manifest - the church would surely not invent embarrassing unfulfilled predictions such as Mark 9:1: 'Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power.' That the church struggled with the consequences of unfulfilled expectations is clear from the earliest Christian writings, the epistles of Paul. The hopes of early Christianity surely had their roots in the teaching of Jesus.

So was he just a failed apocalyptic prophet? This solution has seemed plausible since Albert Schweitzer. Yet throughout the New Testament we find what might be called 'eschatological tension', a sense of 'now' and 'not yet'. It appears in the epistles of Paul and the gospel of John,85 as well as in the reports of Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God in the other gospels - so there is a kind of multiple attestation. We might argue, then, that the characteristic thing about Jesus' teaching is found in his declarations that God's sovereignty is already being anticipated, indeed is present, if people can only recognise the signs. The immediate presence of God is demonstrated in the exorcism of unclean spirits, a manifestation on earth of God's victorious progress against the cosmic powers of evil. Jesus' opponents accuse him of acting through the power of Beelzebul (Mark3:22), in other words practising black magic, yet he offers no proofs or signs against that view. He expects people to open their eyes and see that it must be God's Spirit which is effecting the healing and forgiveness which attends his presence with people. There are prophetic pronouncements of judgement on those who do not respond. Yet his teaching has an enigmatic quality: whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. His parables and similitudes seem to point to the idea that the ways of God are discernible, one way or another, in everyday things, in God's creatures and their activities -trees and their fruit, sheep and sparrows, salt and light, builders and sowers, masters and servants, wedding feasts. His sayings suggest an upside-down world in which the poor, those who are humble - even humiliated, and those who mourn, are blessed. Thus he challenged people to live 'in the light of the coming Kingdom',86 and that meant living with radical trust in God's mercy and goodness:

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his

85 Rom 5:9 and John 11:25, together with their contexts, provide examples of ambiguities about present and future which pervade their writings.

86 Dunn, Jesus remembered, 610.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment