Another Book Review! The Mystery of the Kingdom of…

Another Book Review! The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Suffering by Albert Schweitzer (~180 pages written in 1914)

There are several valuable themes in this book. But first I want to get the bad stuff out of the way so we can concentrate on the good. The ending, his conclusion, is entirely self-serving. He declares the end of eschatalogical-focused Christianity because Jesus’ death destroyed the Jewish framework of eschatalogy. Thus by examining Jesus in history, we find the worldview he operated in, and subsequently destroyed – “freeing” Jesus from eschatalogically and historically motivated theology. Thus Jesus can be anything he needs to be to anyone in any philosophical position. Like I said, entirely self-serving, and there is plenty of evidence to contradict this idea that Jesus destroyed the eschatalogical worldview.

I think the other bad/questionable action done by Schweitzer is his massive literary reconstruction of the mount of transfiguration. He transplants this scene backward into Galilee before the feeding of the multitude(s?). He maintains that the double record of miracle feedings are actually one and the same record. Also the record was initially Jesus secretly sharing with those people a foreshadowing of the Kingdom feast (Is 25), which Schweitzer then sees Jesus re-applying at the Last Supper. He does this because the current literary form that we have doesn’t make sense to him. Ultimately he favors his idea because it creates a better story.

Ok! On to the good! Schweitzer treats the “secret” of Jesus’ Messiahship very well I think. He works primarily from Mark. I was always puzzled why Jesus wants the fact of his Messiahship kept secret (he never openly preaches it, he tells those he heals to be quiet about it, and the same with the demons Legion). Schweitzer’s position makes sense – his claim to Messiahship is what got him killed. It is what Judas betrayed to the high priest, that Jesus actually claims to be the Messiah, which is blasphemy. Of course one of our immediate reactions is that the entire book of John is written to prove Jesus is the Messiah. But this is written after Jesus, looking back on his life. This is the thrust of the book’s point – the secret and how that affects Jesus’ preaching and death.

Schweitzer is spot on at pointing out the uncomfortable nature with which the current christian movements are entirely uncomfortable with Jesus’ eschatalogical/apocalyptic worldview, that we are entirely unable to make heads or tails of it. He does very well to point out the violence done to the text to remove the eschatalogical sayings from the lips of Jesus. He also points out a very telling fact that “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand!” is a summary statement of Jesus’ preaching. One can see the beginnings of Ehrman’s “Kingom Ethics” in Schweitzer’s work here also.

He holds repentance in the highest of lights. And likens it to the repentance called on by other prophets of Israel. Not only is repentance “not doing bad”, not just stop walking toward the cliff. Not just “focus on God”, not just turning around. But consistently walking towards God “doing good” – where “good” is the moral ethics of Jesus. He also made a good point that corrected some things that I had said. He terms Jesus’ commands as “interim-ethics”, meaning:
“Only he [one who enters the Kingdom] can be the bearer of such authority [in the Kingdom] who has kept himself free from the contamination of earthly rule. To allot it to such [people] as have prepared themselves through suffering is God’s affair and his alone” pg. 41
“… inasmuch as they render one meet not merely for entrance into the Kingdom but for bearing rule in it” pg. 55
“The disparagement of the earthly form of existence goes to the length of sacrificing altogether the earthly life for the sake of full assurance of life in the coming age… That is to say, Whosoever, through anxiety about his earthly existence, makes himself unworthy…” pg. 129

I only have two more points to make, and then I’m through so please bear with me. One question that always puzzled me (and the Pharisees) is “How is the Messiah David’s son (and therefore subjected to him) yet David calls him adoni, lord?”. This brings me to a major realization, the titles Messiah, and Son of Man are titles of role – not identity! Therefore Jesus can refer to the Son of Man in the third person, because while he is the Son of Man, he isn’t yet – because he is not acting like that eschatalogical figure. Jesus, before his resurrection was not identified as Messiah, Acts 2 tells us that the resurrection proved he was the Messiah. Now, Jesus sits in the role of Messiah. Therefore there is a huge realization between “Now and Then”. There lies a *huge* gap in between (which is filled by the resurrection). This helps us understand Jesus’ parables about the mustard seed and yeast in regards to the Kingdom. “Now and Then”. Now unleavened bread, Then a full loaf. Now the smallest seed, Then the biggest tree. Jesus’ focus is not on process, or slow evolution – the people of the time didn’t understand at all those biological processes.

And finally my last point which is slightly controversial. Schweitzer seems to think that Jesus was regarded as “Elijah”, the one to come. One reason, as Elijah is tied with miraculous times, Jesus performed miracles, John the Baptist didn’t. I don’t think this is a big point – I just think it makes more sense of the biblical passages, especially when the characters in the Bible don’t know his future identity as Messiah, but believe on him.

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