Augustine does not hesitate to say (Retract., I, xiii, 3): "What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian".And thus it has been remarked that Israel alone amongst the nations of antiquity looked forward to glories to come.All peoples alike retained some more or less vague recollection of a Paradise lost, a remote Golden Age, but only the spirit of Israel kept alive the definite hope of a world-wide empire of justice, wherein the Fall of Man should be repaired.The fact that, eventually, the Jews misinterpreted their oracles, and identified the Messianic Kingdom with a mere temporal sovereignty of Israel, cannot invalidate the testimony of the Scriptures, as interpreted both by Christ's own life and the teaching of His Apostles, to the gradual evolution of that conception of which Christianity is the full and perfect expression.It was to this fact rather than to the wonders He worked in His lifetime that His accredited witnesses always appealed in their teaching.
Again, the faith which He failed to arouse by the numerous miracles He wrought, He sought to provide with a further and stronger incentive by dying under every circumstance of pain, disgrace, and defeat, and then raising Himself from the dead in triumph and glory.
"If Christ is not risen again, your faith is vain", declares the Apostle Paul ( 1 Corinthians ), who says no word of the other wonders Christ performed.
By His death, therefore, and His return from the dead, Christ, as the event proved, furnished the strongest means for the effective preaching of the religion He came to found.
Yet, though He often foreshadowed a time when the Law as such would cease to bind, and though He Himself in proof of His Messiahship occasionally set aside its provisions ("For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath ", Matthew 12:8 ), yet, as, in spite of His miracles, He did not win recognition of that Messiahship, still less of His Divinity, from the Jews at large.
He confined His explicit teaching about the Church to His immediate followers, and left it to them, when the time came, openly to pronounce the abrogation of the Law.
In order the better to appreciate the meaning of this event, we must first consider the religious influences and tendencies previously at work in the minds of men, both Jews and Gentiles, which prepared the way for the spread of Christianity amongst them.