It was in this connexion that Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God which the violent take by force, and, again, of the kingdom of God which grows steadily and silently like a seed and bears fruit. It is in the nature of spiritual force, a power which sinks into a man within, and can be understood only from within. Thus, although the kingdom is also in heaven; although it will come with the day of judgment, he can still say of it: “It is not here or there, it is within you.”
At a later period the view of the kingdom, according to which it was already come and still comes in Jesus’ saving activity, was not kept up by his disciples: nay, they continued to speak of it as of something that was solely in the future. But the thing itself retained its force; it was only given another title. It underwent the same experience as the conception of the “Messiah.” As we shall see hereafter, there was scarcely anyone in the Church of the Gentiles who sought to explain Jesus’ significance by regarding him as the “Messiah.” But the thing itself did not perish.
The essential elements in the message of the kingdom were preserved. The kingdom has a triple meaning.
Firstly, it is something supernatural, a gift from above, not a product of ordinary life. Secondly, it is a purely religious blessing, the inner link with the living God; thirdly, it is the most important experience that a man can have, that on which everything else depends; it permeates and dominates his whole existence, because sin is forgiven and misery banished.
This kingdom, which comes to the humble and makes them new men and joyful, is the key that first unlocks the meaning and the aim of life. This was what Jesus himself found, and what his disciples found. It is a supernatural element alone that ever enables us to get at the meaning of life; for natural existence ends in death. But a life that is bound up with death can have no meaning; it is only sophisms that can blind us to this fact. But here the kingdom of God, the Eternal, entered into time. “Eternal light came in and made the world look new.” This is Jesus’ message of the kingdom. Everything else that he proclaimed can be brought into connexion with this; his whole “doctrine” can be conceived as a message of the kingdom. But we shall recognise this, and the blessing which he means, still more clearly, if we turn to the second of the sections indicated in the previous lecture, and thereby progressively acquaint ourselves with the fundamental features of Jesus’ message.