- Paperback: 174 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books (September 1, 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0879752947
- ISBN-13: 978-0879752941
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,741,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mystery of the Kingdom of God Paperback – September 1, 1985
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About the Author
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. A theologian, physician, musician, and philosopher, Schweitzer was born in the Alsace-Lorraine region of Germany, and was educated at the University of Strasbourg. Known for his humanitarian works in Africa, he is the author of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, a two-volume work on the music of J. S. Bach, and many other works.
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He has 2 basic premises - Mark wrote first of the 4 Gospels, and, Jesus thought that the Kingdom of God was within a few weeks to a few months of appearing (by "harvest time"). Taking this thoroughgoing approach that ALL of Jesus' preaching and activities are directly related to the imminent appearance of the Kingdom (hence the term "thoroughgoing eschatology"), Schweitzer brilliantly sheds light on many of Jesus deeds and words, in addition to putting to a plausible historical context the reason for Jesus' execution. Schweitzer will definitely make you think, whether in the end, you agree with him or not.
It can be a tough book to read, but with good patience and with keeping a Bible handy while reading, it can offer quite a bit to consider when considering Jesus - who he was and what he was all about. Definitely worth putting in the effort. Understanding Schweitzer is almost foundational for understanding all other Jesus literature, since just about everything in this field refers to him.
To understand Jesus, Schweitzer focuses not so much on the person of Jesus, but on the goal and end result of his mission, which was The Kingdom of God. The imminent coming of God's Kingdom is the lens through which Jesus' teachings, exorcisms, miracles, and ultimately his self-sacrifice must be seen. It was the prophetic and apocalyptic writings of the Old Testament which inspired Jesus' vision of the Kingdom, especially the ethical repentance of Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66), and the apocalyptic vision of Daniel. It was the prophet, John the Baptist, who convinced him that the Kingdom would come in his generation.
Jesus was neither a political revolutionary nor a social reformer. He had no intention of reforming a system which he felt would soon come to an end. Jesus' moral teachings were based upon his eschatological viewpoint and can best be described as prophetic ethics. In Greek philosophy and in modern humanistic culture, morals and ethics are seen as an end in themselves leading to the moral perfection of humanity and a man-made utopia. The prophetic ethics of the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus has the supernatural Kingdom of God as its end result. In The Old Testament, repentance is not for individuals but is to be done on a collective scale (ie the Nation of Israel) in order for God to intervene in history and deliver Israel from her enemies. It was inspired by The Exodus. To Jesus, the moral renewal of Israel would hasten the supernatural coming of God's Kingdom to Earth. The powers in Heaven are provoked into action by what man does on Earth. To Jesus, the Kingdom o God was not a gradual reformation of humanity, it was a catacluysmic, supernatural event of divine intervention. Jesus' was inspired by the Book of Daniel, not Greek philsophy.
Jesus was neither a philosopher nor a modern rational humanist like Thomas Jefferson. He was cut out of the same mold as the prophets of the Old Testament. It was the Hebrew prophets which shaped his thinking and guided his destiny. Jesus and his disciples were the "men of violence" who would take the Kingdom by force. It was their work which would compel God to bring His Kingdom to Earth. Jesus and his disciples would sow the seed which was the Word of God. However, it was God who would reap the harvest. To the prophets and Jesus, God was not an abstract ideal but a real father figure who heard the petitions of His children and intervened on their behalf.
Jesus' exorcisms and miracles were not merely acts of compassion but were also signs which he used to demonstrate the nearness of God's Kingdom which was manifesting itself in the present. They were prophetic signs of The Last Days. The miraculous feedings and The Last Supper were precursors to the Messianic banquet in God's Kingdom.
Schweitzer points out the significance of Jesus sending out the disciples to proclaim the Gospel which was the good news that the Kingdom would soon come and demonstrate its imminent presence by performing exorcisms and miracle healings. Like John the Baptist, they were to preach repentance in order to prepare Israel for this event. They were to gather in the "lost sheep of Israel" before the final harvest. This mission would bring about the final tribulation followed by the establishmentof God's Kingdom. The failure of this event coupled by the execution of John the Baptist convinced Jesus that he would have to take the role of Isaiah's "Suffering Servant" upon himself. Jesus' self-sacrifice would not only bring God's Kingdom but would spare his followers from the coming tribulation. Jesus felt his sacrifice would truly be a "ransom" for his followers. The Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples, pleads for God's Kingdom to come as well as deliverance from the coming tribulation.
Schweitzer blows apart the modern, liberal, humanistic conception of Jesus as a charismatic wonder worker or a cynic-sage which was promoted by the highly touted Jesus Seminar. Jesus' messianic consciousness began at his baptism but was revealed to his disciples toward the end of his ministry. Prior to this, Jesus was seen by some of his disciples as the "Forerunner" who fulfilled the prophetic end-time role of Elijah. Jesus assigned this role to John the Baptist who was perceived as a prophet but not Elijah. However, Jesus spoke of the "Son of Man" in the third person future tense. The Messiah cannot take his throne until God establishes His Kingdom. Therefore, Jesus was the Messiah-elect. Schweitzer claims that the Transfiguration, whereby Jesus reveals this to a few of his chosen disciples would have occured prior to him revealing it to the twelve at Caesarea Philippi. Judas' betrayal of Jesus was no less than the secret of his messiahship. In the end, Jesus sealed his own fate by openly confessing this to the High Priest.
The cataclysmic events which immediately followed Jesus' crucifixion, ie earthquakes, resurrection of the dead, and rending of the Temple veil, were events which were supposed to happen when Jesus was sacrificed and which were written back into the gospels. The delay of the final tribulation and the resurrection appearances prompted the apostles to search the scriptures and find new interpretations for Jesus' crucifixion. After Jesus' generation died out, the Church had to cope with the delay of God's Kingdom by formulating doctrines which would have been strange to Jesus. However the original message of Jesus is still embedded in the synoptic gospels.
It is almost impossible for modern man to fully understand Jesus because we have been conditioned by rational humanistic philosophy which denies the supernatural and either leaves God out of the equation or reduces Him to an abstract concept. To Jesus, God and His Kingdom were supernatural yet they were concrete realities which could be experienced in the present and would be soon become fully manifested. God was not an abstract ideal but a Heavenly Father who would listen to and fulfill the pleas of His children.
It is hard for people like us, living a mundane day-to-day existence with a seemingly endless future manipulated by human politics to fully grasp the message of Jesus. Only an absolute conviction that the present age will soon end and that God will establish His Kingdom on Earth can explain the reckless abandon of Jesus and his disciples and total surrender to God's will by becoming a sacrifice. To Schweitzer, the real historical Jesus was far more heroic than the watered-down figure which modern scholarship has made of him.
As Schweitzer so eloquently describes it, the time in which Jesus lived on Earth was like the twilight before the dawn, when the sun, below the horizon, paints the sky with brilliant colors. Such was the time of Jesus, when the imminent dawn of God's Kingdom filled his world with ecstatic hope.
However, he had earlier (1901) given a much fuller statement of his views in this book (whose German title was "The Secret of Jesus' Messiahship and Passion"), which fully develops Schweitzer's own "thoroughgoing eschatology" interpretation of Jesus. He asserts that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah (although he did not publicly proclaim this; hje asserts that there was no "triumphal entry into Jerusalem," for example), and expected an imminent apocalyptic end to the world. After the failure of the Kingdom to immediately appear (which Jesus expected, as in Matthew 10:23) after he sent the Twelve out to preach, Jesus rethought his mission, concluding that he "must be put to death by the secular authority as a malefactor in the sight of all the people" in order to bring about the end. Judas' "betrayal" was his revealing this "Messianic secret" of Jesus to the Jewish leaders, after which Jesus was condemned and crucified, ultimately being "crushed" by the "great wheel of history."
Here are some representative quotations from the book:
"The secret of the Kingdom of God is therefore the synthesis effected by a sovereign spirit between the early prophetic ethics and the apocalyptic of the book of Daniel ... For his contemporaries it was a question of WAITING for the Kingdom ... while for Jesus it was a question of BRINGING TO PASS the expected event through the moral renovation."
"A prophet of repentance, John the Baptist, directs men's attention to the prediction of the mighty figure of Elijah the Forerunner, and as he hears in prison of the signs of Jesus he wonders if this may not be Elijah--and does not dream that this man holds himself to be the Messiah, and that for this reason he himself will henceforth be designated in history as the Forerunner."
"When, however, the witnesses have withdrawn, the High Priest puts the question fo Jesus directly, whether he is the Messiah. To prove such a claim on Jesus' part they could not adduce the necessary witnesses, for there were none. The High Priest is here in possession of Jesus' secret. That was the betrayal of Judas! Through him the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus claimed to be something different from what the people held him to be, though he raised no protest against it."
This book is abstolutely ESSENTIAL READING for anyone interested in the study of the historical Jesus.