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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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Kingdom of God in the first instance, and, after Him, to the future
ambassadors of the Kingdom — the Apostles. Jesus Himself must
have recounted this experience, whether an outward event or an
inward struggle. And what could have been the motive? Surely
not egotism or conceit ! Rather was the motive didactic. The recital
of the Temptation was Jesus' attempt to disillusion His disciples.
It was a mighty protest against their Messianic ideas ; His endeavor
to show them the path which they must follow after Him. The
idea is well set forth in the words subsequently spoken : "Whoso-
ever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow me" (St. Mk. 8:34). As in the School of Jesus,
so in the Divinity Schools of every land, the Temptation of Jesus
should occupy the preeminent place. For Satan's temptation of
Jesus is Satan's temptation of every minister of Christ; namely, to
use his power and office simply as a means of gaining bread and
butter; or to seek results along the line of the theatrical and the
spectacular ; or in the general adoption of worldly measures to

72 Jesus* Idea

and again appearing to John the Baptist, Jesus is publicly pro-
claimed as the Messiah. John cries on two distinct occasions
I'Behold the Lamb of God!" (St. Jno. 1:29, 36). This is
indeed a strange utterance from the Baptist. Shortly before, he
had heralded a Messiah of iron-will and of invincible might,
uprooting, overturning, destroying; now he cries, "Behold the
Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." What
did John mean? The Lamb in all literature "is the symbol
of innocence and gentleness, as opposed to cunning and ferocity."
Among the Jews again there was the well-known Paschal
Lamb, and the Lamb of the daily sacrifice. The figure of the
Lamb is also used by Isaiah and Jeremiah to refer to the Suffer-
ing Servant of Jehovah. That a reference to the Suffering
Servant was intended by the last and greatest of the prophets
is our opinion, although this does not exclude a possible refer-
ence to the lamb of the daily sacrifice, or the Paschal Lamb.
And what phrase could more admirably, or more truly, describe
Jesus after the decision made in the Temptation? Not the
majestic King of the Apocalyptic dreams now, but the Suffering
Servant of Jehovah — the patient preacher of God's truth, and
sufferer for God's sake, and so a King. Thus we have for the
first time, the conception of the Davidic King and the Suffering
Servant of God of the Old Testament, united and applied to one
person — the Messiah. It remained, in fact, for Jesus after
centuries to harmonize the two apparently hopelessly con-
tradictory conceptions; the Temptation was the scene and the
ground of that reconciliation. To what we must attribute
the marked change or development in John's thought.of the
Messiah, it is impossible to say. It may have been due to
converse with Jesus Himself; or it may be referred to a flash
of spiritual insight into the deeper meaning of the Old Testa-
ment vouchsafed by the Spirit of God. Yet whatever the
source, the declaration stands; a lofty note was sounded, and it
has not been lowered throughout the ages. Jesus was the
Lamb of God: the Temptation had crowned Him such.

further the kingdom of Satan instead of the Kingdom of God. The
temptation, indeed, discloses the fundamental principles underlying
the ministerial life ; it depicts the true ambassador of God. Were
this done, fewer, indeed, in the ministerial world, both Protestant
and Catholic, would be blind leaders of the blind, and dulcet-toned
sycophants of Hell, who cry peace, when there is no peace.

Jesus' Idea of the Kingdovi 73

This we see also, if we note what may be appropriately
called The Inaugural Address of Christ. It was delivered in
the synagogue at Nazareth, immediately after His return from
the Jordan. Returning "in the power of the Spirit into Gali-
lee," Jesus teaches in their synagogues. "And he came to
Nazareth, w^here he had been brought up: and as his custom
was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood
up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book
of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he
found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel
to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to
preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to
the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach
the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book and
he gave it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of
all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them. This day is this scripture
fulfilled in your ears'' (St. Lu. 4:16-21).

Whether St. Luke gives this address in its historical connec-
tion is a small matter; its position is at least logical, and it
indicates Jesus' conception of the nature of the Kingdom. (The
quotation is the well-known Messianic passage from Isaiah
61:1-2.) As soon, indeed, as we hear the address fall from
the Master's lips, we know what His choice has been, and in
what direction His work lies. He \w\\\ be King through Kind-
ness: His Kingdom be the grateful hearts of men. Indeed, the
choice made, Christ never wavered, even though the shadow
of Calvary already lay upon His brow. With a fidelity amaz-
ing, and a grasp, from the very first, of the basic principles
necessary in the founding and maintenance of such a King-
dom as He had elected, that is most astounding, Jesus set
about His task.

Other testimony to the distinctive character of Jesus' con-
ception of the Kingdom also confronts us at the beginning
of the public ministry. Let us glance hastily at two factors
in it. Jesus was well aware that as a religious teacher. His
attitude toward the old religion would be questioned from the
beginning. Hence we find Him at the very outset stating
His relationship to the old religion in the Sermon on the

74 Jesus' Idea

Mount. "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and
the Prophets: I am come not to destroy, but to fulfil" (St. Mt.
5:17). Jesus here admits His indebtedness and relationship to
the Older Religion, and defines His attitude toward it. He was
not a destroyer but a fulfiller: His mission was to enlarge, to
develop, to fill the Old Religion full of a new meaning and
significance. Not one jot or tittle of the Old Law was to pass
away until all had been fulfilled (St. Mt. 5:14). We note
here a declaration of both dependence and independence. While
led to expect some indebtedness to the former law, we are also
led to expect some development, at once individual and dis-
tinctive. This truth applies equally to the conception of the
Kingdom of God. If the Law and the Prophets were to be
fulfilled, we w^ould expect the development to extend to, and
to include, so weighty a matter as the Prophetic conception
of the Kingdom of God.

This truth is again clearly set forth, and as explicitly, in
another pregnant but somewhat enigmatical utterance of Our
Lord spoken at the outset of His career. "No man also seweth
a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece
that filleth it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is
made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles:
else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled,
and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into
new bottles" (St. Mk. 2:21-22).^

The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were
fasting in accordance with established precedent; the disciples
of Jesus were not fasting. Amazed, those fasting come to
Jesus, and hold Him responsible, asking, "Why do the disciples
of John, and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?"
Jesus, applying to Himself the figure of the "Bridegroom"
which had been applied to Him by John the Baptist, says:
"Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bride-
groom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom
with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when
the bridegroom shall be taken away from them. And then
shall they fast in those days." The meaning of this is obvious.
A wedding is an occasion of festivity, not of fasting, the
expression of mourning — "I, as the Messiah, the Bridegroom,

^ This saying is also given in St. Mt. 9:14-17, and St. Luke 5 :33-38-

Jesus' Idea of the Kingdom 75

am now with my disciples, 'the children of the bride-chamber,'
my 'choicest and most trusted and beloved friends'; the wed-
ding is on — why should they fast? Their fasting is impossible
now; but presently, when the bridegroom shall be taken away,
then will they fast, because mourning over his absence is natural,
and fasting, the expression of their sorrow."

Thus Jesus lifted the idea of fasting to a plane of dignity
unknown among the Jews. He removed fasting from the sphere
of rote and rule, and made it the true embodiment of the
inner feeling of the heart; not a mockery, but a reality. Even
a considerable portion of the Christian Church has as yet
been unable to understand this teaching. Then with that mag-
nificent intellectual acumen which ever characterized Him,
Jesus rises from a consideration of the specific to the general, of
the concrete to the abstract. It is as though He said — ''You
ask — why my disciples do not fast? and you expect them to
fast in the prescribed fashion. Don't make a sad mistake!
You mustn't expect to take the new cloth of my teaching,
and put it as a patch upon the old, well-worn garment of
your religion, for it would only tear away from the old, and
the rent betw^een the two teachings, which is now bad, would
become worse.

"Nor again, must you expect to pour the new wine of the
spirit of my truth and teaching into the old decaying wine-
skins of your religion, such as fasting by rote — the form and
ceremonial of Judaism; for the energizing, fermenting power
of the new wine of my truth, would only burst the rotting
wineskins of the old, and both the new wine, my truth, and the
old wineskins, 50ur Judaism, would be spoiled. No, 'new
wine must be put into new" bottles;' my truth must create its
own ritual." Such was the meaning of Jesus. Failure to un-
derstand Him caused the strenuous efforts of the Judaizers of
the early Church; it has also saddled the Christianity of our
day with a large amount of ecclesiasticism, sacramentarianism,
and formalism, borrowed from Judaism and heathenism, the
outcome of the Church's endeavor to express the new truth of
Christianity in the old forms and ideas of Judaism and Pagan-
ism. How^ever, this teaching of Jesus leads us to look for
something novel and supplementary in His doctrine. And here
again Jesus fulfils a law of life. Every man who is to advance

76 Jesus' Idea

his age, must be in sympathy with it, and yet in vision beyond it.

Other considerations might be adduced, but these suffice to
show that Jesus' view of the Kingdom of God, while founded
upon the prophetic view, was yet more universal in extent and
spiritual in character than that of the noblest and sublimest
prophecy. It was this marked and distinctively new element
which justified Jesus in His proclamation of The Kingdom
of God, in spite of all incipient and preparatory stages in
the Kingdom's development. Truly, for the first time, do we
have the Kingdom of God in its absolute, undimmed, and un-
tarnished ideal and reality in the teaching and in the Person
of Jesus Christ.

It now remains but to add that to this idea and ideal
Jesus was wholly consecrated. Heinrich Heine has observed
that, "We do not take possession of our ideas, but are pos-
sessed by them. They frighten us and force us into the arena,
where, like gladiators, we must fight for them." This was
emphatically true of Jesus of Nazareth; although the opposite
was equally true of Him. While the idea of the Kingdom did
possess Him in every fiber of His being. He possessed a mas-
tery over the conception of the Kingdom, which only a pro-
found study of His exposition of the subject can enable us to
appreciate adequately. Jesus, indeed, lived on the heights.
The mind of the peasant Carpenter of Nazareth had soared
to the highest height of heaven, and there had seized the sub-
limest of conceptions. This conception was His life; in it He
lived, and moved, and had His being. His constant endeavor
was to translate this conception into terms of human thought
and life. This conception was the Kingdom of God. Every-
thing suggested it, and everywhere was it seen; even in the
simplest things of life. Nature seemed to teem with it, and
the associations of an apparently monotonous and prosaic daily
routine to bespeak it. The seed, the sower, the leaven, the
growing mustard tree, the fishermen with their nets, the busy
merchantmen, the gaiety and custom of the marriage feast,
the hiring of the laborers, the children dancing in the streets,
alike suggested to the Man of Nazareth, the Kingdom of God.
In every phase of life He saw the Kingdom mirrored and re-
flected. Whether He was in the simplicity of the humble
home at Nazareth, or in the joyousness and freedom of the

Jesus^ Idea of the Kingdom 77

happy days spent upon the hills about the provincial town, or
during the occasional sojourns amid the attractions and allure-
ments of the Holy City with its crowds and manifold interests,
the thought of the Kingdom was His constant companion,
more dear than aught else; so dear, in fact, that nothing
could vie with it successfully or dispute its supremacy, Jesus,
throughout His entire life, was a man of One idea; but that
Idea, the most sublime, and the most comprehensive that has
ever dawned upon the mind of man — an Idea, so splendid,
august, and far-reaching, that men penetrate into its vastness
with exceeding difficulty, and, when measurably the possessors
of it, burst into an unfeigned confession of admiration and
reverence. This Idea of Jesus of Nazareth is the subject of
our study; a more worthy and more fascinating subject could
no man have.

And now having discussed ( i ) The Meaning of the Phrase,
''The Kingdom of God" or "The Kingdom of Heaven"; (2)
The Origin and Development of the Idea embodied in the
Phrases ; and ( 3 ) The Significance attached to the Phrases when
used by Jesus, let us proceed to study the latter in detail, as
we shall find Jesus' conception revealed in His teaching. We
shall consider this especially in relation to the prevailing and
popular conception of the Kingdom held in Our Lord's day,
and also in its bearing upon certain problems and needs of
our own age. The divisions of our subject will be: "The
Subjects of the Kingdom"; "The Kingdom's Method of De-
velopment"; "The World's Reception of the Kingdom"; "The
Value of the Kingdom"; "The Alloy of the Kingdom"; "The
Extent of the Kingdom"; "The Time of the Kingdom"; "The
Church and The Kingdom"; "The Kingdom and The Super-
natural"; and "The Vicegerent of the Kingdom."



However the view of the Kingdom of God which Jesus
entertained might differ from the popular or the prophetic
conception, and however the popular conception might diverge
from the prophetic conception, the three were agreed in one
essential point at least — namely, that on its human side there
must be a visible manifestation or embodiment of the Kingdom.
This fact is the more noteworthy in view of the idea of
Jesus. While the Kingdom with Him was in its last analysis,
submission and obedience to the will of God, at the same
time it was to be tangible, visible, real — not a figment of
the imagination, but a great and obvious reality. It must have
members or subjects. Logically, there must be an outward
expression of the inward spirit in the individual and an intimate
association of those akin in principle and idea. Life, in fact,
always tends to embodiment and seeks expression. It is neces-
sary, therefore, to inquire concerning the subjects of the
Kingdom of God. For the sake of clearness, we will consider
the general theme under three heads or subdivisions:

I. How to become a subject of the Kingdom.

II. What characteristics entitle one to become a subject of

the Kingdom.

III. The duty of the Kingdom's subjects.

Jesus laid down an explicit condition of entrance into His
Kingdom and He made this condition imperative. The in-
dispensable condition, indeed, is precisely what we would ex-
pect after our casual study of Jesus' idea of the Kingdom
in the last chapter. It is imposed in St. Matthew 18:3, and
is as follows: "Verily I say unto you, except ye be con-
verted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into
the Kingdom of Heaven." While the saying is simplicity
itself, the meaning is profound and searching. The words mean


The Subjects of the Kingdom 79

that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, there must be
on the part of the individual "a definite change of mind"
and an absolute break with the past. The individual must
turn himself about, for this is substantially the meaning of the
Greek word orpecpcx), and its compound — eTrtcrrpe^co, which is
translated "be converted." The word involves the idea of
a radical departure. What has seemed wisdom is now foolish-
ness, and what has seemed foolishness is now seen to be the
wisdom of life. One may realize more clearly the import
of the figure, if he pictures to himself a man who is walking
along a path — a path of his own selection; he is obeying his
own will, following his own fancy: the path leads away from
God. Suddenly there is a "right about face" ; he turns and goes
in an opposite direction. A change of mind and heart has
come; the man begins to walk W'ith God. This, indeed, is

And becoming like a little child refers to the submissive trust-
fulness, the ready dependence of the individual upon God.
What is the most obvious characteristic of the small child?
Is it not its utter dependence, its inability to do for itself,
its need, and often its w-illingness to give itself into the hands
of others? One might be tempted to select some other char-
acteristic, but this is certainly the basal feature of the child-
life, and that which most readily answers to the require-
ment of Jesus. Now this turning with God and readiness
to be absolutely dependent upon Him, Jesus makes the sine
qua non of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. The
thought is best interpreted by the saying, "Not my will but
thine be done, O Lord." Thus entrance into the Kingdom
of God is absolutely conditioned upon willingness to obey God's
will, to submit to His rule or sovereignty.

This drastic requirement is set forth by Our Lord in His
earliest recorded teaching concerning the Kingdom of God ac-
cording to the Gospel of St. John. We refer to the conversa-
tion held with Nicodemus. While the subject matter of this
conversation is w^ell known, it is not usually interpreted in
the light of its historical context, but is made to serve the ends
of theological dogmatizing. Let us study it historically, how-
ever. This Jew, it will be remembered, who came to Jesus by
night, w^as a Pharisee (St. Jn. 3:1), a member of the Sanhedrin

8o Jesus^ Idea

(7:50), and in all probability a rich man. With the tact of
the polished gentleman he begins his interview with Jesus
with the language of compliment and appreciation. "Rabbi,
we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man
can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with
him." Decisively, and even with the appearance of abruptness,
Jesus replies, addressing Himself not so much to the remark
of Nicodemus, as to what He knew to be in his mind : "Verily,
verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot
see the kingdom of God." ^ Nicodemus, indeed, was fondly
picturing the overthrow of Rome and the establishment of the
temporal and the legal supremacy of Israel, in which every
Jew as a Jew had an inalienable portion. Jesus, however,
declares — except any one (no matter what his birth) shall
be born again, or be born jrom above (as the word may be
translated, and this idea we are compelled to include if we
would fully understand the import of the new birth) he can-
not see the Kingdom of God.^ The meaning is that unless
one undergoes a radical transformation of character — a trans-
formation so distinctive and far-reaching as to be compared
to being born again — he cannot see, or preferably experience,
for that is what the word means, the Kingdom or rule of God.
This was certainly enigmatical language to the aristrocratic
Nicodemus. Not even long familiarity with the idea of the new
birth, which proselytes to Judaism were said to experience in
passing from the Gentile to the Jewish world, could lead
him to imagine for an instant that a Jew must suffer a similar
experience in entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Surprised,
Nicodemus asks, "How can a man be born when he is old?
can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be

^ While the account of his interview (St. Jn. 3 :2 ff.) was "probably
rehandled and condensed by the Evangelist," so that we do not
have it in its entirety, yet from what is given we conclude that the
paramount subject of Jewish expectation and discussion — "The King-
dom of God" — must have been uppermost in the mind of Nicodemus,
although it is unexpressed in the narrative. And the view of
membership in that Kingdom entertained by Nicodemus would be
that of his fellow countrymen, namely, that the Kingdom belonged
to every Jew by virtue of his birthright.

^Here, at the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus goes to
the root of the whole matter, and sets forth the fundamental char-
acter of the Kingdom — spiritual versus material.

The Subjects of the Kingdom 8i

born?" Jesus does not leave him long in doubt, but replies
in language which Nicodemus cannot fail to understand —
**Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water
and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."
Here we notice that being "born again" is amplified into being
born "of water and of the Spirit." Thus the new birth, ap-
parently, is to consist of two parts. What these parts are,
it is important to note.

Nicodemus was undoubtedly familiar with the idea of the
Prophets that the advent of the Kingdom would witness
the pouring out of God's Spirit upon all flesh. That Spirit,
according to the Jewish mind, was to be given forthwith
to every Jew. This belief, however, Jesus boldly controverts
in the passage now before us. That is why He so explicitly
calls the attention of Nicodemus to the universal need of being
"born of water." Most important, indeed, is it to appreciate
the relation of "water" to this new birth, for often an undue
emphasis along magical and thaumaturgic lines is attached to
the water of Baptism. Let us remember, however, that Nico-
demus was a Pharisee, and that whatever of the stiff-necked
and the stubborn had survived from the ancient Hebrews was
concentrated in the Pharisees of Jesus' day. John, baptizing at
the Jordan, had attracted multitudes to his baptism. Many
were baptized of him, confessing their sins. The soldiers,
the populace, even the publicans, were moved to repentance
in view of the coming Kingdom. The one class, however,
which felt no need of a death unto sin and a new birth unto
righteousness was that of the Pharisees. Listening to John,
they yet rejected him. "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected
the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized
of him" (St. Lu. 7:30). They lacked the one thing needful —
repentance. "Born of water" on the lips of Jesus, therefore,
established John's demand for repentance as the preeminent
requisite for entrance into the Kingdom of God. The confident
assumption of Nicodemus is thus rudely shattered. He learns
that the proud and defiant Pharisee, who boasts of his virtues
and thanks God that he is not like other men, must be trans-
formed into the humble and suppliant Publican, who cries
"God be merciful to me a sinner!" ere the Kingdom can be at-
tained. He sees also that this is a universal requirement. For

82 Jesiis^ Idea

the first time, he grasps the truth that the conditions of entrance
into the Kingdom of God are both negative and positive —
"born of water and of the spirit." A little reflection, however,
would reveal that this order was rational, and also chronological.
Before the Spirit can be poured out, there must be the receptive
heart, and the receptive heart is the repentant heart. The nega-

Online LibraryFordyce Hubbard ArgoJesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus → online text (page 7 of 27)