Jesus and His Restoration Teachings
- Understanding the Kingdom of God
- Christianity’s Shift Away from Jesus’ Teachings
- Jesus & the Restoration of Israel
The sayings of Jesus on the kingdom of God come from different sources (Mark, Q, Matthew, and indirectly Luke and John). In each case the pivotal statements of Jesus that were of major theological importance were: the Lord's Prayer, a prophecy of Jesus at the Last Supper, Jesus' prediction that some Gentiles would share in the final banquet while some Israelites would be excluded, and Jesus' use of the hallowed form of the blessings to convey his promise of end-times comfort to his suffering followers. Across all these strands and forms of the Jesus-tradition one point was constantly confirmed: Jesus did understand the central symbol of the kingdom of God in terms of the definitive coming of God in the near future to bring the present state of things to an end and to establish his full and unimpeded rule over the world in general and Israel in particular. Although the urgent tone of Jesus' message emphasized the imminence of the kingdom's arrival, Jesus, unlike much apocalyptic literature but like his teacher John the Baptist, did not set any timetable for the kingdom's appearance. The three major examples of sayings that vaguely approach a timetable (Matt 10:23; Mark 9:1; Mark 13:30) have been judged products of a first-generation of followers that grew increasingly concerned about the delay of the end-times restoration, the fate of those followers who had already died, and the hope of those followers who were still alive.
The end-times kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, which was to be the object of intense expectation and prayer on the part of Jesus' disciples (Matt 6:10), would mean the reversal of all unjust oppression and suffering, the bestowal of the reward promised to faithful Israelites (the beatitudes), and the joyful participation of believers (and even of some Gentiles!) in the heavenly banquet with Israel's patriarchs (Matt 8:11-12 and the bread-petition of the Lord's Prayer). That the banquet would be shared with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob implies the transcendence of death itself, a transcendence that becomes personal in Mark 14:25, when Jesus prophesies that God will save him out of death and seat him at the final banquet. The symbol of the banquet is "unpacked" with various images of consolation, the satisfaction of hunger, the inheritance of the land, the vision of God, the bestowal of mercy—as well as with other metaphors meant to suggest and evoke what cannot properly be put into words: the fullness of salvation wrought by God beyond this present world. From all that we have seen, it is clear that this future, transcendent salvation was an essential part of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom. Any reconstruction of the historical Jesus that does not do full justice to this end-times future must be dismissed as hopelessly inadequate.
A number of sayings and actions of Jesus situate the view that Jesus at times spoke of the kingdom as already present in some way or to some degree in his ministry. Some of the sayings refer only in a vague, global way to Jesus' ministry as the sign or vehicle of the kingdom's presence: "The kingdom of God is in your midst" (Luke 17:21) "Happy the eyes that see what you see" (Luke 10:23).
Other sayings focus more specifically on particular actions of Jesus as manifestations or instruments of the kingdom's presence. The most important witness, and hence the one on which we have spent the most time, is found in Luke 11:20: "If by the finger of God I cast out the demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you." Effectively, Jesus declares his exorcisms to be both manifestations and at least partial realizations of God's coming in power to rule his people in the end time. The same basic message is intimated by the parable about binding the strong man (Mark 3:27).
Cohering with all this is Jesus' reply to the Baptist's disciples, a reply that points to Jesus' miracles and proclamation of the kingdom to the poor as indicators that the prophesied time of salvation is now present (Matt 11:2-6). Jesus' rejection of voluntary fasting for himself and his disciples (Mark 2:18—20 parr.) implies the same vision.
As we survey this material, one point should strike us immediately. The most significant sayings of Jesus about the kingdom's presence contain references to significant actions of Jesus that communicate or symbolize this presence. As we have seen any number of times, one cannot separate the words and deeds of Jesus into two neat packets of information; they are inextricably bound together in the Gospel traditions. To this extent, scholars like Morton Smith and E. P. Sanders are correct in rejecting an approach to Jesus that focuses on Jesus' sayings with detriment to his deeds. It can be easily observed how Jesus' striking deeds are connected with and grounded in his proclamation of the kingdom coming (while it is yet somehow present). Moreover, Jesus' core message of the kingdom was not without its moral or ethical dimension, impacting on Jesus' interpretation of the Mosaic Law. An amoral or antinomian prophet, unconnected with the end-times fate and ethical concerns of Israel, is not the historical Jesus that emerges from the most reliable traditions of his words and deeds.
While we have gained some clarity on the presence of the kingdom in Jesus' ministry, our findings raise a number of further questions:
The precise relationship between the coming and the present kingdom remains unspecified. Merely to establish that Jesus did speak of the kingdom as both future and present does not ipso facto provide an explanation of how this paradox holds true. Exegetes and theologians usually adopt various slogans and set phrases to try to elucidate the relation between the future and the present kingdom: e.g., it is an example of the "already/not-yet" tension in Jesus' message; the exorcisms are "signs" of the coming kingdom; the future kingdom is "dawning" in Jesus' ministry; or the future kingdom is so imminent that it overshadows, impinges upon, and shapes the present moment.
More to the point, phrases like "the kingdom is dawning" or "the kingdom is impinging" hardly do justice to the clear and blatant claims of Jesus like "the kingdom of God has came upon you" or "the kingdom of God is in your midst." These sayings proclaim more than a rosy-fingered dawn impinging on one's consciousness.
To speak of an "already/not-yet" tension provides a better label for what we have seen, but in itself it provides nothing more than a vague description, not an explanation. Theologians may proceed to develop a whole theology of the NT or salvation history from the phrase, but obviously they are going beyond what the historical Jesus himself ever claimed. Needless to say, Jesus never used any such phrase to describe or explain the strange juxtaposition of a future and a present kingdom in his message. In fact, we have no way of being sure that he ever noticed the juxtaposition or considered it a problem. History knows of other great religious leaders and thinkers who were noted more for their charismatic personalities and powerful preaching than for their logical consistency. If a historian may question whether great philosophers like Epictetus or Benedict de Spinoza were always consistent in their statements about God, a historian may ask the same question concerning Jesus' statements about the kingdom of God. Moreover, the problem of logical consistency that the modern Western mind may raise with regard to the systematic writings of a Spinoza may be beside the point when dealing with an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle-worker of 2nd Temple Judaism. Our concern about the principle of noncontradiction might have been greeted with a curious smile by the Nazarene and his audience.
Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of future and present in Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom is not due solely to a fit of absentmindedness on his part or to a lack of concern with consistency. After all, Jesus had purposely seized upon the phrase "kingdom of God"—a phrase not widely used in previous Jewish writings or traditions—and pointedly made it a central part of his words and deeds. Judging by the large proportion of sayings on the future kingdom in the authentic Jesus material, we can surmise that his message of the kingdom focused predominantly on the imminent future, as Chapter 15 suggested. "Kingdom of God" was the privileged phrase Jesus chose to speak of that future. Yet he did not simply speak; he also acted— indeed, acted out. In his exorcisms, in his other striking deeds judged miraculous by his contemporaries, in his formation of an inner circle of disciples, in his table fellowship with toll collectors and sinners, in his "cleansing" of the Jerusalem temple—in all these deeds he was "acting out" his message. Hence it is significant and hardly accidental that at least on some occasions Jesus chose to explain such striking actions in terms of the kingdom of God having already come to his audience.
The reason why Jesus would not feel a need to explain what strikes us as a paradox may not be simply his lack of concern with the principle of noncontradiction. The real answer to the paradox may lie in the very nature of the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is telling that not any and every symbol Jesus used but precisely the set phrase "kingdom of God" embodies the "already/not-yet" tension we find in the Gospels. The kingdom of God is not primarily a state or place but rather the entire dynamic event of God coming in power to rule his people Israel in the end time. It is a tensive symbol, a multifaceted reality, a whole mythic story in miniature that cannot be adequately grasped in a single formula or definition. This is why Jesus can speak of kingdom as both imminent and yet present. When Jesus says in Luke 11:20 that experiencing his exorcisms is experiencing the kingdom already come, he is in effect making a startling identification: one of his powerful deeds is equated with the powerful action of God assuming his rightful control of Israel in the end time, an action that has already begun and will soon be completed. Thus, in Jesus' eyes his exorcisms are not individual acts of kindness, or even individual acts of power. They are part of the end-times drama that is already underway and that God is about to bring to its conclusion. In sayings like Luke 11:20 and 17:21, the emphasis lies on the claim that the drama has already begun: God's liberating power in favor of his people Israel is already being experienced by those Israelites who have encountered it in Jesus.
Whether or not we use terms like "pledge," "foretaste," or "proleptic realization"—terms Jesus never used—the important point is that Jesus consciously chose to indicate that the display of miraculous power in his own ministry constituted a partial and preliminary realization of God's kingly rule, which would soon be displayed in full force. It was to underline this organic link between his own ministry in the present and the full coming of God's end-times rule in the near future that Jesus chose to employ "the kingdom of God" for both. That much, can be inferred from the strange double usage of Jesus. Perhaps like the parables this paradoxical usage was meant to be something of a riddle, aimed at teasing the mind into active thought (to borrow the famous words of C. H. Dodd). This is all that we can say. To go beyond this minimal explanation of the kingdom present yet future is to leave exegesis and engage in eisegesis.
At the end of our survey of the kingdom future yet present, the question of Jesus' understanding of himself, of his place and function in the end-times drama he proclaimed, becomes all the more pressing. When looking at John the Baptist, we notice the pattern of an end-times prophet who in one sense avoids making himself the explicit object of his preaching and yet implicitly places himself squarely within the end-times drama as a key figure. In the case of the Baptist, acceptance not only of his message but also of his unique kind of baptism at his own hands was apparently deemed a necessary condition for salvation. His explicit modesty is thus balanced by an implicit but astounding claim to play a pivotal role in the events of the end time.
The same pattern continues in his disciple Jesus, who, likewise in the role of end-times prophet, claims to know that the kingdom is imminent, and who presumes to teach his disciples the proper way to address God (as 'abba') and to petition him for the coming of his kingdom. Moreover, unlike the Baptist, Jesus declares that certain of his actions (e.g., his exorcisms) mediate a partial experience of the future kingdom even now. Even more than in his proclamation of the future kingdom, Jesus' proclamation-plus-realization of the kingdom as present inevitably moves the spotlight onto himself.
And yet Jesus persists in veiling himself in indirect references and metaphors. He alludes to himself in Mark 3:27 under the curious image of a bandit. He speaks of the miracles of the end time to John's disciples without ever saying "I" (Matt 11:2-6 par.). Even when he does speak in the first person, he often does so indirectly, as in the famous subordinate clause "If by the finger of God I cast out the demons. ..." It is almost as though Jesus were intent on making a riddle of himself. Whether or to what extent he ever unraveled the riddle must be explored in subsequent chapters. But already we have the outline of a fairly large riddle: a 1st century Jewish end-times prophet who proclaims an imminent-future coming of God's kingdom, practices baptism as a ritual of preparation for that kingdom, teaches his disciples to pray to God as 3abbd* for the kingdom's arrival, prophesies the regathering of all Israel (symbolized by the inner circle of his twelve disciples) and the inclusion of the Gentiles when the kingdom comes—but who at the same time makes the kingdom already present for at least some Israelites by his exorcisms and miracles of healing. Hence in some sense he already mediates an experience of the joyful time of salvation, expressed also in his freewheeling table fellowship with toll collectors and sinners and his rejection of voluntary fasting for himself and his disciples. To all this must be added his—at times startling—interpretation of the Mosaic Law.
Jesus was a complex figure, not easily subsumed under one theological rubric or sociological model. In short, our investigation of the data suggest some sort of fusion of end-times prophet, baptizer, exorcist, miracle-worker and healer, and rabbinic teacher of the law.
Finally, the question of the kingdom as present has already confronted us with perhaps the most intractable problem in any historical-critical sifting of the Jesus traditions, namely, the traditions about his miracles. Up until now, they have been tangential to the main point we have been treating: Jesus' claim that, through his supposedly miraculous deeds (exorcisms, healings), the kingdom of God had already become present. It is time to shift our focus from this message of the kingdom as present to the supposed channels of its presence, the actions of Jesus that the Gospels depict as miracles.
The pieces of the puzzle thus begin to fit together: (1) At the very least, in some vague sense Jesus was seen by others and himself as an end-times prophet. He proclaimed the imminent coming of God's kingly rule and reign. (2) Yet, unlike the Baptist, Jesus proclaimed and celebrated the kingdom of God already present in his ministry. It was present in his powerful preaching and teaching, present in his table fellowship offered to all, including toll collectors and sinners; but most strikingly it was present, palpable, and effective for his Jewish audience in his miracles. (3) These miracles, especially the supposed miracles of raising the dead, would almost inevitably cast Jesus in the role of Elijah or Elisha. Being an itinerant prophet as well as a miracle-worker, a prophet who operated particularly in northern Israel, a prophet who spoke rather than wrote—all this would make the fit still closer.
Jesus made it as plain as possible to understand that to follow the true Way would be intensely difficult and require the utmost discipline. Because the choice, which Jesus called upon his followers to make, was a choice between having one’s life in the Present age or in the Age to come. Nowhere does Jesus ever preach that the path to salvation (the coming Kingdom of God) would be simple.
Since the early days of christianity, the church has shown more interest in the theology of the influence of an individual evangelist rather than perform the hard study of the pristine teachings of Jesus.
The Paradigmatic Shift
Modern christianity has inherited a gospel from the heritage of Paul's "christ" movement. The question is, does this christian reinterpretation and reappropriation of the gospel stay true to God's Word and particularly Jesus' definition of the Gospel? 'From then on Jesus began to preach, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near"….....But he replied, "I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent." (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:43). II John 7-9 warns that any departure from the words of Jesus is a grave mistake. Jesus’ own definition of the Gospel is therefore the foundation of not only his ministry but also of true biblical faith.
Commentators on the history of christian ideas point out that Luther and Calvin arbitrarily excluded Jesus’ own preaching of the Gospel. Current evangelicalism is unknowingly dominated by a dogmatic and fundamentally confusing approach to the question “What is the Gospel?” For 2,000 years the cosmic "christ" of Paul's universal ministry and the ministry of the Jewish Son of God have been butting heads and ultimately the ministry of the Jewish Son of God always takes the back seat to the cosmic "christ" of Paul's universal ministry.
Creating his own dogma, Luther decided arbitrarily to define the Gospel by taking texts from John and Paul and ignoring the other accounts of Jesus’ ministry. The first casualty of this procedure was the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom restoration Gospel presented by Jesus himself as the model for all subsequent Gospel-preaching (Mark 1:14, 15, Luke 4:43, etc.).
G.F. Moore wrote:
“Luther created by a dogmatic criterion a canon of the gospel within the canon of the books [he chose some books and ignored others, using a selective and misleading procedure]. Luther wrote: ‘Those Apostles who treat oftenest and highest of how faith alone justifies, are the best Evangelists. Therefore St. Paul’s Epistles are more a Gospel than Matthew, Mark and Luke. For these [Matthew, Mark and Luke] do not set down much more than the works and miracles of Christ [this is quite false: the gospels constantly describe the very Gospel as Jesus preached it]; but the grace which we receive through Christ no one so boldly extols as St. Paul, especially in his letter to the Romans.’ In comparison with the Gospel of John, the Epistles of Paul, and I Peter, ‘which [says Luther] are the kernel and marrow of all books,’ the Epistle of James, with its insistence that man is not justified by faith alone, but by works proving faith, is ‘a mere letter of straw, for there is nothing evangelical about it.’”
Moore comments perceptively: “It is clear that the infallibility of Scripture has here, in fact if not in admission, followed the infallibility of popes and councils; for the Scripture itself has to submit to be judged by the ultimate criterion of its accord with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith. [Luther, in other words, replaced one dogmatic system with another, making the Scripture submit to his own process of selection.]” (Moore, History of Religions, Scribners, 1920, p. 320).
C.S. Lewis reflects exactly the same tendency. He does not seem to think that Jesus preached the Gospel. The following quotation points to a fundamental and amazing misconception of the heart of Christianity: C.S. Lewis: “The epistles are for the most part the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels came later [but Jesus preached the Gospel long before the epistles were written]. They are not ‘the Gospel,’ the statement of the Christian belief.... In that sense the epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels — though not of course than the great events which the Gospels recount. God’s Act (the Incarnation, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in [Paul's] epistles: then when the generation which had heard the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide the believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord’s sayings.” (Introduction to J. B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches, Fontana Books, pp. 9, 10).
What about Jesus’ saving gospel of the Kingdom? Both Luther and C.S. Lewis rather skillfully bypass the gospel according to Jesus.
The Loss of the Jesus of History
The history of Christianity ought to give christians cause for alarm. Because of an anti-historical and anti-intellectual approach to faith, many remain in ignorance of the great issues affecting their relationship with God. When theologians ponder the condition of the Church over the centuries, they often expose an extraordinary departure from the historical Jesus. David Kaylor writes:
"Christian faith has not centered on the historical Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed demonstrates the truth of this statement, for it moves from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” The Creed’s omission suggests that the intervening years and activities of Jesus were of no real consequence to faith . . . Theologically and ethically, it is not enough to say that a death and resurrection have occurred. Who Jesus was whom the Romans executed and God raised from the dead matters not only for the historian but for the theologian and believer. The historical character of Jesus, and not merely a spiritual Christ, provides Christian faith with its reason for being and its power to bring about change in personal social life."
Edwin Broadhead writes:
"The religious map of antiquity looks quite different when Jesus is separated out from Christianity and resituated as a historical figure wholly within the variegated framework of 1st century Judaism."
If Jesus (as Savior) is not anchored in the historical figure recorded in the New Testament, who knows what version of a Jesus-figure may be embraced? It seems clear that the eisegetical interpretation of scripture, and the application of fideism upon those interpretations, play on the weakness of the religious spirit of man by presenting a Jesus who is only vaguely and superficially the Jesus of the Bible. The counterfeit could, however, be most subtle. Christian theological strategy works hard to separate Jesus from His own teachings (laid out in their clearest form in Matthew, Mark and Luke). “Jesus” might then be only a religious symbol offered as a spiritual panacea for the world’s and any individuals’ ills. The Jewish, apocalyptic Jesus, preacher of a coming just society on earth — the Kingdom of God — has then fallen into disrepute and obscurity. His reappearance in preaching would probably appear strange and unwanted even to churchgoers who have been fed a diet missing the New Testament Hebrew ingredients.
The safest policy against deception would be to reinstate the Gospel about the Kingdom at the heart of all preaching. This would ensure against the tendency to make Jesus up out of our own minds. It would also safeguard believers against the extravagant assertion of the leading theologian R. Bultmann who remarked: “What can be said about the historical Jesus belongs to the realm of the ‘Christ according to the flesh.’ That Christ, however, does not concern us. What went on within Jesus’ heart I do not know, and I do not want to know.” This tendency, less blatantly expressed, plagues a number of theological schools of thought, not least the school which relegates the teaching of Jesus to a ministry that is outdated, outmoded, and the true gospel is that of Paul's cosmic "christ" and the universal mission.
The Eclipse of the Historical Gospel of the Jewish Jesus
C. H. Goudge warned of disaster in preaching and practice. The replacement of Jewish ways of thinking (the thinking of the Bible writers) by Gentile ideas has been a disaster affecting the denominations: “After New Testament times the great people of God’s choice [the Jews] were soon the least adequately represented in the Catholic Church. That was a disaster to the Church itself. It meant that the Church as a whole failed to understand the Old Testament and that the Greek mind and the Roman mind in turn, came to dominate its outlook: From that disaster the Church has never recovered either in doctrine or practice. If today we are again coming rightly to understand the Old Testament and thus far better than before the New Testament also, it is to our modern Hebrew scholars and in part to Jewish scholars themselves that we owe it. God meant, we believe, the Jews to be His missionaries; the first great age of evangelization was the Apostolic age, when the missionaries were almost entirely Jews; no others could have done what they did. If today another great age of evangelization is to dawn, we need the Jews again” (“The Calling of the Jews” in the volume of collected essays Judaism and Christianity (London: Shears and Co., 1939), quoted by Lev Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, London: Lutterworth Press, 1942, p. 194).
Billy Graham and the Gospel
A widely-circulated tract entitled “What is the Gospel?”, which contains no reference to the Kingdom of God, declares that Jesus “came to do three days work, to die, be buried and raised” and that “He came not primarily to preach the Gospel . . . , but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach.” It is difficult to reconcile these statements with Jesus’ declaration that He was commissioned for the very purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:43). Again, Billy Graham says: “Jesus came to do three days work.” But Jesus said, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that christianity which is not rooted and anchored in the historical Jesus turns into a faith with neither the support of the bible nor God's Word. If people are asked to “accept Christ” without being told about the Message of the historical Messiah, how can we be sure that “Christ” is not just an abstract symbol? The real question then is, in the words of Jon Sobrino,
“whether this Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus or some vague, abstract Spirit that is nothing more than the sublimated embodiment of the natural “religious” person’s desires and yearnings. If it is the latter, then it is not only different from, but actually contrary to the Spirit of Jesus.”
More from the Billy Graham Association
According to Graham's Association:
“…The word Gospel occurs over one hundred times in the New Testament...What then is the Gospel of the grace of God? Let us ask Paul. He would point us to I Cor. 15:1-4: ‘I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you...that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day’...Paul never discussed the earthly life of our Lord...The fact that the Lord Jesus died to save is one half of the Gospel! The fact that he rose from the dead...is the other half of the Gospel.”
Is that true? Is there not a single sentence about the message which Jesus preached (i.e., the Gospel about the restoration of the Kingdom of God and the reestablishment of God's covenant with Israel) within the Gospels? Why is christianity not pointed to Jesus' own definition of the Gospel of God?
The "Gospel of the grace of God" is the Gospel of the Kingdom restoration and salvation through returning to the Torah of God. God’s grace is proclaimed in the proclamation about the Kingdom of God — that great world government which Jesus has promised to establish, with His followers, on earth when He returns (see Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22, 27). Jesus was and is preparing for that great coming day in which he and the followers of God's true Word will take charge of the renewed Kingdom.
The insistence of christianity to continually move further away from the true message taught by Jesus and his ministry, is the lynchpin in the inauthentic and ignorant doctrines of modern christianity. The very basis of christian theological doctrine, that the most important aspects of Jesus' life was his birth and death, relegates the whole religion of christianity into a supersessionary category which ignores the historical context and most basic aspects of Jesus' messianic ministry on earth. William Strawson had this to say, in regard to the true and authentic Gospel of Jesus: "The Gospel of salvation — gaining immortality in the coming Kingdom of God on a renewed earth — is all about how to prepare now to inherit the land with the Messiah at his future, spectacular return to bring about peace among all nations."
Scot McKnight had this to say: "Jesus' teaching and ministry centered on three major themes: (1) the Covenant God, Yahweh, who created the universe, formed the covenant with Israel, disciplined the nation with a continuing exile, and directed history to its decisive moment; (2) the kingdom of God, which became for Jesus the central symbol of an end-times climax to this covenant history; and (3) kingdom ethics, the life that is expected by God for those who choose to be faithful to the covenant as now made known at the end of times in Jesus."
Put simply as possible: The need for modern christianity to maintain it's modern beliefs and doctrines means that clergy, scholars, and professors intentionally ignore the Second Temple setting of Jesus and his ministry, and do everything they can to forcefully ignore the first century Judaism that Jesus taught from which means the complete abrogation of Jesus' kingdom of God restoration ministry.
Irving Zeitlin. Jesus and the Judaism of his Time. Polity Press 1988
Christology at the Crossroads, Orbis Books, 1982
McKnight, Scot, A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Eeerdmans Pub. 1999
Various pub., Billy Graham Association
R.D. Kaylor, Jesus the Prophet, His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth
J.W.C. Wand, The New Testament Letters, Prefaced and Paraphrased, Oxford University Press, 1946.
W. Bousset, Jesus, London: Williams and Norgate, 1906
Broadhead, Edwin K, Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity Mohr Siebeck, 2010
Aggregated from M. Bird, S. Bryan, & C. Rowland
Jesus and the Signs of National Restoration
We can further the explanatory discussion of Jesus’ end-times predictions by considering his aims in relation to several key elements within Second Temple Jewish restorationism. Since Jesus held a partially realized end times belief, it is in principle unlikely that he would have done so in isolation from the concrete, this-worldly expectations of the end-time which characterized Jewish beliefs in this period. Since the realization of Jewish end times was to take the form of national restoration, how can the announcement of national judgement be reconciled with the belief that Israel’s restoration had already begun?
Like his contemporaries, Jesus believed the beginning of restoration to be an obvious reality, a reality already clearly in view. But he rejected the apparently widespread belief that the restoration would begin with another version of one of the definitive divine signs which led to Israel’s original conquest of the Land. No such sign would be given. Jesus did not merely reject the notion of a sign; rather, using alternative traditions from Israel’s Scriptures, he invested it with drastically altered significance. The sign which ‘this generation’ should expect was to be a sign not of national restoration but of national judgement. Jesus used language which deliberately evoked Israel’s awaited restoration, but when asked to support such language with a manifestation of divine power modeled after the wondrous epiphanies of the Exodus and Conquest, he flatly refused, offering instead the sign of the Son of man – the sign of approaching and unavoidable judgement.
Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel
Unlike many of his contemporaries whose understanding of Israel’s situation was shaped by biblical traditions which anticipated Israel’s restoration and the judgement of the nation’s Gentile oppressors, Jesus’ interpretations added to those biblical traditions which declared that the heat of God’s wrath would be vented on Israel for covenant unfaithfulness. Moreover, sacred images and motifs which had served the hope of national restoration were not simply ignored by Jesus but were taken up and inverted in the light of alternative traditions. Israel had failed to be the fruitful vineyard. The guests invited to the end-times banquet refused to come. Israel’s disdain for the privileges of election could only mean judgement, for, in Jesus’ assessment, Israel had become the corrupt and apostate ‘generation’ anticipated in Deuteronomy 32, a nation whose salvation-historical situation was one of impending judgement.
The sharp differences between Jesus and his contemporaries in no way suggest that Jesus stepped outside Jewish tradition. Rather they illustrate the way Jesus’ use of different streams of interpretation helped to generate and substantiate a decisively different perception of Israel’s end-times situation and of the meaning of Israel’s election.
The Restoration Traditions of Israel
It is important that we realize that just like Jesus did not enact a "new Torah" or "new teaching" against Israel, neither did he initiate a new belief of the End Times. The results of the exile and the beliefs of the various sects during the Second Temple period generally coalesced as evidenced by their writings. This is evident by cataloguing several major aspects of the restorative beliefs which were found in more than one early Jewish document and which will prove to be significant for situating the Jesus tradition in its late Second Temple Jewish context. The following is a timeline listing showing the breakdown of the Restoration prophecy as well as the documents (besides the prophets in the Hebrew Bible like Isaiah and Zechariah) that support the Second Temple End Times beliefs that were prevalent throughout the time Jesus was alive and from which his restorative teachings have their foothold:
The tribulation is tied to the restoration of Israel and the End of the Exile
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document'; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
A righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community, Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
The righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a messianic figure.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses: Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community, Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
The tribulation is tied to the coming of a Messiah. Sometimes referred to as the “Son of Man”.
— Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses: Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
The tribulation precedes the final judgment.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Epistle of Enoch; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community
The tribulation is depicted as the end-times climax of Israel's exilic sufferings.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community, Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
The tribulation has two stages: (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great Tribulation.
— Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
The tribulation precedes the coming of an end-times kingdom.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon:Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse; Similitudes of Enoch
An end-times tyrant, opponent, or anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.
— Daniel; Jubilees; Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses; Thanksgiving Psalms; Pesher Psalms; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document; Qumran War Scroll; Qumran Aramaic Apocalypse
The tribulation is tied to the ingathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles
— Sibylline Oracles 3; Psalms of Solomon; Qumran War Scroll; Similitudes of Enoch
The tribulation has some kind of atoning or redemptive function for Israel.
— Daniel; Testament of Moses; Psalms Pesher; Qumran Rule of the Community; Damascus Document; Similitudes of Enoch
The Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.
— Daniel; Jubilees; Psalms of Solomon; Testament of Moses
The tribulation precedes the resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation.
— Apocalypse of Weeks; Daniel; Jubilees; Similitudes of Enoch
Clearly, the concept of an end-times tribulation is not only widespread in late Second Temple literature, it is also intrinsically related to several key aspects of early Jewish messianism and end-times restoration beliefs. Together, these interrelated concepts and motifs form a kind of matrix or framework which illuminates the function and significance of the mission and teachings of Jesus. There was an expectation that the constitutional shape of Israel in the end time would be determined by the restoration of the tribal league in the Land. At least some Jews expected this to be effected by Elijah. Contrary to that expectation, Jesus asserts that Israel’s end time reconstitution had already been initiated and that the one whose role it was to bring this constitutional feature of the end-time into existence had already come. John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come just prior to the end-time. But the sense in which he restored ‘all things’ had to be qualified by the scriptural necessity that the saints of the Most High would endure affliction just prior to the end-time. Even the returning Elijah would not escape. John’s call to return to Torah and baptism had initiated the oncoming restoration of Israel by calling into existence a remnant made ready for the end-time.
The twelve disciples were a symbolic representation of such a remnant, as messengers for Jesus teachings. The calling of the twelve disciples as a symbolic remnant conveys three things. (1) It locates Jesus’ message and actions against the backdrop of Jewish hopes for restoration. Their calling implies a restoration. (2) The calling of the twelve expresses jesus’ conviction that israel’s restoration was already being experienced among his followers who comprised the vanguard of the restored Israel. (3) The twelve are the symbol of hope, a mission and a reality which Jesus and his followers were intending to proclaim and embody.
Regarding Jesus’ stance toward Jewish purity concerns, they cannot be abstracted or removed from the end times, for the pursuit of purity by his contemporaries was ultimately driven by the anticipation of the unthreatened presence of God in his holy Temple and among his holy people in his holy Land: election, purity, Temple and Land – all interrelated aspects of a vision of the end-time and of a program for achieving that vision. For all the differences within first-century Judaism concerning how purity should be pursued, there remained broad agreement that the present persistence of impurity was a hindrance to the full realization of God’s presence in Israel.
For Jesus, it appears that he drew on alternative end-times interpretations according to which God’s people would only be constituted as a pure society through the sanctification of the whole earth by an end times action of God. Perhaps the actions of the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan are caricatured. But the reality behind the caricature is a society whose patterns of relation are structured in part by grades of purity. Jesus, however, speaks of a constitutional change which will obviate such concerns, a society in which undifferentiated purity will be predicated upon absolute, ungraded holiness. And by loving his neighbor, a Samaritan, far from being a defiling obstacle to Israel’s restoration in a pure Land, manifests the purity of this end-time order. In this way, even constitutional features of the end-time are coming into existence, and those who ‘go and do likewise’ likewise participate in the purity of this new society.
The Temple in the End-times
Jesus’ stance toward the Temple is best understood in terms of an end times timetable according to which the time had arrived for the end-times Temple to be fully functioning. The Temple had become a focus for mistaken confidence in God’s protective presence and specious conceptions of national election. And for this reason, the Second Temple had failed to become the end-times Temple. In this sense, Jesus’ action must be understood as a symbolic pronouncement of judgement. This should not be taken to mean that Jesus was forced to conclude that the time for the end-times fulfillment had been delayed. Rather, the reality of the time of fulfillment for Jesus was such that if the physical Second Temple was not functioning as the end-times Temple, he himself would build a Temple of another kind, a temporary non-physical Temple. If what Jesus meant in setting forth such a claim remains uncertain, Israel’s sacred traditions were more than capable of supporting an expectation of a non-material end-times Temple built by Israel’s Messiah.
That Jesus announced a restoration which had both clear connections to the restoration anticipated by many of his contemporaries as well as marked differences from it, has significance for of Jesus’ relationship to 2nd Temple Judaism. The Judaism of Jesus’ day is neither an unyielding constraint nor simply background for a description of a Jesus who did not fit within Judaism. Ancient Judaism was shaped by it’s biblically-rooted traditions, but they were also continually developing traditions. Jesus did not reinterpret nor reappropriate Israel's kingdom restoration traditions. His ministry was based on those prophecies and traditions, the same as John the Baptist's desert ministry. The kingdom ministry of Jesus did not steer the older traditions nor developing traditions away from the 2nd Temple Judaism of his day.
Jesus’ end-times beliefs of a present judgement, world-wide restoration of God’s covenant, with national Israel being the beacon for the rest of the world to come under the umbrella of God’s covenant, shares very little with the end-times teachings of Paul’s Christ Movement. This discontinuity also exists in that the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement continued with the gospel of the kingdom of God whereas the Hellenist Christ Movement preached the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection. In so far as Jesus is portrayed as one who participated fully in the form of restorationism held by many of his Second Temple contemporaries, substantial discontinuity remains between the Jewish Messiah and the Hellenistic Christ. However, the existence of Jesus’ Jewish restoration beliefs is supported by his teachings in the Gospels, and Jesus fits into that world view. Modern christianity steadfastly needs to maintain it's modern interpretation of Jesus, with each different congregation holding different beliefs and doctrines. This means that clergy, scholars, and professors intentionally ignore the Second Temple setting of Jesus and his ministry, and do everything they can to forcefully ignore the first century Judaism that Jesus taught from, which means the complete abrogation of Jesus' kingdom of God restoration ministry.
Essay aggregated and excerpted from:
Bird, Michael F. Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission. T&T Clark, 2007
Bryan, Stephen M. Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Rowland, Christopher. Christian Origins. SPCK Press, 2002.
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