The Mystery of Jesus

There was once a man who lived during a precisely defined period in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberias Caesar. His existence is an incontestable fact. He was known as a manual worker, a carpenter using the hammer and the plane, with shavings curling round his ears. He could be seen walking along a road which is still pointed out to us; in the evening he would be stretched upon a bed of rushes or a string hammock, tired out and sleeping like any other man, just like one of us.

Yet he said the most surprising things that have ever been heard. He said that he was the Messiah, the heaven-sent witness through whom the chosen people were to fulfill their glorious destiny. More astounding still, he said he was the Son of God. And he was believed. He found men to accompany him along the roads of Palestine, as he traveled across the country. He performed miracles with disconcerting ease. There were many who believed that he would bring about the political independence of Israel.

But then, any mystic can collect devoted fanatics. The culmination of this scandal was that the man was suddenly wiped out, without putting up the slightest resistance. So far from being discouraged by this failure, several of his disciples went out into the world to bear witness to his divinity, even with their blood, and ever since mankind, seeing in this defeat the sign of victory, has prostrated itself before a common gibbet, just as if tomorrow a church should raise the scaffold for the veneration of the crowd.

... Jesus is at once of history and beyond it. Considering the number and the agreement of the witnesses concerning him and the abundance of the written testimony through which his gospel has been transmitted, one is inclined to say that there is no individual of his time about whom we are so well-informed. Yet as he himself foretold he has become the center of a thousand years of dispute, which each generation renews in contemporary terms.

That this man of poor and uncultivated stock should remake the basis of philosophy and open out to the world of the future an unknown territory of thought; that this simple son of a declining people, born in an obscure district in a small Roman province, this nameless Jew like all those others despised by the procurators of Caesar, should speak with a voice that was to sound above those of the Emperor's themselves, these are the most surprising facts of history.

...Hence forward he is the measure of everything that happens. The life of Christ is contained in history and contains it. It is not merely the vindication of some nameless tragic humility, it is the supreme explanation and the final standard by which everything is measured, from which history itself takes meaning and justification.

Daniel Rops "Jesus And His Times" Translated from the French by Ruby Miller (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., INC, 1954) pp. 11-13 Read Quote