by David W. Baker. It is posted with permission from the author. I. Introduction
The Kingdom of God has been one of the dominant topics of New Testament study in this century. The reason is obvious. Many scholars, both conservative and critical, regard the kingdom of God as “the central theme” of Jesus’ public proclamation.1 In fact, a plethora of monographs has poured forth since Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer made the case that Jesus’ teaching was profoundly Jewish, drenched in intense eschatological hope.2 This new view contended against nineteenth century views, which moralized the kingdom and made it palatable to modern taste by arguing it was merely an expression of ethical sensitivity raised up in the hearts of men. In contrast, Weiss and Schweitzer argued that Jesus’ claim for the kingdom anticipated God’s stark intervention in the very near future that would reshape the creation. The view became known as “consistent,” “thorough-going” or “imminent” eschatology. For Weiss, the kingdom was purely religious, not ethical; purely future, not present in any way. The Kingdom would be God’s final miracle with Jesus functioning in his current ministry as Messias designatus.3 For Weiss, Jesus believed that he would one day become the Son of Man. At first, Jesus believed that this would occur during his lifetime, and later in his ministry, he anticipated it to come shortly after His death.4 It is a heritage that Jesus believed he possessed, though he had not yet entered into it. For Schweitzer, Jesus expected the end to come at first in his ministry. As he sent out the twelve in mission (Matthew 10:23), he believed that before they finished their tour of the cities of Israel, the Son of Man would come and bring the kingdom. Its appearance would mean the end of the present age, and he would be transformed into the Son of Man. When the disciples returned from their mission without this taking place, Jesus’ hopes of the end changed. It would take suffering, his own suffering, for the Kingdom to come.5 His death would bring the Kingdom. Though very different than Schweitzer, the oldest dispensationalists also stressed the Jewish roots of kingdom hope and placed its ultimate expression, as originally expressed through the hope of Israel’s scriptures, strictly in the future, what they referred to as the “kingdom of heaven.” Whatever relationship Jesus’ work in the present had to the kingdom, it was part of a previously unrevealed “mystery” that made its current expression something distinct from what had been promised to Israel and distinct from what was to come one day in fulfillment. This distinction between what would happen for Israel one day and what happens to the church today was a major element in the traditional dispensational distinction between Israel and the church in the plan of God. However, in the middle of this century, that clear distinction was somewhat blurred, though how it worked precisely was never agreed to or clearly set forth as four separate views were espoused.6 Unlike Schweitzer, these dispensationalists, saw no “error” or “change” in Jesus’ understanding, but like him they regarded the promise of the future to be so rooted in Jewish hope and so grand in its scale that nothing Jesus did currently could be seen as the fulfillment of that great promise of old. For both classical and revised dispensationalists, the mystery introduced into the kingdom program, conceived in various ways in this century, represented an “intercalation” in the kingdom program of God, distinct from the hope given to Israel. So throughout this century, the idea that kingdom hope was richly Jewish and pointed strongly, if not exclusively, to the future has been prominent in New Testament theology, whether conservative or not.7 As we shall see, this emphasis on the future form of the kingdom is well grounded in biblical hope. Other views also have emerged in this century. Two approaches were like the nineteenth century...
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