We are not, however, shut up to any such unworthy conclusions. There is another and sufficient explanation of the facts to which reference has been made. It was natural that Jesus, speaking in the first instance to Jews, should move as far as possible within the circle of ideas with which they were already familiar. Now, no phrase had a more thoroughly familiar sound to Jewish ears than this of the kingdom of God. It needed, of course, to be purified and enlarged before it could be made the vehicle of the loftier ideas of Jesus. Still, the idea was there, “a point of attachment,” as one writer says, in the minds of his hearers to which Jesus could fasten what He wished to say. But after our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, and especially after the fall of Jerusalem, the whole condition of things was changed. A phrase which in the synagogues of the Jews proved helpful and illumining, might easily become, among the populations of Asia Minor, of Greece, and of Italy, to whom the gospel was now preached, useless, and even misleading. Is it any wonder, therefore, if the first Christian missionaries quietly dropped the old phrase and found others to take its place? Men who knew themselves guided by the Spirit of Jesus would not feel compelled to quote the words of Jesus, if, under altered circumstances, other words more fittingly expressed His thoughts.
What did Jesus mean when He spoke of the kingdom of God? The idea as set forth in the Gospels is so complex, the phrase is used to cover so many and different conceptions, that it is practically impossible to frame a definition within which all the sayings of Jesus concerning the kingdom can be included. The nearest approach to a definition which it is necessary to attempt is suggested by the two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer which are quoted above. The second petition explains the first: the kingdom comes in proportion as men do on earth the will of God. For our present purpose, therefore, we may think of the kingdom as a spiritual commonwealth embracing all who do God’s will. To much that Christ taught concerning the kingdom—its Head, its numbers, its growth and development—it is impossible, in one brief discourse, even to refer. Here again, it must suffice to single out one or two points for special emphasis: