The Historical Jesus: Summaries From Other Scholars Who Accept "The Apocalyptic Jesus"

The following are several summaries from a variety of scholars who accept “The Apocalyptic Jesus.”  Not all of these summaries self-consciously end the author's work, as Allison’s does, but the quotations nevertheless broadly convey each writer’s thoughts on Jesus as a historical figure, and especially his eschatological expectations.  I will also repost the conlcusion of Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet at the end of this list, so as to include him in the collection.


“Jesus' intense God-consciousness was of course inevitably structured in terms of the religious ideas of his own culture. The basic concept with which to understand his own existence in relation to God was that of prophet. But it seems that Jesus was conscious, not just of being a prophet, but probably of being the last prophet. 'Jesus,' says E. P. Sanders, 'saw himself as God's last messenger before the establishment of the kingdom' (Sanders 1985, 319). He came as the eschatological prophet, urgently proclaiming the imminent approach of the Day of the Lord. He and those who responded to him were living consciously in the last months or years before the great Day when the present world order would be swept away and God's kingdom established on earth. Widely circulated apocalyptic writings looked forward to this coming new age when 'the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people' (Daniel 2.44). The Dead Sea Scrolls also show, as Howard Kee says, 'how vital the expectation was within first-century Judaism that the present age was coming to an end, to be replaced by the new age in which God would vindicate the faithful and establish his rule over the world!' (Kee 1990, 17). According to one popular expectation, in the coming age Israel would be restored, Jerusalem would be the centre of the world, and peace and justice would reign universally. But beyond this there was a bewildering variety of differing strands of thought expressing the themes of God's long-awaited awaited new age and the expectation of 'one who is to come' to inaugurate it.

However, the expected End, which was also to be God's new Beginning, was delayed from year to year and from generation to generation. As one of the Qumran documents says: 'The final End is taking more time than the prophets predicted, for marvellous are God's mysteries ... The last days will come according to God's appointed time' (I QpHab 7.7-14; Schillebeeckx 1979, 121). But Jesus seems to have been vividly conscious that the End was at last close at hand and that he was called urgently to summon Israel to repentance so that it might be ready for the great day: 'Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel"' (Mark 1.14). As Mircea Eliade says, 'Following the prophets. following John the Baptist, Jesus predicted the imminent transformation of the world: this is the essence of his preaching' (Eliade 1982, 332)…

…Jesus' central message, then, was a call to repent, to believe that the kingdom was about to come, and to begin to live the life of the new age. This was the life of love…

…So what I myself see when I try to peer back through the New Testament documents to the person who lies at a distance of some two generations behind them is a man, Jesus, whose immensely powerful God-consciousness made God, and God's demanding but liberating claim upon men and women, intensely and startlingly real. He did not intend to found a continuing church or a new religion, and he was mistaken in his expectation of an early end to ordinary human history. Nevertheless he was so transparently open to the divine presence that his life and teaching have a universal significance which can still help to guide our lives today.”

– John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate


"For several decades scholars have contemplated the various categories of kingdom sayings, and they have tried to sort out just what Jesus thought. Johannes Weiss (1892) and Albert Schweitzer (1906) fixed especially on the passages in category (3) above (a cosmic event) and concluded that Jesus expected a great cataclysm within the very near future – during his own lifetime. This was, of course, a very uncomfortable conclusion for Christian scholars, since it meant that Jesus’ principal message was in error. Rudolf Bultmann (1926) accepted that Jesus thought of the kingdom as being future, but he was nevertheless able to make this relevant to Christian believers: ‘the Kingdom of God is… a power which, although it is entirely future, wholly determines the present’. Any great impending event influences present action, and Bultmann thought that Jesus’ view of the kingdom worked in that way. Christians should always view the kingdom as imminent; then they will live appropriately. Bultmann’s contemporary, C. H. Dodd, argued that, in Jesus’ view, the eschaton – the decisive moment in history – had already arrived in his own ministry. He proposed, for example, that ‘the kingdom has drawn near’ (Mark 1.15) should be translated ‘the kingdom has come’. Very few people were persuaded by Dodd’s arguments in detail, but many thought that he had a point. There was a sense in which Jesus thought that what was really important was already happening. This led to a consensus that lasted for a few decades: Jesus thought both that the kingdom was future and that it was ‘in some sense’ – never specified – present in his own words and deeds. Norman Perrin offered the classic formulation of this view (1963). In very recent years a few American scholars have decided that Jesus did not expect the kingdom to come in the future at all. Luke 17.20f. – the kingdom of God is among you – is the only passage that really counts when one defines the kingdom. Jesus was actually a political, social and economic reformer, and he did not expect God to do anything dramatic or miraculous in the future. It is my own view that we cannot recover Jesus’ view merely by picking and choosing among the sayings. In particular, I think it impossible to reject any of the major categories completely. I shall soon indicate where my own doubts lie, but I do not think that a historical reconstruction should depend on the notion that we can definitely establish what Jesus did not say. If we calmly survey all of the kingdom sayings, we shall see that most of them place the kingdom up there, in heaven, where people will enter after death, and in the future, when God brings the kingdom to earth and separates the sheep from the goats...
 ...The simplest and in some ways the best view to take of the complicated question of the kingdom in the teaching of Jesus is that he said all the things listed above – or things like them. There is no difficulty in thinking that Jesus thought that the kingdom was in heaven, that people would enter it in the future, and that it was also present in some sense in his own work. Paul’s letters very conveniently reveal that one person could mean different things by the word ‘kingdom’. He sometimes discussed who would inherit the kingdom (e.g., I Cor. 6.9f.), which implies that it was future. Yet he also wrote that ‘the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14.17). The full revelation of the kingdom of God may lie in the future, but in the present people can experience some of its benefits. The passages listed in category (3) above – which predict that the Son of Man will come on clouds while some of Jesus’ hearers are still alive – require further discussion. These are the passages that many Christian scholars would like to see vanish. First, they are lurid and, to many modern readers, distasteful. Secondly, the events they predict did not come to pass, which means that Jesus was wrong. Thirdly, and most importantly, if Jesus expected God to change history in a decisive way in the immediate future, it seems unlikely that he was a social reformer.

I shall not discuss a matter of taste, but I shall make a few comments on the second and third problems, taking the last first. We noted above that a striking conception of how the kingdom comes is the distinguishing mark of the sayings about the Son of Man coming on clouds. But in a very important way this understanding of how the kingdom comes was typical of first-century Jewish thought. God was always the main actor. That is certainly the case in the gospels: the only thing that Jesus ever asks people to do is to live right. In none of the material does he urge them to build an alternative society that will be the kingdom of God. There are few passages that can possibly fit into category (5) above, and even those that I listed there do not urge the creation of an alternate social entity. Jesus said that the kingdom is like leaven; this refers to its invisibility. It is also like a tiny grain of mustard. People who later created a social structure that consisted of small cells in each town or city could of course say that they were the leaven in the dough; they were trying to make society better. But the people who heard these similes in Galilee would have been motivated to look around for clues to the invisible kingdom that would one day erupt as a full loaf or a large tree; the passages do not say ‘create small groups of reformers’. Jesus thought that people should and could commit themselves to his way; they were not to be merely passive. But we must note what he urged. He said that by living right, people can enter the kingdom (category 1 above). According to the evidence, he thought that there was nothing that anyone could do to bring the kingdom, and even he himself could not assign places in it (category 2). It is drawing near, and people await it, but they cannot make it come (category 4). Like leaven, it grows on its own (category 5). In every single case it is God who does whatever has to be done, except that individuals who live right will enter the kingdom. There is no evidence at all for the view that individuals can get together with others and create the kingdom by reforming social, religious and political institutions. The second of the problems mentioned above – if Jesus expected God to change the world, he was wrong – is by no means novel. It arose very early in Christianity. This is the most substantial issue in the earliest surviving Christian document, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. There, we learn, Paul’s converts were shaken by the fact that some members of the congregation had died; they expected the Lord to return while they were all still alive. Paul assured them that the (few) dead Christians would be raised so that they could participate in the coming kingdom along with those who were still alive when the Lord returned. The question of just how soon the great event would occur appears in other books of the New Testament. A saying in the synoptics (discussed more fully below) promises that ‘some standing here’ will still be alive when the Son of Man comes. In the appendix to the Gospel of John (ch. 21), however, Jesus is depicted as discussing an anonymous disciple, called ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, with Peter: ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ The author then explains, ‘So, the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”’ (John 21.21–3).

The history of these adjustments to the view that God would do something dramatic while Jesus’ contemporaries were still alive is fairly easy to reconstruct. Jesus originally said that the Son of Man would come in the immediate future, while his hearers were alive. After his death and resurrection, his followers preached that he would return immediately –that is, they simply interpreted ‘the Son of Man’ as referring to Jesus himself. Then, when people started dying, they said that some would still be alive. When almost the entire first generation was dead, they maintained that one disciple would still be alive. Then he died, and it became necessary to claim that Jesus had not actually promised even this one disciple that he would live to see the great day. By the time we reach one of the latest books of the New Testament, II Peter, the return of the Lord has been postponed even further: some people scoff and say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ But remember, ‘with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (II Peter 3.3–8). The Lord is not really slow, but rather keeps time by a different calendar. In the decades after Jesus’ death, then, the Christians had to revise their first expectation again and again. This makes it very probable that the expectation originated with Jesus. We make sense of these pieces of evidence if we think that Jesus himself told his followers that the Son of Man would come while they still lived. The fact that this expectation was difficult for Christians in the first century helps prove that Jesus held it himself. We also note that Christianity survived this early discovery that Jesus had made a mistake very well...
 ...If, then, we were to decide what Jesus really thought by picking and choosing among sayings, we would conclude that he thought that in the very near future God would dramatically intervene in history by sending the Son of Man. This is the most securely attested tradition. He probably also thought what we find in the majority of the passages: that individuals who died would enter the kingdom, and that when God sent the Son of Man there would be a great judgement, with some people being assigned to heaven and some to Gehenna (hell). In addition, he thought that the power of God was especially manifest in his own ministry. He could conceivably have called this present power ‘the kingdom.’"

– E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus

“Here we have to retrieve one of our observable facts, that later tradition continues to attribute to Jesus an already disconfirmed prophecy; and one of our interpretive conjectures, that much of our scattered evidence can be coherently brought together by an appeal to broader Jewish apocalyptic tradition. To the New Testament evidence first. Moving backward along a trajectory from later text to earlier text to, finally, Jesus himself, we might hypothesize a gradient of increasing apocalyptic intensity. Matthew and Luke had Jesus proclaim the coming Kingdom, though they both defined “kingdom” in nonapocalyptic as well as apocalyptic ways, and they linked the Kingdom to Jesus’ glorious Second Coming. In this they follow Mark, whose Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom, conceived apocalypticly: That is, the Kingdom was an event that would happen or a stage that would arrive, not a state that somehow existed concurrent with normal reality. This Kingdom would arrive within the lifetime of Mark’s generation, at the edges of the lifetime of Jesus’. And it would begin with the return of the triumphant Son. Mark’s tone of confident immediacy matches that of Paul, a generation earlier. Paul, too, had proclaimed the imminent return of the Son, the resurrection of the dead, and the establishment of the Kingdom within his own lifetime. Paul said that he inherited this tradition: He has it as a “saying of the Lord” (1 Thes 4:13). Might not some version of this teaching go back through those who were apostles before Paul to the teaching of Jesus himself? Jesus’ messianic, triumphant appearance as the vindicated, militant Son most easily coheres, it is true, with post-Crucifixion developments. It compensates for the disappointment of Jesus’ crucifixion and clearly stands as a specifically Christian embellishment on earlier Jewish traditions of Messiah and Kingdom. But the Kingdom itself, the belief that it is coming, that it will particularly manifest in Jerusalem, that it will involve the restored nation of Israel as well as Gentiles who have renounced their idolatry—all these beliefs predate Jesus’ death by centuries and are also found variously in other Jewish writings roughly contemporary with him (some Pseudepigrapha; the Dead Sea Scrolls). Predicting his own Second Coming may indeed be historically implausible. Preaching the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, not at all.”

”The Jesus encountered in the present reconstruction is a prophet who preached the coming apocalyptic Kingdom of God. His message coheres both with that of his predecessor and mentor, John the Baptizer, and with that of the movement that sprang up in his name. This Jesus thus is not primarily a social reformer with a revolutionary message; nor is he a religious innovator radically redefining the traditional ideas and practices of his native religion. His urgent message had not the present so much as the near future in view. Further, what distinguished Jesus’ prophetic message from those of others was primarily its timetable, not its content. Like John the Baptizer, he emphasized his own authority to preach the coming Kingdom; like Theudas, the Egyptian, the signs prophets, and again like the Baptizer, he expected its arrival soon.”

”If modern believers seek a Jesus who is morally intelligible and religiously relevant, then it is to them that the necessary work of creative and responsible reinterpretation falls. Such a project is not historical (the critical construction of an ancient figure) but theological (the generation of contemporary meaning within particular religious communities). Multiple and conflicting theological claims inevitably result, as various as the different communities that stand behind them. But this theological reinterpretation should neither be mistaken for, nor presented as, historical description. To regard Jesus historically requires releasing him from service to modern concerns or confessional identity. It means respecting his integrity as an actual person, as subject to passionate conviction and unintended consequences, as surprised by turns of events and as innocent of the future as is anyone else. It means allowing him the irreducible otherness of his own antiquity, the strangeness Schweitzer captured in his poetic closing description: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside.” It is when we renounce the false familiarity proffered by the dark angels of Relevance and Anachronism that we see Jesus, his contemporaries, and perhaps even ourselves, more clearly in our common humanity.”

– Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews


"So far we have examined four key sayings or blocks of sayings uttered by Jesus: the petition 'your kingdom come' in the Lord's Prayer; Jesus' prophecy at the Last Supper that, his approaching death notwithstanding, he would share in the eschatological banquet; Jesus' prophecy that Gentiles would come from the ends of the earth to share the heavenly banquet with the great patriarchs of Israel; and the beatitudes that promise to the poor, the mourners, and the hungry the reversal of their present suffering when the kingdom comes.  Each of these pivotal sayings has been tested by various criteria and judged authentic.  Furthermore, taken together they clearly indicate (1) that Jesus expected a future, definitive coming of God to rule as king; (2) that this hope was so central to his message that he bade his disciples make it a central petition of their own prayer; (3) that the coming kingdom would bring about the reversal of present unjust conditions of poverty, sorrow, and hunger; (4) that this final kingdom would bring about an even more astounding reversal: it would include at least some Gentiles, not as conquered slaves but as honored guests who would share the eschatological banquet with the Israelite patriarchs (raised from the dead?); and (5) that, despite the possibility of his impending death, Jesus himself would experience a saving reversal; he would share in the final banquet, symbolized by the prophetic event of the Last Supper.  The last tow points make it clear that the final kingdom is in some sense transcendent or discontinuous with this present world.  Quite apart, therefore, from the tangled and hotly debated problem of the Son of Man sayings, future eschatology, tied to the symbol of a transcendent kingdom of God, is a central part of Jesus' message.  
But how close or distant is this future kingdom that is coming?  Exegetes commonly and almost blithely use phrases like 'immanent,' 'very soon,' or 'just around the corner' to describe the kingdom's coming.  Yet in the sayings we have examined, as well as in certain other future sayings with a good claim to authenticity, there is a notable absence of phrases that state explicitly that the coming of the kingdom is very immanent.  Among the authentic sayings of the historical Jesus, it is difficult to find the equivalent of the express promise of the risen Jesus in the Revelation of John: ‘Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20).

Does this mean that the note of imminence has been read into Jesus’ message by early Christians and/or modern exegetes? While that suspicion is not without some basis, there are reasons for holding that Jesus himself thought of the kingdom’s coming as imminent. First of all, there is the global observation, urged by such scholars as Ben F. Meyer, that the OT prophets in general prophesied events not in the far-distant future but in the immediate future. Indeed, using insights from the social sciences, Bruce Malina claims that the mentality of the Mediterranean peasant did not easily lend itself to thought about the distant future. More to the point, though, it hardly made sense for Jesus to give up entirely his normal mode of living, to ask some of his disciples to do likewise, to dedicate himself full-time to the proclamation of the kingdom’s coming, to call people to a radical reform of their attitudes and lives in light of the kingdom’s future arrival, to issue dire warnings about what will happen to those who reject his message, to make the kingdom’s coming the object of the terse, concentrated prayer he teaches his disciples, and to find in the kingdom’s coming his sole consolation in view of his own impending death, if he did not think that the kingdom would soon arrive. More specifically, his creation of a special inner group of twelve disciples, apparently representing the reconstituted tribes of Israel in the end time, and his demand that this group leave their regular employment and families to follow him constantly in his itinerant ministry also point in the same direction. Surveying the authentic sayings of Jesus, we hear a note of urgency and intense anticipation, a fierce concentration on the theme of the kingdom’s coming, which is out of all proportion if Jesus did not imagine the kingdom’s coming to be close at hand. Then, too, there is the general argument from historical continuity. John the Baptist proclaimed an imminent-future eschatology tinged with apocalyptic, and the first-generation church did the same, at times moving over into full-blown apocalyptic. That the Jewish Jesus who proceeded from the Baptist movement and from whom the earliest leaders of the first-generation church in turn proceeded did not share the imminent-future eschatology of his Jewish predecessor or Jewish successors is possible, but not on the face of it likely…

…Yet how imminent is imminent? Looking at the authentic sayings of Jesus, it is difficult to say. Along with the sense of urgency in view of the proximity of the kingdom, there is a strange vagueness about exactly when the kingdom is coming. In this Jesus again resembles John the Baptist. There is a good deal of the eschatology of the OT prophets in both, along with some motifs from Jewish apocalyptic. But unlike a number of apocalyptic works, neither John nor Jesus engages in timetables or speculation about successive periods or ages. Part of the tension involved in Jesus’ warnings to be ever watching and waiting arises from the fact that the kingdom could come at any time soon, but no particular time is designated. Some scholars might object at this point that there are a few sayings of Jesus, saying with a good claim to authenticity, that do set at least a general time limit to the kingdom’s coming. Matt 10:23, Mark 13:30, and Mark 9:1 are the texts most often brought forward to support this view. While at first glance the evidence looks strong, I think that further investigation makes it likely that all three sayings derive not from Jesus but from the early church and reflect the latter’s preoccupations…

…I think that all the data and arguments point toward the conclusion that the three sayings do not come from the historical Jesus. Most likely, they were formulated by Christian prophets as words of consolation, encouragement, and direction to first-generation Christians who were facing both increasing hostility and an unexpectedly lengthy interval between resurrection and parousia. The upshot of our excursus into eschatological deadlines is that, while Jesus proclaimed an imminent, definitive coming of God’s kingdom, he did not specify any timetable or time limit for this coming. In his reticence on the subject he is closer to traditional OT prophecy (and to John the Baptist) than to full-blow apocalyptic.

I would suggest that this conclusion carries with it an interesting corollary. In this section we have examined three saying referring to the eschatological future that have turned out to be creations of first-generation Christianity. They give us a partial view of what early Christians were doing and what they were concerned about when they fashioned such logia. What we see in the case of these three sayings is not Christians inventing future eschatology out of whole cloth and imposing it upon an uneschatological Jesus. Rather, faced with the given of Jesus’ proclamation of an eschatological kingdom coming in the near future, the first-generation Christians are rather producing sayings that seek to adjust Jesus’ imminent eschatology to their own lived experience and resulting problems. What we saw in our first three sections is thus confirmed: it is the historical Jesus who is the origin of the imminent-future eschatology in the Synoptics. The early church soon found itself pressed to come to terms with the problems occasioned by that eschatology as the years (and deaths of Christians) multiplied. Imminent-future eschatology has its origins in Jesus; attempts to set time limits for that eschatology have their origin in the early church.”

– John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 2

“In many ways, as I’ve indicated, this message was like that proclaimed throughout the writings of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Judgment was coming, people needed to repent in preparation or they would be condemned. Those who turned to God, though, would be saved. At the same time, Jesus’ message was different, for his was framed within an apocalyptic context. As a first-century Jew, Jesus lived when many Jews expected God to intervene once and for all for his people, to overthrow the forces of evil that had gained ascendancy in the world and to bring in his good Kingdom on earth. There would then be no more war, poverty, disease, calamity, sin, hatred, or death. This kingdom would arrive in power, and all that was opposed to it would be destroyed and removed. I do not want to leave the impression that these warnings of the coming judgment were the only things Jesus taught about during his public ministry… But it’s important to understand fully the framework within which his other teachings are to be fitted. Many people—Christian and non-Christian alike—think of Jesus as a great moral teacher whose ethical views can help produce a better society for those of us who are determined to make our lives together as just, peaceful, and enjoyable as possible. On one level, I think that’s probably right. But it’s also important to realize that Jesus himself did not see it that way. He did not propound his ethical views to show us how to create a just society and make the world a happier place for the long haul. For him, there wasn’t going to be a long haul. The judgment of God was coming soon with the arrival of the Son of Man—and people needed to prepare for its coming by changing the way they lived. Preparation for the Kingdom—that’s what ultimately lies at the heart of Jesus’ ethics…”

– Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

“One of my undergraduate professors used to enjoy stirring up controversy by declaring matter-of-factly in a classroom full of conservative evangelicals that 'Jesus was ignorant.' Heads would jolt to the left and right, eyebrows would dart up, and my professor would grin from ear to ear, pausing, before going on to quote Mark 13:32: 'But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.' 'See! Jesus was ignorant, by his own admission,' my professor would quip. 'Jesus didn’t know the day or the hour he would return.' After carefully studying and scrutinizing Jesus’ claims about a final judgment, I have slowly and unhappily come to agree with my professor. Jesus was ignorant. But he was more than just ignorant; he was also wrong. Like the apocalyptic Qumran community before him, and William Miller, Hal Lindsey, and so many others after him, Jesus of Nazareth predicted that the world as we know it would come to an end within his own generation. The big difference between Jesus and those other doomsday prophets is that Jesus was fortunate enough not to be around when his prediction failed. He had already been taken up into heaven, where he has been ever since, observing from above as his followers found ways to adapt in the wake of their upset expectations. Jesus watched from heaven as hundreds upon hundreds of end-of-the-world predictions went unfulfilled throughout the centuries. He watched as the Millerites found ways to adapt to The Great Disappointment of 1843 and became the Seventh-day Adventists. He watched Hal Lindsey predict in his worldwide bestseller, The Late, Great Planet Earth, that the world would end in 1988. Then he watched Hal Lindsey write the second edition. Jesus is still watching. After 2000 years of his watching from heaven, and 2000 years of our waiting on earth, I think it’s time we Christians got together and had a little sit-down. It was not easy for me, coming to the conclusion that Jesus was wrong. It went against decades-strong conditioning which told me such a thing was impossible—a contradiction in terms almost. But another thing my Christian faith had conditioned me to believe was that all truth was God’s truth, and therefore that we could never get farther away from God in our relentless search for it. Eventually I had to be honest with myself, and with my scriptures, and call it like it is. In saying this, I want to make it clear that I recognize what a struggle this will be for many Christians. Many may be willing to let go of the inerrancy of the Hebrew Bible, or even of some of the details in the Christian scriptures. But to come to the point of being able to say that Jesus himself was wrong! That’s a horse of a very different color. I understand. I’ve been there. But ultimately we have to decide whether our faith is going to be informed by good evidence and shaped by reason, or determined in advance, prepackaged for us, by women and men just as fallible as we are. I do not see this as a choice between faith and reason, but as a choice between blind faith and reasonable faith. A reasonable faith is mature enough to acknowledge when it needs to be corrected, and it can survive such corrections. In fact, a mature faith learns to thrive on them.”

”Klaus Koch identifies eight basic features common to various strands of second temple Jewish apocalypticism: (1) urgent expectation of the end of earthly conditions in the immediate future; (2) the end as a cosmic catastrophe; (3) periodization and determinism; (4) activity of angels and demons as explanation for human history; (5) new salvation, paradisal in character; (6) final manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth; (7) a mediator with royal functions; functions; (8) the catchword “glory.”  Each of these traits is indisputably attested within the Jesus movement. To these, Dale Allison adds several features found cross-culturally among apocalyptic or “millenarian” groups, traits that are also found within the Jesus movement. Like other millenarian groups, the Jesus group:

* addressed the disaffected or less fortunate in a period of social change that threatened traditional ways and symbolic universes
*emerged in a time of aspiration for national independence
*saw the present and near future as times of suffering and/or catastrophe
*envisaged a comprehensive righting of wrongs and promised redemption through a reversal of current circumstances
*depicted that reversal as imminent
*was both revivalistic and evangelistic
*divided the world into two camps, the saved and the unsaved
*broke hallowed taboos associated with religious custom
*replaced traditional familial and social bonds with fictive kin
*mediated the sacred through new channels
*demanded intense commitment and unconditional loyalty
*focused upon a charismatic leader
*understood its beliefs to be the product of special revelation
*took a passive political stance in expectation of a divinely wrought deliverance
*expected a restored paradise that would return the ancestors
*insisted on the possibility of experiencing that utopia as a present reality

…Given the comparative data, it should be clear that the Jesus movement fits squarely within the apocalyptic paradigm. Jesus was an apocalyptic thinker in a time when apocalyptic strands of Judaism were numerous and dynamic…

…according to the portrait painted by the synoptic gospels, Jesus’ peculiar brand of apocalypticism allowed Jesus to see himself as the chief agent of God whose life, death, and resurrection was to herald the imminent end of the present world order and usher in the new age—the kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.”

– Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God


“Dr. Schweitzer's book does not pretend to be an impartial survey. He has his own solution of the problems, and it is not to be expected that English students will endorse the whole of his view of the Gospel History, any more than his German fellow-workers have done. But valuable and suggestive as I believe his constructive work to be in its main outlines, I venture to think his grasp of the nature and complexity of the great Quest is even more remarkable, and his exposition of it cannot fail to stimulate us in England. Whatever we may think of Dr. Schweitzer's solution or that of his opponents, we too have to reckon with the Son of Man who was expected to come before the apostles had gone over the cities of Israel, the Son of Man who would come in His Kingdom before some that heard our Lord speak should taste death, the Son of Man who came to give His life a ransom for many, whom they would see hereafter coming with the clouds of heaven. "Who is this Son of Man?" Dr. Schweitzer's book is an attempt to give the full historical value and the true historical setting to these fundamental words of the Gospel of Jesus. Our first duty, with the Gospel as with every other ancient document, is to interpret it with reference to its own time. The true view of the Gospel will be that which explains the course of events in the first century and the second century, rather than that which seems to have spiritual and imaginative value for the twentieth century. Yet I cannot refrain from pointing out here one feature of the theory of thorough-going eschatology, which may appeal to those who are accustomed to the venerable forms of ancient Christian aspiration and worship. It may well be that absolute truth cannot be embodied in human thought and that its expression must always be clothed in symbols. It may be that we have to translate the hopes and fears of our spiritual ancestors into the language of our new world. We have to learn, as the Church in the second century had to learn, that the End is not yet, that New Jerusalem, like all other objects of sense, is an image of the truth rather than the truth itself. But at least we are beginning to see that the apocalytic vision, the New Age which God is to bring in, is no mere embroidery of Christianity, but the heart of its enthusiasm. And therefore the expectations of vindication and judgment to come, the imagery of the Messianic Feast, the 'other-worldliness' against which so many eloquent words were said in the nineteenth century, are not to be regarded as regrettable accretions foisted on by superstition to the pure morality of the original Gospel. These ideas are the Christian Hope, to be allegorised and "'spiritualized' by us for our own use whenever necessary, but not to be given up so long as we remain Christians at all. Books which teach us boldly to trust the evidence of our documents, and to accept the eschatology of the Christian Gospel as being historically the eschatology of Jesus, help us at the same time to retain a real meaning and use for the ancient phrases of the Te Deum, and for the mediaeval strain of 'Jerusalem the Golden.'"

– F.C. Burkitt, Introduction to The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Albert Schweitzer)


“Let me now summarize once more the principal results of our study:

1) Jesus’ activity is governed by the strong and unwavering feeling that the messianic time is immanent.  Indeed, he even had moments of prophetic vision when he perceived the opposing kingdom of Satan as already overcome and broken.  At such moments as these he declared with daring faith that the Kingdom of God had actually already dawned.

2) In general, however, the actualization of the Kingdom of God has yet to take place.  In particular, Jesus recognized no preliminary actualization of the rule of God in the form of the new piety of his circle of disciples, as if there were somehow two stages, a preliminary one, and the Kingdom of Completion.  In fact, Jesus made no such distinction.  The disciples were to pray for the coming of the Kingdom, but men could do nothing to establish it.

3) Not even Jesus can bring, establish, or found the Kingdom of God; only God can do so.  God himslef must take control.  In the meantime, Jesus can only battle against the devil with the power imparted to him by the divine Spirit, and gather a band of followers who, with a new righteousness, with repentance, humility and renunciation, await the Kingdom of God.

4) The messianic consciousness of Jesus consists of the certainty that when God has established the Kingdom, judgment and rule will be transferred to him.  God with raise him to the office of “Son of man” (John 3:14), to which he is entitled (John 5:27), and will make him Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36).

5) Although Jesus initially hoped to live to see the establishment of the Kingdom, he gradually became certain that before this could happen, he must cross death’s threshold, and make his contribution to the establishment of the Kingdom in Israel by his death.  After that, he will return upon the clouds of heaven at the establishment of the Kingdom, and do so within the lifetime of the generation which had rejected him.  Jesus does not fix the time when this will take place more exactly, since the coming of the Kingdom cannot be determined in advance by observation of signs or calculation.

6) But when it comes, God will destroy this old world which is ruled and spoiled by the devil, and create a new world.  Even mankind is to participate in this transformation and become like the angels.

7) At the same time, the Judgment will take place, not only over those who are still alive at the coming of the Son of man, but also over those who will then be raised from the dead, good and evil, Jews and Gentiles alike. 

8) The land of Palestine will arise in a new and glorious splendor, forming the center of the new Kingdom.  Alien peoples will no longer rule over it, but will come to acknowledge God as Lord.  There will be neither sadness nor sin; instead those who are in God’s Kingdom shall behold the living God, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and bliss. 

9) Jesus and his faithful ones will rule over this newborn people of the twelve tribes, which include even the Gentiles.

10) The rule is not suspended by the rule of the Messiah, but thereby actualized, whether it be that they reign together side by side, or that Jesus reigns under the higher sovereignty of God. “

– Johannes Weiss, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God


 "He does not come to us as one unknown. We know him well enough. Jesus is the millenarian prophet. He is Wovoka. He is Mambu. He is Birsa. What we think of the least of these, his brethren, we think, to large extent, also of him.
Jesus is the millenarian prophet of judgment, the embodiment of the divine discontent that rolls through all things. He sees those who go about in long robes and have the best seats in the synagogues while they lock others out of the kingdom. He sees a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen who feasts sumptuously every day while at his gate is famished Lazarus, whose only friends are the dogs who lick his sores. He sees people who are gorgeously appareled, who live in luxury in royal palaces, and who entertain themselves with the severed head of Elijah come again. What Nietzsche aptly if disparagingly called a "slave morality of chastity, selflessness, and absolute obedience" permits Jesus to see the truth about those who will power instead of justice. They are an evil generation, the blasphemers against the Holy Spirit, the first who will become last. Jesus knows that God promised never again to destroy the world through a flood, but he makes ready for the flood of the end-time anyway. He prepares for the baptism with which he will be baptized.

Jesus is the millenarian prophet of consolation and hope who comforts those who mourn. He sees the poor, the hungry, and the reviled, and he proclaims that the last will be first. He makes the best of a bad situation: things are not what they seem to be; everything will be OK. He declares, against all the evidence, that the oppressed and the destitute are not miserable but blessed. They will have treasure in heaven. They will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just.

Jesus is the millenarian prophet whose realism is so great that it must abandon the world, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. He knows that we, being evil, cannot fix things, that the wall cannot climb itself. How bad is it? What is the world really like? God's envoy is reviled as in league with Beelzebul, and the city of the great king kills the prophets and stones those sent to it. Clearly all has gone irredeemably wrong. The kingdom of God suffers violence.

But with God all things are possible. So Jesus becomes the visionary, like Daniel. As he watches, thrones are set. He beholds the queen of the South rising from the dead. He sees those who repented at the proclamation of Jonah condemning those who have not repented at the proclamation of one greater than Jonah. Nothing will he hidden. Whatever is covered up will he uncovered.

Jesus' generation, however, passed away. They all tasted death. And it is not the kingdom of God that has come but the scoffers who ask, Where is the promise of his coming? For all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. Jesus the millenarian prophet, like all millenarian prophets, was wrong: reality has taken no notice of his imagination. Was it not all a dream, an unfounded fantasy-a myth, in the derogatory sense of the word?

Once, long ago, Christ crucified was foolishness, the great rock of offense. For us, however, crosses are jewelry. Today it is Jesus' status as a millenarian prophet that causes those who believe to stumble. No wonder that the debaters of this age, orthodox and liberal alike, have tried to persuade us that we have troubled ourselves unduly. Jesus, they console us, was no fool about the end. He was no apocalyptic enthusiast. Such apologists for God's envoy either pluck out and cast from the tradition all parts that seem to say otherwise, or they wrongly divide the word of truth in overly clever ways. The result is the same. Whether the misunderstanding is that of his first followers or his latter-day interpreters, Jesus himself is exonerated. When he was near Jerusalem he did not suppose that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. We can blame the students, who in their eschatological errors have not been like the teacher.

But not all was in parables, and maybe Mark was right when he wrote that Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples. Certainly Jesus was not a Delphian obscurantist, nor have the sources obscured him so much from us. He seems to have spoken plainly enough. And what he spoke plainly about was an old world made new, a corrupt world made incorrupt. It has not come. Will it ever?

And yet, despite everything, for those who have ears to hear, Jesus, the millenarian herald of judgment and salvation, says the only things worth saying, for his dream is the only one worth dreaming. If our wounds never heal, if the outrageous spectacle of a history filled with cataclysmic sadness is never undone, if there is nothing more for those who were slaughtered in the death camps or for six-year olds devoured by cancer, then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. If in the end there is no good God to calm this sea of troubles, to raise the dead, and to give good news to the poor, then this is indeed a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing."

– Dale Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet

On an only somewhat related note, my acceptance of “Jesus as Apocalyptic Prophet” took place mostly through scholars who I did not perceive as attacking my faith.  From this list, in my opinion both Ehrman and Stark sometimes come off as hostile, angry, or cavalier about what is, for many people (including myself), a very serious subject.  In my experience as a conservative/orthodox Christian, an aggressive tone from a scholar stopped me from really hearing what they were saying.  I only finally became convinced by reading Dale Allison, who writes with a sincere, authentic, and respectful voice.