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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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sphere of ordinary business life that whatever is given to the
most ardent, and to the first laborer, so greatly exceeds all that
he could earn or demand as the result of service that no injus-
tice is done him if the Master sees fit to give a like reward to
those who have wrought only one hour. Failure to recognize
this, and the endeavor to introduce the eminently Jewish and
commercial spirit — quid pro quo — into the Kingdom, might
make Peter verily the last instead of the first, for the Kingdom
is love of others, not of self.



We recall that two features were brought forward promi-
nently by the Jews in regard to the coming of the Kingdom of
God : The hated Roman yoke was to be cast off, and the world's
sovereignty transferred from Rome to Israel. This would be
brought about by some catastrophe or cataclysm. Hence the
inauguration of the Kingdom was popularly conceived as sud-
den, and its consummation as a matter of a little while.^ Jesus,
however, much to the surprise and disgust of the Jews, compared
the development of the Kingdom ( i ) to the growth of a seed
in method; (2) to that of a mustard seed in result; and (3) to
the fermentation of leaven for the manner of its intensive

To the popular conception of the sudden and dazzling advent
of the Kingdom and its rapid extension, Jesus, in fact, opposed
the vital process of growth. His analogy was that of a seed
planted by a gardener, who simply sows his seed, and sleeping
by night and working by day, is without worry and appar-

^ Traces of this view are often met with in the New Testament.
Jesus, asked by the Pharisees, "When the Kingdom of God should
come?" replied: "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observa-
tion; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the
Kingdom of God is within you," or in the midst of you (St. Lu.
17:20, 21). After the Resurrection, also, the disciples say, "We
hoped that it was he which should redeem Israel" (St. Lu. 24:21),
having in mind the immediate introduction of the Kingdom. During
the forty days also between the Resurrection and the Ascension, the
question asked directly by the Apostles was, "Lord, dost thou at
this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). We are
surprised to encounter this strange ignorance of the character of the
Kingdom at the close of Jesus' ministry, and after His years of
teaching and the Apostles' intimate association with Him. It only
proves, however, that Jesus' idea of the Kingdom and its method
of establishment was "so wholly out of line with the ambitions and
expectations of the Jewish people" that only by the greatest effort
could they grasp His teaching.


The Kingdom^ s Method of Development 103

ently indifferent to its fate. Yet, because of the inherent char-
acter of the seed, and the inherent nature of the soil, and their
mutual adaptability, the seed germinates and grows, the gar-
dener knows not how. "And he said, so is the kingdom of God,
as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep
and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up,
he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of
herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in
the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he
putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come" (St. Mk.

The seed, of course, in this parable is the idea of the King-
dom, or rule of God, and the soil into which this idea is sown
is the human heart. Then, because of the mutual fitness of
the seed and the soil, the seed germinates and grows. This
was novel teaching to the Jews, and it struck a fatal blow at
the prevalent opinion. Its significance, indeed, was unmistak-
able. It meant that the mechanical conception of the develop-
ment of the Kingdom must give place to the vital. Henceforth
growth was the fundamental law. When we recall, however,
the inward and spiritual nature of the Kingdom, as it was
conceived by Jesus, we appreciate readily the analogy. He
taught, and He must necessarily have taught, that the ascend-
ency of God's rule over the heart of man, and over the world
of man, would be like the slow and unobserved, but sure, growth
of the planted seed. 'Tirst the blade, then the ear, then the
full corn in the ear:" "So is the Kingdom of God."

Further, once planted, the idea of the Kingdom — God's rule
being needful to man, and man recognizing the need of God's
sovereignty — will grow slowly and quietly, apart from human
anxiety. Hence the Kingdom did not demand forcing, as the
Jews supposed. No temporal arm of the State upon which to
lean was necessary; nor were the favorite methods of the
ecclesiastic "in preserving the faith" in vogue with Jesus. Re-
liance, so far as human effort was concerned, was placed simply
upon planting; and this being done, the self-propagating power
of truth, in conjunction with the vitalizing power of the human
heart, became the active agent. ''The earth bringeth forth fruit
of herself."

Nothing could have been further, however, from the Jewish

I04 Jesiis^ Idea

mind than such a conception. The Apocalyptic idea, indeed,
has vanished in a moment, and Nature is at hand. Nature, in
fact, has become the parable of the Kingdom of God. This
substitution, effected so quietly by Jesus, was fraught, however,
with vast results for the idea of the Kingdom. It compelled
forthwith the entire reconstruction of Jewish thought; it was
the rock upon which long-standing hope and expectation was
dashed in pieces. How momentous its conclusions were may be
gathered from the principles outstanding in the parable. The
three fundamental truths derived are: First, that the Kingdom
of God has a self-propagating power; second, that it grows
silently and unobservedly ; and, third, that it has an orderly
sequence of growth: the early stages being preparatory to the
consummation. The Apostles, strange to relate, even the bril-
liant and profound Paul, failed to understand this, and we find
them, in common with the entire Apostolic Church, looking for
the speedy consummation of the Kingdom, as the reader may see
from a perusal of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. Their
failure to appreciate the Kingdom's analogy of growth is par-
donable, however, in view of their strenuous devotion to the
mechanical conception of the Apocalyptic literature.

But the Jews dreamed, also, of the Kingdom's inauguration
amidst pomp and splendor, and this expectation was in full
accord with human nature, which usually demands that all un-
dertakings of importance shall be launched amid attention and
furor. This thought, indeed^ was present even to the mind of
Jesus in the temptation to cast Himself from the pinnacle of
the Temple, as we have seen. It was necessary for Jesus, how-
ever, in view of His decision in the Wilderness, to violate at
every point the most cherished traditions of the Jews. Hence,
He not only likened the development of the Kingdom to the
growth of a seed, but selected specifically the mustard seed.
This was a very small seed; so small, indeed, that it had fur-
nished a proverbial expression to the Jews. When they desired
to signify the minuteness of anything, it was customary to speak
of it as being as "small as a grain of mustard seed." Jesus,
Himself, seems to have been aware of this usage, if we may
judge from His remark that if the disciples had "faith as a
grain of mustard seed," nothing would be impossible to them
(St. Mt. 17:20). "Another parable put he forth unto them,

The Kingdom's Method of Development 105

saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard
seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; Which indeed
is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the great-
est among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the
air come and lodge in the branches thereof" (St. Mt. 13: 31-32;
cf. St. Mk. 4:30-32; St. Lu. 13: 18-19).

By this parable Jesus indicated an additional characteristic
of the Kingdom of Heaven. The seed, which was the most
insignificant of all seeds, grew into the largest of annual gar-
den shrubs. The Mustard Tree was not, properly speaking,
a tree, as is sometimes supposed, but a large shrub, such being
called trees among Orientals. The plant, indeed, grew with
remarkable rapidity, and often attained the height of ten or
twelve feet, with widely extending branches, which offered
attraction for the passing birds in way of shelter, test and food ;
the mustard being a common food for pigeons. Hence it was
selected by Jesus to illustrate the noticeably disproportionate
result between a beginning and an end, between the tiny seed,
so insignificant and unpromising in itself, and the ultimate
luxuriant growth.

It is also interesting to observe that a favorite figure adopted
among the Biblical writers to illustrate the development of
various Oriental kingdoms was that of a growing tree. The
reference of Ezekiel 31:3, 9 to the Assyrian kingdom, and of
Daniel 4:10, 12, are excellent examples of this tendency. The
development of the Kingdom of God itself was also so illus-
trated (Ez. 17:22, 24; Ps. 80:8). It is noticeable, however,
that the figure adopted is always that of a luxuriant vine, a
stately cedar, or some imposing tree, such an analogy being alone
deemed worthy for the great kingdoms of the earth, or the
Kingdom of God. Hence, the comparison of the Kingdom in
its beginning and development to the small grain of mustard
by Jesus is the more marked.

This analogy, however, served Jesus' purpose admirably.
For what beginning could have been more insignificant than the
beginning of the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus of
Nazareth? A peasant carpenter of a despised province; poor
and unknown until His thirtieth year, when He began to teach;
only creating a ripple on the surface of His nation's life; with
friends recruited chiefly among the humble, the ignorant, the

To6 Jesus' Idea

outcast, or at most among the middle class, and arousing ani-
mosit)^ everywhere, soon or late, instead of making friends,
Jesus appeared a poor advocate of any cause, especially of one
so important as the Kingdom of God. Finally, vuith the Cross,
it looked, indeed, as though the fiasco was ended. Yet there
soon followed the comparatively rapid spread of Christianity
throughout the then known w^orld, and the greatness of the
results achieved, human society being affected at well-nigh every
point, and conditioned in its every aspect. This, however, is the
parable of the mustard-seed. The Kingdom of God in one life
— and that a seemingly insignificant one — develops into a result
out of all proportion to the small beginning.

Thus, Jesus' sole purpose in this parable was to indicate
that the beginning of the Kingdom, contrary to all Jewish
expectation, would be insignificant and unpromising; that, not-
withstanding this, the Kingdom would develop according to its
own inherent method, and would be ultimately crowned with
a magnificent consummation, ever more and more inducing men
to seek its salutary rest, shelter and sustenance. The wide,
extending branches of the Mustard Tree would be understood
in this sense, in view of the similar use of the Old Testament
(Ezek. 17: 22-24).

Again, however, Jesus found it necessary to oppose a promi-
nent feature of the current Jewish conception. According to the
thought of His day, the Kingdom would be developed by
external means. The method would be from the outward to
the inward. At the point of the sword, for instance, God's law
was to be written upon the hearts of the Gentile world.
Through ceremonialism and an elaborate cultus, even the Jew
was to be made inwardly righteous. This conception Jesus abso-
lutely and unhesitatingly reversed. "And again he said, Where-
unto shall I liken the Kingdom of God ? It Is like leaven, which
a woman took and hid In three measures of meal till the whole
was leavened" (St. Lu. 13:20-21; St. Mt. 13:33).

Leaven is used here by Jesus to symbolize "the unseen influ-
ence and penetrating power of the Kingdom of Heaven." This
use of the word, however. Is somewhat singular, inasmuch as
In almost all other New Testament passages leaven Is used In
an evil sense. The words of Plutarch, indeed, reveal the popu-
lar Idea of leaven in the Ancient world. "Now leaven is itself

The Kingdom's Method of Development 107

the offspring of corruption, and corrupts the mass of dough with
which it has been mixed." Jesus, Himself, also warned the dis-
ciples on one occasion to beware of the leaven of the
Pharisees and the Sadducees (St. Mt. 16: 6-12), and of Herod
(St. Mk. 8:15). The word is also used by St. Paul in
Gal. 3:9, and ist Cor. 5:6-8, of bad qualities which are to
be avoided. ''Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may
be a new lump." By rabbinical writers the word was also used
in much the same way. "Rabbi Alexander, when he had finished
his prayers, said: Lord of the universe, it is clearly manifest
before thee that it is our will to do thy will; What hinders
that we do not thy will? The leaven which is in the dough,"
i.e., "the evil impulse which is in the heart." This constant
use of "leaven" in an evil sense has led some to insist upon
attaching a bad signification to the word as used here by Jesus.
They make it prophetic, for instance, "of the heresies and cor-
ruption which should mingle with and adulterate the pure doc-
trine of the Gospel." Jesus, however, distinctly says that the
Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven : not that there are pernicious
tendencies within the Kingdom which act like leaven.

This analogy, indeed, Jesus adopted most fittingly because it
disclosed another distinctive element in His conception of the
Kingdom. He was not busied with the good or evil character of
leaven, but with its peculiar, intensive, energizing, and perme-
ating power. Leaven illustrated, in His thought, the mysterious
influence to be exerted by the Kingdom of God on that with
which it should come in contact. Once introduced into the
world, although trivial and hidden, the Kingdom would work
from within, and with silent operation, yet none the less ef-
fectively. This fact is well illustrated in the early history of
Christianity. Obscure, unknown to the mass of men, and well-
nigh unmentioned by secular writers, but imbedded in the heart
of human society, Christianity did its effective and quiet work,
conditioning and transforming, until even Imperial Rome was
compelled to reckon with it by alliance in the hope of saving
her tottering sovereignty. The Kingdom was gradually leaven-
ing the whole lump.

The individual life itself is also leavened in the same man-
ner. The end is not attained at once. The idea of the sover-
eignty of God is introduced into the mind, and accepted by

io8 Jesiis^ Idea

the heart, and lies there unseen, but not inactive. Its ener-
gizing power is quietly affecting the whole man, until the entire
life shall be leavened for God and for Christ. A little lodg-
ment affects at first a part, and gradually the whole. A little
idea finds entrance, and causes the reconstruction of a system
of both thought and conduct.

Much, indeed, has been accomplished in the world through
this leavening process of the Kingdom — how much only few
begin to realize; but much remains to be accomplished. May
we not find hope that it will be accomplished in the words, "till
the whole is leavened" ? Perhaps these words are Jesus' proph-
ecy of the ultimate submission of humanity to God. Who
knows? At least the achievements of the leaven in the past
are the open prophecy of still greater triumphs in the future.

It is now becoming more and more apparent how greatly
Jesus' ideal of the Kingdom differed from the popular ideal.
The Jews, in fact, were satisfied with their conception of a
temporal Kingdom, founded by force, and suddenly triumphant.
Jesus could entertain only the idea of a spiritual Kingdom,
growing quietly, and in an orderly manner, from most insignifi-
cant beginnings to large proportions, and in its development,
by its peculiar and 'intrinsic properties, transforming everything
with which it should come in contact. This method of devel-
opment, however, was the inevitable and the logical outcome
of the idea of the Kingdom determined upon by Jesus in the
Temptation. A spiritual sovereignty over the heart of man
must be a gradual development.


THE world's reception OF THE KINGDOM

In the parables which we have just studied Jesus viewed
the growth of the Kingdom from the absolute standpoint. He
considered the normal working of the Kingdom and of the
human heart. The picture was of the growth of the Kingdom,
all things being equal. The parables are parables of undaunted
optimism; they seem to prophesy unconditional success. But
in this world all things are not equal. Had Jesus stopped with
these illustrations, His action would have been most unjusti-
fiable. Indeed, the facts of life and of experience do not sanc-
tion a vision of such roseate hue. Jesus, however, did not arrest
the progress of His thought with these parables. The truth of
the seed, the mustard seed, and the leaven, is rounded out in
the teaching of the Parables of the Wicked Husbandmen, The
Marriage of the King's Son, The Barren Fig Tree, the Sower,
the Two Sons, and the Children Playing in the Market Place.
In these the development of the Kingdom is considered from
the relative standpoint. The freedom of the human will is
treated of as conditioning the growth of the Kingdom. The
concrete completes and modifies the abstract.

Jesus, indeed, in speaking of the world's reception of the
Kingdom, considered its acceptance from three standpoints: the
national, the individual, and the class. His teaching revealed
clearly how the sovereignty of God, which He sought to estab-
lish, would be received by His nation in His own time, and by
individuals and certain classes in all times.

The nationality of Jesus, and His love alike, caused Him
to be interested primarily in the reception which His own nation
w^ould accord to the Kingdom of God. As the Chosen People,
they were the natural heirs of the Kingdom, and at the outset
of His career Jesus probably expected great things of them.
The lofty mind and the loving heart, indeed, always generate


no Jesus^ Idea

confidence. For three years He waited hopefully to see what
they would do, and while disquieting intimations arose from
time to time, it is only toward the close of His ministry that
He indicates openly the rejection of the Kingdom by the Jews.
On the last Tuesday of His earthly life, Jesus expresses Him-
self fully upon this point. Only a day or two before. He had
entered into the Holy City, riding upon an ass, a colt, the foal
of an ass. This was His public acknowledgment of His Mes-
siahship, in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah (Zech.
9:9) and the shouting multitude with their Messianic acclaim
understood well the significance of the act. Yet, despite teach-
ing, miracle, act, the leaders of the nation would not receive
Him. His public acknowledgment of His Messiahship, indeed,
only made His public rejection the more profound and bitter.
On the day of His entry into Jerusalem the Pharisees had asked
by what authority He did these things. He confuted them
by a similar question as to the authority of John the Baptist.
When they were unable to answer, and thus revealed their
patent insincerity, in consequence, there came from the very
depths of the outraged soul of Jesus several parables, two of
which are the most ominous commentary upon Jewish na-
tional history conceivable: the parables of the Wicked Hus-
bandmen and the Marriage of the King's Son, or, as it is
sometimes called, the Wedding Garment.^

These parables were born of the travail of a human soul, for
Jesus was first, last, and always, a patriot and devoted to
His race. His patriotism, however, was not blindness to His
country's faults. On the contrary. His consciousness of His
countrymen's shortcomings was keen and anguishing in pro-
portion to the greatness of the love He bore them. It is
this patriotism, stung to the quick, that speaks in these parables.^

^The idea of the garment, however, is subsidiary to the main
idea of the parable, and certainly should not give name to the

^ The first of these parables is as follows : "Hear another parable :
There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and
hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a
tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to
the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the
husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and

The World's Reception of the Kingdom iii

The interpretation of the first of these parables is as follows.
The vineyard represented the Chosen People. The husbandmen
were the leaders to whom God from time to time had en-
trusted the tutelage of the nation. Planted for the cultivation
of righteousness and truth, prophet after prophet had been sent
to demand the vintage. These are the servants, more cor-
rectly, the slaves of the story. And how splendid is the
word! The prophet, the slave of God — owned, body, mind,
and soul; no will of his own — none but his master's. These,
however, have been rejected, abused again and again, and
sometimes killed. At last the only Son, the heir, is sent. He,
of course, was Jesus, and the fruit which He demanded was
acceptance of the Kingdom. But the husbandmen's greed
for the inheritance led them to reject and even to kill the
Son, the last and the chief of God's messengers. The "hedge"

stoned another. Again he sent other servants more than the first :
and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them
his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the hus-
bandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir ;
come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they
caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When
the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto
those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy
those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husband-
men, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith
unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which
the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner:
this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? There-
fore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you,
and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And who-
soever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever
it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests
and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that He spake
of them. And when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared
the multitude, because they took him for a prophet" (St. Mt. 21 :2,Z-
46). This parable was founded probably upon the fifth chapter of
Isaiah, in which the prophet compares Israel as a nation to a vine-
yard : "For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of
Israel, and the men of Judah, his pleasant plant; and he looked for
judgment, but beheld oppression; for righteousness, but beheld a
cry" (Isa. 5:7). Some of the phrases, indeed, which were used by
Jesus, were reproduced from this account. Hence the very fa-
miliarity of His hearers with the illustration probably aroused a
keen interest and desire to fathom the Master's meaning. This,
however, was not difficult, for the parable is Jesus' sad commentary
upon Jewish history.

1 1 2 Jesiis^ Idea

of the parable is thought by some to Indicate the Law; the
wine vat, the altar, and the tower, the temple. This, how-
ever, is a matter of minor importance. The central truth of
the parable is the right of God to demand from Israel the fruit
of holiness and the acceptance of His sovereignty, and the duty
incumbent upon Israel throughout her entire history to bear
this fruit. Yet the nation had failed signally.

Consequently, Jesus asked, "what will become of those hus-
bandmen?" The Pharisees reply, according to St. Matthew
(in St. Mark and St. Luke 12:1-12 and 20:9-18, Jesus answers),
that the Lord will come and destroy those murderers. His
hearers, indeed, answer aright; they unconsciously pronounce
their own condemnation to their subsequent confusion and
shame. Jesus, however, makes the application of the parable

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