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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
ADVENT.—In its primary application the term is used to denote the first visible coming of Jesus into the world. His coming again at an after period is distinguished as the Second, or the Final, Coming (see Coming Again and Parousia).
The term is also employed to designate one of the ecclesiastical seasons,—that immediately preceding the Festival of the Nativity,—during which, in certain sections of the Church, the thoughts of believers are turned to the first appearance of their Lord in the flesh. This season includes four Sundays, commencing on the one nearest St. Andrew’s Day (Nov. 30) and lasting till Christmas Eve. With Advent the appointed order of Church services in renewed, and the ecclesiastical year begins.
Dealing here specially with the primary historical application, the first coming of Jesus possesses a unique significance as marking the entrance into the world of a moral force altogether unparalleled, a momentous turning-point in the religious progress of mankind. As the Son of God (Matthew 10:32, John 3:16-17), revealing and representing God in His own person (John 5:30; John 14:9-10), whose mission it was to redeem men from sin (Matthew 18:11, Luke 4:43; Luke 17:21), Jesus was to prove Himself in the truest sense the Messiah whom the Jewish people had long been expecting,—‘a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11).
1. The foreshadowing Promise.—The expectation entertained by the Jews had its roots in a promise enshrined in their earliest literature and dating from the dawn of history, that a signal deliverance from sin should be brought to the human race,—the promise contained in the sentence pronounced on the tempter, that the seed of the woman should bruise his head (Genesis 3:15). This blighter outlook for fallen humanity was confirmed by the assurance given to Abraham that in the line of his descendants the original promise was destined to be fulfilled (Genesis 12:2-3),—an assurance which was further strengthened when, under Moses, Israel was formed into a nation and entered at Sinai into covenant with Jehovah as His chosen people (Exodus 20-24). It was not, however, till David’s prosperous reign, with its recognition of ruling power held in the name of Jehovah, had passed, and when the idea of the theocratic kingship had been deeply implanted in the national consciousness, that the conception of the blessing to be looked for took definite shape. Then, as successive rulers failed and the nation’s fortunes became embarrassed, the splendours of David’s time, glorified by the halo which memory and distance cast around them, were projected into the future, forming a picture full of allurement and charm. It fired the imagination of the prophets amid the troubles of the later monarchy.
The promise, as thus transformed, was that of a king, or line of kings, sprung from David’s house who, endowed with transcendent gifts, and acting by special authority as the Anointed of the Lord, should reign in righteousness, introduce an era of Divine salvation for Israel, and draw all other nations round them in loyalty to Jehovah’s law (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:5-9; Isaiah 27:1, Micah 4:1-4). This was the blossoming out of the Messianic idea.
During the period of the Exile, with the fall of the monarchy and the collapse of the expectations based upon it, the figure of the victorious and righteous king was thrown into the background; yet the prospect of a future glorious manifestation of Divine mercy, rescuing the people from their iniquities and miseries, kept its hold on susceptible minds (Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:1-8). It was in this period that the distinctively spiritual character of the coming deliverance emerged into prominence. As delineated in Ezekiel and the Second Isaiah, it was to consist in an inward regeneration, wrought by penitence and the impartation of a new spirit and a new heart (Isaiah 65:6-7, Ezekiel 11:18; Ezekiel 11:20; Ezekiel 36:25-30). In those prophecies of the Exile, Jehovah Himself is set forth as the true and ever-living King of Israel; and collective Israel, the nation regarded poetic ally as an individual, is conceived as the Anointed Servant of Jehovah, who, amid manifold afflictions, is to bear witness for Jehovah, and be the medium of accomplishing His saving purpose for mankind. On the return from the Exile the hope of salvation through a Davidic kingship revived, as is evident from the prophetic utterances of Haggai (Haggai 2:22-23) and Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12); but in Malachi’s day it had again disappeared.
With the Maccabaean struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes (b.c. 167–135) the Messianic idea entered on a fresh course of development. In the Book of Daniel, which dates presumably from that time, we find supernatural elements more freely introduced. The writer in vision beholds an ancient of days, seated on his throne to judge the great world-kingdoms and their rulers. Before him appears, coming with the clouds of heaven, more like unto a son of man,’ and to him is given ever-lasting dominion and a kingdom which small rot be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14). This dominion is passed over to ‘the saints of the Most High,’ to be theirs for ever and ever (Daniel 7:18; Daniel 7:27). There is thus a picture of the Messianic future in which the triumph and rule of the godly over the nations are the distinguishing features.
We look in vain in the books of the Apocrypha for any expansion of these ideas. Their allusions to the Messianic hope are somewhat meagre, and do not expressly refer to the appearance of a personal Messiah. It is in the Apocalyptic literature, which sprang up in imitation of the Book of Daniel, that we find the conceptions which gave peculiar shape and colour to the Messianic expectations entertained in later times. We see there, amid the stress of national misfortunes, the prediction of the prophets interpreted and expanded in such a way as to furnish elaborately drawn out schemes of future glory. The coming of the God-sent king is depicted (Sib. Orac. iii. 652 ff.) the supernatural Son of Man, who was hidden with God before the world was created, and who, clothed with Divine attributes, will suddenly appear along with the Head of Days to execute judgment on men and angels (Similitudes of Enoch 46:1, 2, 48:2, 3). The dispersed of Israel will be restored, and the Gentiles drawn into submission (Enoch 90:30); sin and wrong will be banished (Simil. 49:2); the faithful dead will be raised to life again, and the righteous will dwell in everlasting joy (Enoch 51:1, 90:37) In the Psalter of Solomon, written under the pressure of the Roman domination (b.c. 70–40), the idea of a king of the Davidic line is once more revived. The Messiah is regarded as ‘the Son of David,’ ‘the Anointed of the Lord,’ free from sin and endowed with miraculous powers, who will conquer, not by force of arms, but will smite the earth by the rod of His mouth (17:28f.), and bring to an end all unrighteousness (17:36).
In those Apocalyptic writings peculiar prominence is given to the spiritual content of the Messianic hope. Notwithstanding the supernatural elements they so largely introduce, they throw into strong relief the higher religious conceptions which the best of the prophets had insisted on as essentially bound up with the great period of blessing expected; while the scope of the ancient promise is widened out beyond national and temporal limitations to embrace the world and the life to come.
Meanwhile the scribes were at work, hardening the Messianic idea into scholastic form, and reducing the poetic language and bold imagery of the prophets to dogmatic statements and literal details, with the result, on the whole, of a restoration of the theocratic idea that God was to vindicate His authority as the true Sovereign of the nation, and to send His vicegerent in the line of David to establish His law and introduce the rule of righteousness under His anointed King.
Such was the form which the long-cherished hope had assumed when Jesus appeared. It was largely mixed up with expectations of political deliverance, yet the thoughts of many earnest spirits were centred mainly on the prospect of a spiritual emancipation for Israel. He came to meet the great hope by fulfilling in their ideal and spiritual significance the prophecies that had kindled and kept it alive. Leaving aside the merely earthly, time-coloured features that bulked so largely in the popular imagination, He entered the world to offer Himself as the true representative of God, in and through whom all that was eternal and most precious in the Messianic idea was destined to be realized. See art. Messiah.
2. The state of Religion at the date of Christ’s Advent.—In many respects the way had been prepared for the appearance of Jesus and the spread of His influence as Messiah and Saviour. There were national, political, social, and other conditions existing in the world at the time, which rendered His coming and work singularly opportune (see Fulness of Time); but here we are specially concerned with the prevailing aspects of religious life in the immediate scene in which He appeared. Undoubtedly, among the Jewish people at that period religion was a dominating interest, and was based on principles far higher than any that obtained in other nations. Yet its quality was vitiated by certain serious defects. There was—
(1) Its partisanship. Scribes and Pharisees on the one hand, and Sadducees on the other, stood in mutual antagonism, striving for ascendency as leaders of national religious feeling,—the scribes and Pharisees combining to enforce the mass of stringent precepts which the former had elaborated to supplement the original written word; the Sadducees entirely rejecting those precepts, and contending that the Law as written was sufficient, and that the observance of the temple ordinances, its worship and sacrifices, was the central element in religion. The controversies that arose over those points of difference, and over the doctrine of the resurrection, created a fierce party spirit, bitter and bigoted on the one side, haughty and contemptuous on the other, while the smaller sect of the Essenes, with their extremist views and rigid austerity, maintained an inflexible protest against both these classes of religionists.
(2) Then there was its legalism. By their insistence on conformity to the regulations they had added to the Law as a condition of Divine favour, the scribes and Pharisees, who were the most numerous and aggressive party, converted religion itself into a matter of slavish obedience, in which the instigating motives were the hope of reward and the fear of punishment. The calculating temper thus engendered rendered the religious life a task-work of anxious scrupulosity and constraint, wanting in spontaneous action from the higher impulses of the soul; while in the case of those less sincere it introduced an element of prudential self-regard concerned only with the prospect of future benefit and safety.
(3) Closely allied to this was the externalization of piety. The Rabbinical regulations were held to be so binding, and their multiplicity was so great, that the effort to observe them inevitably involved a machine-like routine and formality. The Jew in his fulfilment of the Law found himself at every turn brought under the pressure of hard and fast exacting rules,—in his food, his clothes, his daily occupations, his devotions, and the smallest acts of his life. The endeavour to yield obedience under such circumstances necessarily led to a laborious outward punctiliousness; a tendency to ostentation and spiritual pride was fostered; and many were ensnared into hypocrisy by finding they could obtain a reputation for exceptional piety by an obtrusive parade of their ceremonial performances. The most precise minuteness was observed in trifles, the tithing of mint and cummin, but in matters of greater import the principles of morality were surrendered.
These are the darker shades of the picture. Nevertheless, it is clear that a very considerable measure of religious earnestness was preserved in the nation. It was fed by the ancient Scriptures, which were regularly read in the synagogues and committed to memory in the synagogue schools. Thus in the body of the people there was kept alive a sense of the holy character and mighty doings of Jehovah; and although, owing to the decayed influence of the priesthood, the Temple itself was not a centre of spiritual life, yet the hallowed memories it recalled in the breasts of the multitudes assembled at the religious festivals were calculated to inspire the higher emotions. At all events, there is evidence enough to show that many hearts throughout the nation were imbued with a deep-seated reverence for God and a true spiritual longing for the hope of Israel. The soul of religion might be sadly crushed by legality and formalism, but it was not utterly dead. Devout men and women in varied ranks of society were holding a pure faith and leading lives of simple sincerity, vaguely dissatisfied with the bondage of legal observances and Rabbinical rules, and yearning to rise into a more spiritual atmosphere, a closer communion with the Divine mind and will. Of these Zacharias and Elisabeth (Luke 1:5-6), Anna (Luke 2:36-37), and the aged Simeon (Luke 2:25) may be taken as examples; while the numbers who responded to the living preaching of John the Baptist and became his followers are an index of the extent to which genuine piety survived in the land. It was amongst such that the spiritual preparation was found for the recognition and welcome of the promised Saviour when He appeared. The coming of Jesus brought the birth of a new spirit in religion, a spirit of fresh vitality and power; and the life of absolute devotion to righteousness which He began to live, and which He was ultimately to close in a death of sacrificing love, infused into religion an inspiring energy destined on a scale of vast magnitude to regenerate and redeem.
3. The national unrest of the period.—The Jewish people, fretting under political depression, had flung themselves with impassioned eagerness on the hope that the long-desired Messiah and His kingdom must be drawing nigh. It was even thought by many that He was hidden somewhere in obscurity, only waiting for a more penitent disposition in the national mind; and so inflamed was the common imagination with these ideas, that popular excitement was easily aroused, and any bold spirit, rising in revolt against the existing state of things, could find a group of followers ready to believe in him as the one who should deliver Israel. In the broader world outside, too, the expectation of a powerful king, issuing from Judaea, who was to conquer the world, appears to have been widely spread; and the references to this given by Tacitus (Hist. v. 13) and by Suetonius (Vesp. 4) may be taken at least as an echo of views disseminated throughout the Roman Empire by the Jews of the Dispersion. When Jesus was born into the world, however, an event had transpired vastly grander than Jewish expectation at the time conceived. The day at last had dawned to which the original promise to fallen humanity pointed forward, and for which the best minds of the nation had for ages yearned; the divinely-pledged Deliverer from sin and its curse had arrived, to set up the kingdom of righteousness, love, and peace.
Literature.—For a lengthened treatment of the Messianic hope and its transformations, see Riehm, Messianic Prophecy3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (English translation 1900); Drummond, The Jewish Messiah (1877); Stanton, The Jewish and Christian Messiah (1886); Briggs, Messianic Prophecy (1886); Orelli, OT Prophecy of the Consummation of God’ Kingdom (English translation); and for a more condensed survey, Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii., and Schultz, OT Theol. (English translation 1898) vol. ii. For the Apocalyptic writings, see Charles’ editions the Book of Enoch, etc. Oa the religious condition of the Jewish nation at the date of the Advent, see Stapfer, Palestine in the Time of Christ (English translation 1886); Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ii. v. (1883); Keim, Jesus of Nazara (English translation), vol. i.; Wellhausea, Die Pharisaer und die Sadducäer (1874); Ewald, Hist. of Israel (English translation), vol. vi.; and Cheyne, Jewish Religious Life after the Exile.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Advent (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​a/advent-2.html. 1906-1918.