It is probably necessary to describe what we can discern of Jesus' own assessment of his role in some such vague terms ('eschatological agent'), because none of the categories just reviewed seems to have been entirely acceptable to him. To recap briefly and baldly.
Royal Messiah/Son of David (§§15.2-4) was acategory full of eschatologi-cal significance. But was it a significance Jesus could embrace for his own mission? Evidently not. The tradition indicates that, as a role-description, it was more trouble than it was worth, liable to cause more misunderstanding than to bring clarification. As a messianic title it could not be ignored: it was too fundamental to Jewish hope and expectation. But as a role-description it pointed in the wrong direction. No wonder, then, that when the first Christians used it of Jesus, as use it they must, they did so by transforming its current significance completely. But for Jesus himself, the pre-Good Friday Jesus, the title was evidently more of a hindrance than a help.
Priestly Messiah (§15.5) was a title or role which was never thought to be appropriate by anyone involved in or spectator of Jesus' mission, Jesus included.
The other three categories, prophet, healer, and teacher (§§15.6-8), were more acceptable, because even when eschatological in character, the roles they described were not so clearly or fully defined. They could be acknowledged by Jesus, then, without causing his mission to be misunderstood. They provided some description and illuminated important aspects of his work, but otherwise, the implication is clear, their function was subsidiary to his main kingdom objectives. And no single one of them provided a complete or sufficient description of his mission.1
At the same time, the bound-togetherness of Jesus and his proclamation of God's kingship, the fact that the kingdom was present precisely in and through Jesus' mission, a fact so clearly attested in the memory of his teaching, bespeaks an eschatological significance for Jesus of which, however self-deprecating, he can hardly have been unaware.2 In the Jesus tradition bearing on each of the three roles just mentioned, we found what we might call 'the eschatological plus' or 'the eschatological extra'. It was not simply as prophet that Jesus seems to have seen himself, but as the eschatological prophet who had been given the role indicated in Isa. 61.1-3. It was not simply as a healer or exorcist that he acted, but with a still perceptible sense of a plenitude of eschatological power evidenced in both his exorcisms and his healings. His disciples recalled an ex-clusiveness in his claim to eschatological anointing by the Spirit of God, which, in his own words, marked him off from other exorcists and healers and from the prophets who preceded him, including even his own mentor, the Baptist. So too, he taught, but evidently did not see himself simply as a teacher. More than that, he is remembered as claiming an immediacy of apprehension of God's will, and by his very words and manner of teaching he is remembered as claiming an authority for his teaching which outstripped that of the most obvious contemporary parallels.
Elsewhere in the world of his time there were, of course, examples of individuals who in ecstasy spoke in the person of the god who was thought to possess them. There were kings who claimed to be epiphanies of deity. But there was
1. The same applies to the term 'charismatic' as description of Jesus (Vermes, Jesus ch. 3 ; Dunn, Jesus ch. 4; Borg, Jesus: A New Vision ch. 3; Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus ch. 8) — appropriate, but insufficient.
2. Merklein, Jesu Botschaft 149-52.
nothing quite like this son of an artisan. from the most modest of backgrounds. who in sober and wholly rational speech claimed to speak for God as his representative at the end of the present age. nothing quite like the unpretentious arrogance of his regular introductory formula. 'Amen. I say to you'.
How far the logic of this line of exposition can be pushed is not at all clear. The Jesus tradition strongly suggests that at the very least Jesus claimed for his mission an extraordinary significance. of eschatological fulfilment in the present and of final import for his hearers. At the very least we overhear in the words of the remembered Jesus a claim for the divine significance of his mission. as the (not just an) eschatological emissary of God. How much more can be said is much less clear. In particular. how much the claim for the significance of his mission was also a claim for the significance of himselfremains an open question. Can we draw a neat line between a mission which somehow embodied the kingdom and Jesus himself as the embodiment of that mission?3 The very fact that the Jesus tradition itself poses the issue (the issue of implied Christology). and not just in its later embellishments. is a factor not to be ignored or underestimated.
The problem can be posed thus. Since Jesus seems to have broken through all the available categories to the extent that he did. it becomes almost impossible to find suitable terms to describe his role or define his significance.4 If the available word-pictures and metaphors proved inadequate. what to do? In such a case an obvious answer is to coin a new word-picture or metaphor or to take a different one and fill it with new meaning. Did Jesus follow the same line of reasoning?
A final caution before we proceed. In all this I have spoken as though Jesus had a clear idea of what his role was or should be. But that is an assumption which cannot and should not be taken as given. Apart from anything else. I have already concluded that Jesus' own conception of the kingdom of God. the principal element in his preaching. was far from clear (§12.6). Why should it be any different with the still less tangible topic of Jesus' self-assertion or self-evaluation? We cannot even be sure that Jesus asked a question like 'Who am I?' let alone that he thought it important to articulate some particular answer. So in
3. Stuhlmacher presses the case: 'Jesus' person. his conduct. and his word. are to be understood as embodiment of God (Verleiblichung Gottes). Jesus was not only an eschatological prophet sent by God. but he has borne witness to God's rule as the parable of God in person (E. Jungel and E. Schweizer)' (Biblische Theologie 1.74. 110). Cf. McKnight's heading: 'The Kingdom Operative Only through Jesus' (New Vision 89).
4. Cf. M. de Jonge. Jesus, The Servant-Messiah (New Haven: Yale University. 1991) 6667. 80. who appositely cites Eduard Schweizer's description of Jesus as 'the man who fits no formula' ('der Mann. der alle Schemen sprengt'). citing E. Schweizer. Jesus (London: SCM. 1971) 21-22. 'What must not be overlooked is the likelihood that Jesus himself is responsible for the scholars' failure to classify him precisely' (Keck. Who Is Jesus? 52).
what follows we must be even more cautious lest the echoes we hear from the elements of the Jesus tradition now to be examined are audible only as the reverberations from the echo-chamber of subsequent Christian faith.
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