’ only but also the Essenes should be regarded as healers. We can go further: in a certain dialect of Asia Minor, where a language was spoken by those associated with the origin of Christianity, the word they employed, which we translate as ‘spiritual healer,’ was ‘Jesus,’ and means ‘Spiritual Physician.’ That is the actual meaning of ‘Jesus.’ It is the correct translation when one has a feeling for the value of words, and throws light on what was felt to exist in such names at a time when names still meant something.
A man who spoke in accordance with the feeling of those times would have said: ‘There are men who have gained entrance to the Mysteries; who, by means of a certain sacrifice of their ego-consciousness, can touch certain psycho-spiritual forces which then stream from them, so that they become healers of others. Suppose such a man had become a disciple of Christ Jesus: he might then have said, ‘Strange things have come to pass in our day! Formerly only those could heal who had received spiritual forces through a suppressed ego-consciousness induced in the Mysteries — but now there is One among us Who has become a healer without undergoing the procedure of the Mysteries, and without suppression of His ego-consciousness.’
It was not the performance of miracles that was exceptional, or that spiritual healings took place as described in the Gospel of St. Matthew. This did not strike people as especially wonderful, nor did it seem especially miraculous in those days. A man might then have asked: What is wonderful in spiritual healing being performed by such people? It is quite comprehensible! What is wonderful is what the writer of the Gospel of Matthew says: ‘Here is One Who has brought a new and living force into human nature which enables him to heal by the impulse of his own ego; by such means healings could not be performed formerly.’ So something quite different from what was usual is here described in the Gospels. The results of occult investigation here put forward by spiritual science may be verified in countless ways, and can indeed be proved by historical research.
One instance will serve by way of illustration. If the statements just made be true, then it must have been realized in olden times that under certain conditions the blind could receive their sight through spiritual influences. Attention is directed and justifiably to old pictures representing this. Even J. M. Robertson writes of a picture in Rome which represents Aesculapius standing before two blind men, and he draws the natural conclusion that it represents an act of healing. He then supposes that the writers of the Gospels incorporated this in their narratives. The important point here is not that spiritual healings were miracles, but that the artist desired to depict Aesculapius as an initiate who had acquired his healing powers through the suppression of his ego-consciousness in the Mysteries. But the writer of the Gospel of Matthew wishes to emphasize something else; he wishes to point out: ‘Christ did not perform His healings in this way, but the living force that worked in Him as an original and isolated example is to be acquired gradually by the whole of humanity; every man will in time be able to do these things through the power of his ego.’ Not yet, but in the distant future, this power will come to life in man. What has been accomplished by Christ at the beginning of our era will slowly and gradually dawn and men will become capable of bringing it to expression. It was this that the narrator of the Gospel of Matthew desired to emphasize. Speaking out of occult consciousness I can say: This writer did not specially intend to describe a ‘miracle,’ but something natural and comprehensible, only he wished to show that it was accomplished in a new way. This is what is found when the results of true investigations by means of spiritual science are presented; we see how profound are the misunderstandings that have entered into the Gospels. How does the story continue?
So far we have seen that what happened in the life of Christ through the ‘Temptation’ was a descent into all these experiences passed through when a man sinks down into his physical and etheric body; and that the forces radiating from His physical and etheric bodies worked as is told in the Sermon on the Mount, and as is revealed in the subsequent healings. In what follows we recognize that the power of Christ Jesus worked and attracted to Him pupils, in the same way as they were attracted to initiates of old; but, as was natural, these were attracted to Him in a way peculiarly His own.
If the Gospel of Matthew is to be understood from this point onwards, we must recall by way of preparation certain facts of occult science acquired through years of study. We must recall that a disciple who truly treads the path of initiation acquires a kind of imaginative perception, a perception that lives in imaginations. Those who dwelt much in the presence of Christ Jesus had not only to acquire the power by which they could hearken to such magnificent utterances as those of the Sermon on the Mount, they had not only to participate in healings accomplished through Him, but the mighty force active in Christ Jesus had gradually to pass over to those who were His most intimate friends and disciples. This too is revealed. First it is shown how, after the Temptation, Christ was empowered to disclose a new meaning in the ancient teaching, and to carry out the ancient healing by means of a new impulse. Next we are told how the force that was incorporated in Him in fullest measure affected His disciples and those most clearly associated with Him.
How are we shown this? By the fact, that what He stood for was communicated to the unreceptive in words, but to those who were receptive and were chosen by Himself, the action was different. In these chosen ones it worked so that it endowed them with imaginations, it stirred in them the first stage of higher knowledge. What proceeded from Christ Jesus acted therefore in a twofold manner on those who were ‘outside or without’ so that they heard His words, and with them acquired a kind of theory; on the others, who had felt His power, and were chosen because, on account of their karma, they were specially open to receive this power, it awakened imaginative cognition, a knowledge which in a certain way led them a stage higher toward the spiritual world. This is expressed in the words ‘Those who are outside hear only in parables;’ meaning they could receive facts concerning the spiritual worlds expressed in images; but to His chosen ones He said ‘Ye can receive the deeper meaning of the parables — the language that leads to the things of the higher worlds.’ Nor must these words be taken other than literally.
Let us now consider seriously how the disciples were led into the higher worlds. At any rate to understand what I now have to say not only listeners are needed but also a certain amount of goodwill, permeated with understanding gained in the study of occult science. I may then be able to convey to you what is really meant by what follows in the Gospel of Matthew. To do so we will again recall the two sides of initiation: The first where man descends into his physical and etheric body, thus learning to know his own inner being, and is led to the forces that are creative in himself; and the other side where he is led into the spiritual world, to expansion into the macrocosm. Now we know that in reality, though unconscious of it, man withdraws his astral body and ego from his physical and etheric body during sleep, and pours them into the starry universe so that he may absorb its forces — hence the name astral (starry) body. The result of this form of initiation is not merely a conscious understanding of things on Earth, but a participation in, and a pouring of the self into, the cosmos: a reception of forces flowing in from the cosmos, and a knowledge of the starry world. All this that has to be striven for and slowly acquired by us was, on account of His special nature, already in the Christ from the time of the Baptism in Jordan. It was in Him not only in a condition that resembled sleep, but during His waking hours when within His physical and etheric bodies. He could even then unite His Being with the forces of the stars, and bring their forces down into the physical world.
What was brought to pass by Christ Jesus may therefore be described as follows: Through the attraction of His specially prepared physical and etheric bodies, and through His whole nature, He drew down to Earth the forces of the Sun, Moon, and stars, and of the cosmos generally, in so far as it is related to our Earth. The deeds accomplished by Him were accomplished through the agency of those health-giving, life-endowing cosmic forces which otherwise stream down into man during sleep. The forces through which the Christ worked were forces streaming down from the cosmos — through His bodily attraction, they streamed from His body on to His disciples. The disciples now began to be receptive, so that they rightly felt: This Christ Jesus Whom we see before us is a being, through Whom the forces of the cosmos come to us like spiritual nourishment; this force pours over us!
But the disciples were themselves in a twofold state of consciousness — for they had not yet attained that highest state of human development, but only reached up to a higher development through Christ. They themselves lived continually in a twofold state of consciousness that may be compared with the sleeping and waking of ordinary men; and because they were in this alternating condition it was possible for them, in the one state as well as in the other, to come under the influence of the magical power of Christ. The power of Christ acted upon them alike by day when they were with Him and by night when they were outside the physical and etheric bodies. But while men are normally unconscious of their starry environment during sleep, the disciples were aware of the Christ-force about them; it was visible to them. They knew that it was His force that nourished them from the starry universe.
This twofold consciousness produced yet another effect on the disciples. In everyone, including the disciples, we have to recognize both the man of the present and also that which he bears within him as the seed for future incarnations. The seed of what will flower in you in future epochs in an entirely new way is already present in each one of you. If this power which already exists in you were to develop to clairvoyance, it would reveal itself by a sort of early clairvoyant experience, and this would take the form of a vision of the immediate future. If these first experiences are pure and true, things concerning the more immediate future are seen. This was the case with the disciples. In normal consciousness the Christ-force streamed into them so that they said: ‘When we are awake the force of Christ flows into us as it does in normal waking consciousness.’
But how was it when they slept? Because they were the disciples of Jesus and as the power of the Christ had worked in them, they became clairvoyant at certain times during sleep; they did not then see what was taking place at the time, but they could participate in the future. They plunged, as it were, into the sea of astral visions and beheld prophetically things that would happen in the future.
The disciples lived therefore in two conditions of consciousness. During the day they felt that Christ brought to them from cosmic space the forces of cosmic worlds, that He passed this on to them as spiritual nourishment; that because He was Himself the power of the Sun, He brought to them what is represented by the Christian acceptance of the teaching of Zarathustra. Christ passed on to them the forces the Sun had to bestow through the seven day-time constellations. There below was their day-time nourishment. During the night the disciples were aware that through the power of Christ, the invisible night-time Sun poured heavenly nourishment into their souls as it passed through the remaining five constellations.
Thus in their imaginative clairvoyance they felt: ‘We are united with the Christ-force, with the Sun-force; it sends to us what is right for the men of the present period, that is, the men of the Fourth Epoch of civilization; in the other state of consciousness, that of the night, the Christ-force imparts to us the gifts of the night-time Sun, as the power of the five night constellations.’ But this was appropriate only to the age that was coming, the Fifth Epoch of civilization. This is what the disciples experienced. How could this be expressed?
We shall have more to say of this in the next lecture; meanwhile I wish to speak of something else. In ancient times a crowd or mass of people was described as a ‘thousand,’ and when it was intended to particularize, a number was added descriptive of the most important characteristic of this crowd. The people of the fourth period of civilization were therefore described as the ‘fourth thousand’ while those who already lived in accordance with the Fifth Epoch were called the ‘fifth thousand.’ These were simply technical terms. The disciples knew therefore that during the day they received, through Christ from the seven day-constellations, the nourishment suitable for the Fourth Period of civilization, that is, for the fourth thousand. And they knew that in their imaginative clairvoyant consciousness of the night they perceived through the five night-constellations what pertained to the epoch that was coming — that of the fifth thousand. The people of the Fourth Epoch, or the fourth thousand, were nourished from Heaven by the seven heavenly loaves — the seven day-time constellations; the people of the Fifth Epoch, or the five thousand, were fed from Heaven by the five night-constellations. At the same time the division between the constellations of the day and those of the night is always indicated by fishes — the twelfth sign of the Zodiac.
Here an important secret is touched on; it refers to an important procedure in the Mysteries—the magic intercourse between Christ and His disciples. Christ makes this clear when He tells them He does not speak of the old leaven of the Pharisees, but that He brings down to them heavenly food from the Sun-forces of the cosmos — although on one occasion He had only the seven day-time constellations to draw from — the seven day-time loaves — and on the other the five constellations of night, the five night-time loaves, the division between being always provided by ‘the fishes’ — indeed on one occasion two fishes are expressly mentioned, thus indicating His meaning even more clearly.
Who can doubt, when they catch in this way but a glimpse of the profound depths of the Gospel of Matthew, that it is concerned with revelations reaching back to the time of Zarathustra, and that this had to be so, for Zarathustra was the first who taught of the Spirit of the Sun, the first who brought realization of the magic Sun-force that would one day stream down to Earth upon those capable of receiving it.
What do the superficial expounders of the Gospels say about these things? They find in the Gospel of Matthew a description of the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves of bread, and on another occasion the feeding of five thousand with five loaves. They regard the second account merely as a repetition of the first, and the difference in numbers as the error of the negligent copyist. Doubtless such a thing can happen in the making of modern books. The Gospels, however, did not arise in this way. If an account appears twice in them there is a profound reason for it. It is because the profound facts of the Gospel of Matthew are in accordance with the teachings given out by the great Essene Jesus ben Pandira a hundred years before the coming of the Christ-Sun, in order that when He did come He might be understood, that we must strive really to search out the profundities of this Gospel. But to continue.
Christ, in the first place, allowed the forces of Imaginative, or astral, vision to stream forth from Him into the disciples, who absorbed them to the measure of their capacity. This is clearly shown. One might say: Let him who has eyes to read, read. As in earlier days when things were not all written down, it was said: Let him who has ears to hear, hear! So we say: Let him who has eyes to read, read the Gospels! Is it anywhere indicated that this force of the Christ-Sun appeared differently to the disciples by day from how it did by night? Yes, this is clearly indicated.
In an important passage of the Gospel we read that in the fourth watch of the night — that means between three and six o'clock in the morning — the disciples, who were slumbering, saw what they first took to be an apparition walking on the water. This was the nocturnal Sun-force reflected from the Christ. Even the exact time is given, because only at a certain time could it be revealed to them how this force streatned down to them from the cosmos through such a Being. That Christ Jesus walked in Palestine, and that in the wanderings of this Person, this single Individual, the means existed by which the Sun-forces were able to work within our Earth, is clearly shown by the fact that reference is always made in the Gospels to the position of the Sun with regard to the constellations — the heavenly bread. This cosmic-nature of the Christ, this activity of the cosmic forces through the Christ, is everywhere insisted upon.
Further, the disciples most fitted to receive it had to be specially initiated by the Christ, so that they could perceive the spiritual world not only imaginatively as in astral pictures, but so that they might see and also hear what took place there. (This has often been spoken of as the ascent into Devachan.) This initiation was to enable them to develop the capacity by which they could identify the personality known to them on Earth as Christ Jesus when, through the spiritual progress they had made, they saw Him on the spiritual plane. They were to become clairvoyant in a region still higher than that of the astral plane.
Not all the disciples were capable of this. It was possible only for those most receptive of the force emanating from Christ. According to the Gospel of Matthew, these were Peter, James, and John. Therefore it tells how the Christ guided these three to where He could lead them beyond the astral realm into the realms of Devachan. Here they could see certain spiritual archetypes: first, Christ Jesus Himself; and then, because they were able to perceive the relationship in which He stood to the others, the ancient prophet Elias, he who later reincarnated as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ Jesus. They were able to see Elias (for the scene took place after John's execution and withdrawal into the spiritual world), and they also saw Moses, his spiritual predecessor. This whole experience was only possible because the three chosen disciples had been exalted to spiritual, not only to astral vision. The Gospel clearly indicates that they attained to Devachan, for it tells us that they not only beheld the Christ filled with His Sun-force — expressed in the words ‘His countenance shone like the Sun’ — but it also tells us that they heard the three conversing together. This fact indicates an ascent into Devachan: they not only saw but also heard. This whole scene is in strict accordance with the investigations of spiritual science. Nowhere do we find any contradiction between these investigations and what is revealed in the Gospels, when it describes how Christ Himself led His disciples first into the astral realm and then into Devachan, the realm of the spirit.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly identifies Christ Jesus as the mighty Bearer of the Sun-force once foretold by Zarathustra. In it He is faithfully described as the Power of the Sun, the Spirit of the Sun — Ahura Mazdao or Ormuzd. Stress is laid on the fact that the Being, of whom Zarathustra could only declare that He dwelt in the Sun, had, through the instrumentality of Jesus of Nazareth, descended to Earth; He has dwelt upon the Earth and united Himself with it. Through this one life in a physical, etheric, and astral body, He has become an impulse for earthly evolution, and has gradually united Himself more and more with that evolution. In other words: An ego-nature was once present in such measure on Earth within one personality that it has enabled those who followed it, who received the Christ or who accepted Him in the sense in which Paul accepted Him, gradually to acquire the power of this ego-nature in their following incarnations. When people pass from one incarnation to another, and if during the remainder of their time on Earth they permeate their souls with the power of the Personality Who lived at that time, they will rise to ever greater and greater heights of attainment.
At one time those destined for it were able to behold the Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth with their physical eyes. It had once in the course of earthly evolution to come to pass that the Christ, Who formerly could only be perceived as the Spirit of the Sun, descended and united Himself with the forces of Earth for the sake of all mankind. Man is the being in whom the fullness of the flooding Sun-force is to live — that force, that on one definite occasion descended and lived within a physical body. This event marks the beginning of the era during which the Power of the Sun is to stream forth into man. It will flow gradually, and ever increasingly, into those who fill themselves from incarnation to incarnation with the Christ-force, so far as their earthly bodies will allow of it.
It must be understood that not every physical body can experience the Christ, just as it was only that special body prepared in the complicated way we have described, through the two Jesus-forms, and then brought to a high state of perfection by Zarathustra, in which the Christ could live once in His fullness. Only once. Those who devote themselves to it will be able to fill themselves with the Christ-force, first inwardly, then ever more outwardly. The future will bring not only understanding of this force, but people will be able to fill themselves with it. What the acceptance of Christ will mean for a human evolution on Earth I have endeavored to show you in the ‘seer-nature’ of Theodora in the Rosicrucian Mystery Play. She must be regarded as one who had developed the power of seeing into the near future, of seeing how we are advancing toward a time, not far distant, when at first a few, and then gradually more and more, will be able to see the form of Christ — not solely as the result of spiritual training but as a natural development of our present stage of evolution. They will perceive Him not in the physical but in the etheric world — and in a remoter future they will behold Him in yet another form. Once it was possible for people dwelling on the physical plane to see Him in His physical form; this had to be experienced once.
The Christ-impulse would, however, fail of its mission if it were not always active and evolving. We are approaching a time when man will be able to behold the Christ with his higher powers — this should be regarded as a message. It will happen that before the expiration of the twentieth century a limited number of people will become ‘Theodoras,’ which means that their eyes will be opened spiritually, and they will experience what Paul experienced before Damascus. Paul's vision was possible because he was ‘born out of due time,’ he was a premature birth. People like Paul have no need of Gospel or record in order to know Christ. Christ will appear to them in the etheric clouds, and they will know Him from inner experience as He is.
This is a kind of Second Coming of the Christ, but in an etheric garment, the garment in which He revealed Himself to Paul as a shadowing forth of what was to come. It is our task to emphasize most particularly that the very nature of the Christ event carries with it the implication that He Who came in a physical body as Christ Jesus at the beginning of our era would appear again before its close — this time clothed in an etheric garment as he appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. When by exalting his nature man acquires ever higher capacities, he will come to know the fullness of the nature of Christ. A second coming of Christ in a physical body would mean that no progress had been made since His first coming, that this had failed to bring about the development of higher powers in man. For the result of the Christ event is the development in man of these higher powers, and with these new powers Christ can be seen in the spiritual world whence His powers come.
Having an understanding of the historical struggle of our time, it is our duty to speak of this fact, just as the great Essene teacher Jesus ben Pandira spoke prophetically of the Christ as ‘the Lion Who was to come forth from the line of David,’ thus referring to the Sun-Force that was to stream from the constellation of Leo. Could humanity but have the good fortune (I desire to give this only as an indication) of seeing the reincarnation in our time of that Jesus ben Pandira who was inspired by the great Bodhisattva destined to be the Maitreya Buddha, he would recognize as his most important mission this teaching concerning the etheric Christ, the Christ Who would appear in etheric clouds, and he would impress on his hearers the fact that once and once only could the Christ appear in a physical body. Let us suppose that this Jesus — the son of Pandira — who was stoned to death in Palestine a hundred years before our era were to be reincarnated in our time and that he announced the coming of Christ; he would not tell of His coming in a physical body but in an etheric garment, similar to that seen by Paul. By teaching this fact, Jesus ben Pandira would be recognized for what he was. The other most essential thing that we shall have to understand from him who will one day be the Maitreya Buddha is what might be called the new Essene teaching. We shall learn from him how Christ will appear in our time, and he would especially warn us against false conceptions concerning this rebirth of the Essene teaching. There is one sure sign by which we would be able to recognize Jesus ben Pandira were he to be born again in our day: he would not declare himself to be the Christ. Anyone who in our day declared his power to be the same as that which abode in Jesus of Nazareth would, by this very assertion, stamp himself as a false representative of that forerunner of Christ, who lived a hundred years before His day in Palestine. By such a declaration he would reveal himself as a false prophet. The danger here is very great. In our time men fluctuate between two extremes. On one hand, it is vigorously asserted of the modern man that he is incapable of recognizing the spiritual forces operating in humanity. We hear it constantly said by the man in the street that our generation is lacking in the gift or in the power to recognize any original spiritual force, even were it to manifest itself. That is one ugly fact of our age, though unfortunately true, that the reincarnation of mighty individuals might take place in it, yet be unrecognized, or passed by with indifference. And there is another fact no less sinister, common to our age and to many others. While spiritual individuals are unappreciated and unrecognized, others are exalted to the skies. There is the liveliest tendency to deify individuals. On every hand we find communities each with its special messiah. Everywhere the need for deification is felt. This has always been the case; it emerges again and again in the course of centuries.
Maimonides tells of a false Christ who appeared in France in 1137, who had numerous followers and was condemned to death by public authority. He also relates how forty years earlier a man appeared at Cordova and proclaimed himself to be the Christ. Again, twenty-five years earlier, at the beginning of the twelfth century, a false messiah appeared at Fez in Morocco, who hinted at yet a greater one. Finally about 1147 in Persia there was one who did not proclaim himself to be the Christ, but taught of a Christ. But the worst appearance of all was one I have already mentioned, that of Shabbathai Zewi in 1666 at Smyrna. He declared himself to be the reincarnation of the Christ. We can most clearly observe in him and in the effect he had on his environment, the nature of a false messiah. His was no narrow movement; news of the appearance of a new Christ spread, and people travelled from all parts of Europe to see him; from Spain, France, and Italy; from Poland, Hungary, and Southern Russia, from Northern Africa, and Central Asia. It was a great world movement, and created a great sensation, and it would have boded ill for anyone who ventured to deny that Shabbathai Zewi was the Christ. Such a denial — before Shabbathai Zewi betrayed himself and was exposed — would have brought the doubter up against a dogma held by a very great number of people.
This is the other ugly fact that constantly makes its appearance, perhaps not in Christian circles, but certainly in others. A need is felt to allow messiahs to appear in earthly form. In Christian countries this happens for the most part in small circles, but in them ‘Christs’ are to be found. What mainly concerns us is: that through spiritual science, through scientific explanations, and a clear understanding of the facts revealed by occult means, it is possible to avoid both kinds of error. Real understanding of spiritual science prevents such errors, and makes it possible to understand in some small way the most profound historical facts of modern times. It enables us, when we enter more deeply into spiritual life, to accept what resembles a kind of revival of the Essene teaching, which first foretold the coming of Christ, through the mouth of Jesus ben Pandira, as an event of the physical world.
If the Essene teaching is to be revived in our day, if we strive to live according to the living spirit of a new Bodhisattva, and not in the tradition of an ancient one, we must make ourselves receptive to the inspiration of that Bodhisattva who will one day appear as the Maitreya Buddha. This Bodhisattva will inspire us and draw our attention to the time drawing near when the Christ will appear in a new form in an etheric body. He will bless, and endow with light, those who through the new Essene wisdom are developing new forces in preparation for His return in etheric raiment.
We are now speaking entirely in the sense of that inspiring Bodhisattva who is to be the Maitreya Buddha; we know therefore that we are not speaking in accordance with any religious confession. We are not speaking of a return of Christ that will be perceptible on the physical plane. It is a matter of indifference to us that we are obliged to differ from such a teaching; we know, however, that our teaching is true. We have no prejudice in favor of any form of Oriental religious teaching, but live only for the truth, and we declare the manner of the future coming of the Christ to be in the form we have learned from the inspiration of the Bodhisattva himself.
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