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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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"That we being delivered from the hand of our enemies might
serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all
the days of our life" (St. Luke i :74). That there were many pious
households and humble hearts in which the higher and nobler hopes
of Israel were silently cherished is most likely, but they were, as
a rule, far removed from the sphere of influence and publicity.
Then, as now, the truest and the simplest religion is away from
the centers of ecclesiasticism and the turmoil of the world. The
hotbeds of life, indeed, secular and religious, have never produced
the choicest flowers of manhood or of character. Simplicity of
life alone begets intensity of faith and nobility of conduct. Such
a household, perhaps, was the home of Joseph of Nazareth. Speak-
ing generally, however, the prophetic conception had vanished from
the hearts and the lives of men. It was, apparently, a thing of
the past, and had been entirely superseded by the popular view of
a material and political kingdom. This the Jewish people were ever
,more and more eagerly expecting, especially as they increasingly
felt the iron heel of Imperial Rome.

62 Jesus' Idea

all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan" (St. Mt.
3:5). The nation was anxious, indeed, to learn more from
the wild prophet of the desert. But what did they hear?
Did John voice the popular ideal of the Kingdom? Was his
vision that of the populace? Or did he rediscover the long
forgotten and unpleasant prophetic idea? It suffices to say
that John was a prophet in every fiber of his being. In him
we have the "Elijah," the messenger to prepare the way for
the Kingdom. Not Elijah risen from the dead, but a prophet,
as our Lord declared (St. Mt. 11:9, 10) of the spirit and
power of Elijah, to whom Malachi had referred centuries be-
fore. It has been remarked, and it is true, that in idea and
development the New Testament begins at the point at which
the Old Testament closed. Matthew is the logical successor of
Malachi. John the Baptist is the complement of Malachi.
The intervening centuries have contributed nothing apparently,
and we resume our thread where we left it, without losing

With John, indeed, the prophetic conception grew once
more into pow^r. The popular conception of the Kingdom was
distinctly challenged. John emphasized the moral and spiritual
aspect, and hinted at the universal character of the Kingdom of
God. He was in consequence at war with his time. The
strong, bold and uncompromising nature of the man, however,
compelled him to strike blows without fear and without hesita-
tion, which shattered completely the extreme complacency of
his age. Yet John was emphatically the child of his time:
"for a man belongs to his age and race even when he reacts
against his age and race." Especially with the Baptist do
we find the prophetic doctrine of "the remnant" more clearly
taught. In the face of the popular Jewish fallacy that mere
Abrahamic descent entitled to membership in the Kingdom of
God, John demanded of the Jews themselves, repentance, or
a change of heart and mind, and the fruit of repentance in an
altered life. He declared that the nation would be sifted, and
that the Kingdom would belong only to the purified remnant,
"the wheat" from which "the chaff" had been winnowed f
and further that the Kingdom would not lack for members,
for God could raise up children to Abraham from the very
stones which the Jews might be inclined to tread under foot.

Jesus* Idea of the Kingdom 63

The prophet's estimate of the religious leaders of his day
may be found in his characterization of the Pharisees and the
Sadducees as the "offspring of vipers," or "children of the
devil"; for such is really the significance of the phrase, the viper
being a common Jewish symbol for Satan. After a study
of the Pharisees and the Sadducees wt can appreciate the in-
tensity of the prophet's burning words: "O generation of
vipers, w^ho has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance" (St. Mt.
3:7-8). With John, indeed, the coming Kingdom was to be
primarily ethical and moral in character ; hence the nation must
repent. There was to be a baptism of the spirit and of fire.
When the multitude, for instance, aroused and expectant, in-
quired, "What then must we do?" the answer came: "He
that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none;
and he that hath meat, let him do likewise" (St. Lu. 3:11).
The publicans were exhorted to "exact no more than that
which is appointed you;" and the soldiers were commanded
to "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and
be content with your wages" (St. Lu. 3:13-14).

Thus John's view must have been doubly distasteful to the
Jews, indicating, as it did, the inward and moral character
of the Kingdom, and at the same time declaring that not all
of the Jews would share in the Kingdom of God, but only those
who were fit, w^hile all vacancies would be filled by others. The
great work of John, however, was not to disclose the nature
of the Kingdom, but to act as the herald of the Kingdom and
its King. This he did with eminent success, stirring the peo-
ple to great activity, and awakening the conscience of the nation,
while compelling the attention of his countrymen to the prophetic
view of the Kingdom. His life and his speech were strenuous
and hard : they could, however, have been nothing else in view
of his time and place. The characterization of Monsieur
Renan is most apt: "This giant in primitive Christianity, this
eater of locusts and wild honey, this rugged redresser of wrongs,
was the absinthe which prepared the lip for the sweetness of the
Kingdom of God."

Having now traced the development of the Idea of the
Kingdom or Rule of God, we come to our third subject for
investigation: "The Significance attached to the expression —

64 Jesiis^ Idea

'The Kingdom of God' or 'The Kingdom of Heaven' when
used by Jesus." The theme of Jesus, as we have found, was
the Kingdom of God. Taking up the cry of John the Baptist —
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"! Jesus began His min-
istry with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (St. Mk. 1:15);
the Gospel of the Kingdom was the entire burden of His teach-
ing, and with further instruction in it, He closed His earthly
intercourse with His Apostles. What then was Jesus' Idea
of the Kingdom? What did He mean when He used this cur-
rent and popular expression of His time?

Jesus of Nazareth could not have remained unaffected by
the burning question of His day. His was a time, indeed, when
all thoughtful Jews must commit themselves to some con-
ception of the Kingdom. John had raised the question anew.
That Jesus was profoundly interested in the subject, we gather
from the words of St. Matthew: ''Then cometh Jesus from
Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him" (3:13).
The voice of John had sounded to the remotest parts of Galilee ;
Jesus heard, and in thorough sympathy with John, came to his
Baptism. The question which is a fruitful one with many ex-
positors and theologians, as to why Jesus, Himself sinless, re-
ceived the baptism of John which was unto repentance for
sins, is really a tremendously insignificant one. For Jesus not
to have submitted to the baptism of John, would have been
inexplicable in view of His modest Personality, His sympathy
and His age. The Kingdom must have His allegiance, no less
than that of His countrymen. Bred, however, as He was, in the
midst of Legalism and the Apocalyptic, what would be His idea
of the Kingdom of God? Would He ally Himself with the
popular conception? Or would He espouse the prophetic con-
ception ?

A great scholar of Germany, Bernhard Weiss, has main-
tained that Jesus was at different times imbued with both
ideas. He contends that Jesus in the earlier years of His
ministry, hoped and labored rather for the realization of the
popular ideal, in which the nation as a whole should be con-
cerned, and that only later in His ministry, and because of
the insuperable difficulties which militated against the success
of His early ideal, did He abandon it, and become an advocate
of the inward and spiritual Kingdom in the hearts of men.

Jesus' Idea of the Kingdom 65

He further holds that this compulsory change constituted the
greatest disappointment in the life of Jesus. While there is an
undoubted development both in Jesus' view of the Kingdom,
and in His teaching in regard to it, the development is legitimate
and evolutionary and does not partake of the vacillating and un-
stable character suggested by Weiss. While this question w^ill
not be discussed fully here, because our view becomes apparent
in the pages which follow, it may be well to say that the theory
of Weiss seems but the spiritual blindness of a man intellectually
great — an instance by no means infrequent in the scholarly
world, where great intellectual ability is never the guarantee
of spiritual vision. What then was Jesus' view ? Although we
cannot enter fully upon a discussion of Jesus' view of the
Kingdom of God at this point, inasmuch as His view will be
considered in detail in the succeeding pages, it will now suffice
to say that Jesus took the highest prophetic view, and lifted
it to an ever higher plane of thought as to the Kingdom's uni-
versality and spirituality. Hence His view was immeasurably
removed from the popular ideal. A few reflections will con-
vince of this before we proceed to a detailed study of the
Kingdom as it is revealed in the teaching of Jesus.

The Temptation of Jesus which, occurring at the beginning
of His ministry, and in fact constituting His inauguration,
is the key to His after life and work, offers dramatic testimony
to the distinctive character of Jesus' conception of the Kingdom
of God and is worthy of thorough and intelligent study. Let
us consider it somewhat in detail.^

At His Baptism, it had been revealed to Jesus apparently
that He was none other than the Messiah, the Son of God.
This knowledge, coming to the obscure, unknown, and humble

^ St. Mark 1:12, 13, St. Matthew 4:1-11, and St. Luke 4:1-13, re-
count the Temptation, and place it in the forefront of the public
Ministry. The account of St. Mark is cursory, while that of St.
Matthew and St. Luke is more detailed. The latter agree substan-
tially in the incidents recorded, except that the order of the second
and third temptations is reversed. St. Matthew places the scene
on the pinnacle of the Temple second, and the vision on the moun-
tain top third, while St. Luke reverses this order, making the temp-
tation on the pinnacle of the Temple third and last. The order
given by St. Matthew is climacteric and far more dramatic than that
of St. Luke; it is also more in accord with the parabolic genius
of Jesus.

66 Jesus' Idea

carpenter of Galilee, must have caused an intellectual and
spiritual unrest into the intensity of which it is impossible
for man to enter. The turmoil of the soul, no less than the
presence of the Spirit, impelled Him to the wilderness of Judea,
where the severity of nature's aspect well accorded with the
severity and the isolation of His thought and spirit. Many ques-
tions had been raised, and they must be answered. What was
the Messiah to do? What kind of Messiah was He to be?
The powerless Galilean had just been clothed with supernatural
power. (In fact, the fundamental presupposition of the Temp-
tation is Jesus' possession of miraculous power.) But what
was He to do with this power? How was it to be used?
What did it all mean? These and similar questions must be
met: hence, the wilderness. And hence, also — Satan! Death, it
is said, loves a shining mark, and so does Satan. The very
nearness of a man to Heaven makes him correspondingly near
to Hell. The nobler the life, the greater the fall, the more
terrible the effect, and the more strenuous the attack of Satan.
The Devil is, indeed, an able General, and quick to note an
advantage. So Satan now reasons: H the King of God's
Kingdom can be defeated, the hosts of God will be demoralized.
As yet, He is untried, untested. The wilderness is the fitting
field. Now weak in body, and distracted in mind, as yet
unsettled and undetermined, the opportune moment is at hand.
The very logic of events demands Satan, and he comes.

Half sneeringly and tauntingly, he says: "If thou be the Son
of God, command that these stones be made bread." The
reasoning is. Surely God would not have His Messiah suffer
from hunger, especially when He is clothed with supernatural
power, and has but to speak the word. It was the eternal, the
universal, and the democratic question of providing "bread and
butter." ^ The stern necessities of life afford Satan his never-
neglected opportunity. So it was then, so it is now. The temp-
tation, indeed, was most adroit; plausible, reasonable and legiti-
mate the suggestion seemed. If it was to selfishness, it was ap-
parently to reasonable selfishness. Jesus, however, perceives the

* Satan, indeed, finds entrance into the hearts of more men
through their daily bread, probably, than in any other way. Well
may Jesus teach us to pray — "Father, give us this day our daily

Jesus' Idea of the Kingdom 67

true significance of the temptation, despite its subtle disguise.
The question was this : Would He, endowed with supernatural
power, use it for His own ends and needs, as, for instance, by
turning stones into bread to satisfy His hunger? Or would He
use it only in behalf of others? Egoism and altruism were at
war. The import lay even deeper than this, however. In
reality, a contest was waging between the human and the
semi-human. Was His life to be natural and human, or un-
natural and thaumaturgic? Was He to appear to lead a
human life, yet in the presence of need or danger fly for
refuge to that realm of the superhuman and the supernatural
into which He had recently been inducted? Had Jesus yielded,
His life would have at once passed from the sphere of the
tragic and the sublime, into that of the comic and the ridiculous.
Yet Satan's mistake was the mistake of the majority of men,
who place the things of the physical life before the things
of the spiritual life. In this customary way he sought to
seduce. Jesus' answer, however, w^as a crushing protest against
this Satanic fallacy: "It is written, Man shall not live by
bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the
mouth of God" (See Deut. 8:3).

Altruism had won the victory, but it was in turn to be-
come the source and the center of the next Temptation. Satan,
taking Jesus to the Holy City, and placing Him upon some
lofty height of the Temple, whispers: "If thou be the Son of
God, cast thyself down: for it is written. He shall give His
angels charge concerning thee: And in their hands, they shall
bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a
stone." Again the taunt, "If thou be the Son of God," and
another apparently reasonable suggestion. We have seen that
it was a current belief among the Jews, that when the Mes-
siah came, he was to come suddenly from obscurity, and to attest
his vocation by miracles. This temptation, then, was a request
for a concession to the Messianic expectation of the day. Jesus
knew that He was the Messiah. But the nation did not know
Him as such. Credentials were seemingly essential. What
more convincing evidence could there be than that proposed by
Satan? To leap from the loftiest pinnacle of the nation's
Temple, in the very center of the nation's life, and, through His
relationship to God, alight unscathed — who could deny or dis-

68 Jesus' Idea

pute such evidence? The nation would be dazzled, the in-
vincibility of His cause proved, the allegiance of the people com-
pelled, success ensured — and all, through a slight concession
to the spectacular. And all this, again, without danger to
Himself, inasmuch as God's "care for the pious in general" as
set forth in Psalm 91:11-12 would be exercised toward Him,
God's Son, in pre-eminent measure. Such was Satan's appeal.

But Jesus again sees the import of the suggestion, and
replies, "On the other hand, It is written. Thou shalt not
tempt the Lord thy God" (Deut. 6:16). That is — no ques-
tion of God's protecting care was to be raised unnecessarily ;
God was not to be tried or tested without due cause; danger
was not to be sought without adequate reason. That super-
natural power which Jesus had declined to use for self, and had
decided to use only for others, He now declines to use even for
the benefit of others in an ill-advised, illegitimate and spectacular
way. Had He yielded, verily the flood gates of the extraor-
dinary and the marvelous would have been opened and
Jesus, once entering upon such a course, would not have
known where to stop. The Kingdom of God would have been
won, if won at all, by the spectacular. Reminiscent of this
temptation are those incidents in which Our Lord was asked
subsequently for a sign, as for instance St. Mk. 8:11-13 cf.
31-38. Jesus, however, would not be a superlative thaumatur-
gist or Wonder- Worker. He preferred the pathway of the un-
ostentatious. It is by no means pleasing to reflect that much
of Christianity's machinery to-day in both the Protestant and
Catholic worlds, is of the character rejected by the Master in
the Second Temptation.

The last Temptation was Satan's trump-card, and it was
played with masterful skill. Beaten at two points, Satan
was now determined to overwhelm Jesus. "Again the devi^
taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth
him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou
wilt fall down and worship me." The Jewish idea of the day,
shared subsequently by many Christians, was "that the present
age and world lay under the control (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12)
of Satan as king of the present time or king of the present
things." What Satan now possessed, Jesus desired for God —

Jesus* Idea of the Kingdom 69

the kingdoms of the world and all their resources. Jesus,
indeed, dreamed a dream of Universal empire. Satan had de-
tected this, and made it a point of attack. That empire might
he His, that dream fulfilled, every blessing and joy to the
world of which He had conceived, become actual, if He would
only do homage to Satan. Jesus felt, too, as every man of
ability feels, the possession of His power. He was supremely
conscious of His unrivaled ability to rule. And now the op-
portunity had come to gain His end, and to fulfil His destiny.
The Temptation, indeed, must have been terrible. It meant,
apparently, the Kingdom of God without the Cross ; the Crown
without the Thorns. Verily —

"The devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape."

But here again the insight of Jesus is proof against the subtle
suggestions of the insinuating Tempter. Jesus sees their im-
port. The question was this, Would He, seeing the King-
doms of the earth, and how they might be His, if He would
listen to the dulcet voice of Satan, use His power in the adop-
tion of worldly principles and methods? And what is this but
the popular and political conception of the Kingdom and its
King, appearing to Jesus, conscious of His personality and His
power? Many had aspired to free the nation from its foreign
yoke, and to gain for Israel the sovereignty of the world.
There was Judas, the Galilean, who angered by the taking of
a hateful census a few years before, the prelude to Roman
taxation, had raised the standard of revolt, declaring that
Israel should have no King but God. He had failed, but
his party still remained. Jesus must have known of him and
of them. Where Judas had failed, however, Jesus could suc-
ceed, because of His possession of supernatural power. Thus
Satan uses the Apocalyptic conception of the Kingdom in con-
nection with well-known movements of Jesus' day to appeal to
Our Lord. The Devil, in fact, always speaks the language of
the particular age. And success would he give if Jesus would
only worship him. And what was the alternative? The
Kingdom of God in the hearts of men of which Ezekiel and
Jeremiah had dreamed; a Kingdom gained through no selfish
use of power, through the adoption of no worldly principles and

yo Jesus* Idea

methods, but by the quiet proclamation of the truth, by a love
for men entailing keen and bitter anguish, and perhaps death
at their hands. A Kingdom gained through listening to the still,
small voice of God, rather than the subtle whisperings of the
Tempter. The majestic sovereign of splendor and might of
the popular view, is thus offset by the suffering King of the
prophetic view. The triumph to be gained by force is offset by
the conquest to be made by love. A like alternative had been
presented to the first Adam, and we know his choice ; it is now
presented to the Second Adam: What will be His choice?

While Satan seemed to give much, in reality he would have
given nothing, but would have gained everything. For, while
Jesus would have ruled the kingdoms of the world, Satan
would have ruled Jesus, and incalculable and irretrievable harm
would have ensued to the world. Jesus would, forthwith, have
become the prince of those to whom Mr. Lecky, in speaking of
Marcus Aurelius, refers: "Despotic monarchs sincerely anxious
to improve mankind are naturally led to endeavor, by acts of
legislation, to force society into the paths which they believe
to be good, and such men, acting under such motives, have
sometimes been the scourges of mankind" (Hist, of European
Morals. Vol. i, p. 265). The Kingdom of God, however,
as we have seen, demands freedom of the will and a willing
obedience, not force and compulsion. This Jesus perceived, and
Satan stood unmasked. Sharply and decisively comes the an-
swer "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt
worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve'
(Deut. 6:13 ff). Jesus would not be a temporal prince, but
a spiritual King. The Devil's play had failed, and he "leaveth
him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." ^

Thus the Temptation is the struggle in the mind of

* St. Luke says "he departed from him for a season." In fact,
Satan, throughout Jesus' entire career, was continually and per-
sistently pressing upon Him the ideas and aspirations which had
assumed such tangible shape in the Temptation of the Wilderness.
St. Peter himself, protesting after the confession at Caesarea Phil-
lippi against the self-announced sufferings and death of Jesus as
unworthy of the Messianic King, is rebuked by Our Lord in almost
the very words formerly addressed to the Devil — "Get thee behind
me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but
the things that be of men" (St. Mk. 8:33 cf. 34-37)- Again, when.

Jesus' Idea of the Kingdom 71

Christ between the spiritual and the temporal conceptions of
the Kingdom. We speak of the Temptation: let us bear in
mind that "temptation" really means a trial or a testing;
the idea of sin is not necessarily involved. In the Temptation
of Jesus, the trial or test was this — Would Jesus live for the
outer or the inner life? The conflict was between the outer
and the inner worlds. The significance of the Temptation,
however, is the same whether we view it as an actual external
event, or as an inward and mental struggle. For our part, the
account of the Temptation is not history or external fact
at all; it is rather the parabolic, pictorial illustration of an
inward and historic conflict — the conflict between Jewish
Apocalyptic and the Old Testament Scriptures.^

Emerging from the wilderness after the titanic struggle,

according to St. John 6:15, "Jesus therefore perceived that they
would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed
again into a mountain himself alone." This is but the recurrence
of the suggestion made in the third temptation, pressing with such
force that the Master seeks solitude for prayer and meditation.
Jesus had gained a signal victory, but He was compelled to hold
the ground gained by ceaseless effort

^ That Jesus, as the Messiah, should pass through such an expe-
rience is most reasonable, as we have seen. That He should sum-
marize and recount to His disciples in vivid and pictorial way this
experience is also to be expected. While the Temptation of Jesus
is rightly regarded as prophetic, and typical of that which comes to
every man, it must never be forgotten, as it is so generally for-
gotten, that it was of peculiar application to the Founder of the

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