If you know of Albert Schweitzer mainly as a revered missionary or as a musician, you may be surprised by his study of Jesus.
He thought Jesus expected God to end this world and establish his kingdom within the lifetime of Jesus’ original followers, He pointed to these parallel gospel verses: “There are some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28) (or, “…until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1); or, “… till they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27).)
Schweitzer thought Jesus initiated the events that led to his crucifixion in the belief that his own death would be the first act in the apocalyptic drama he expected soon to follow. Thus, Jesus’ teaching was an interim ethic meant just for the short time before the end came. For ethics, he thought we needed to look to Stoicism and Confucianism since these, unlike Jesus, contemplated the long play of history. He thought Jesus’ time-line had turned out to be badly mistaken. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Schweitzer’s work can be read online here.
Without buying into all Schweitzer’s conclusions, I see a very strong case for the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. Jesus surely prophesied a judgment that would soon fall. The Roman War did come within the lifetimes of “some standing here” when Jesus spoke. It was in some ways the end of a world. It was the end of Judaism centered on the temple and sacrifice and the priesthood. It was the end of Christianity and Judaism as manifestations of a single religion. It took a while to come about, but Christianity soon ceased to exist only as a Jewish sect. Both Christianity and Judaism were different religions after 70 CE.
But the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the dead did not happen. Jesus’ prayer that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven was not answered by the destruction of the temple. In other words, the divide between God’s dominion over the world as an ideal and God’s dominion over the world as a reality has not been closed.
What did Jesus really expect? And what does that mean for Christians today? Next time. . .