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Chapter Nine: Short Cut to the Kingdom

 

After the disciples learned at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus began speaking openly that he would have to go to Jerusalem, be crucified, and then die and rise again. He would die as a sacrifice for many. Why did Jesus come to that conclusion? Was his ministry in trouble? No.

“For many years historical scholarship held the view that Jesus had come to recognize the necessity for his death as increasing opposition made his work for the Kingdom of God impossible, so that there was no question now of anything but dying for it. This interpretation explains nothing. It does not help anyone to understand in what way Jesus’ death benefits others or could help the cause of the Kingdom at all. Moreover there is no foundation for it. The two oldest Gospels know nothing of the theory that in the second period of his mission Jesus had to give way to his opponents. It was not a beaten man who entered Jerusalem amid cries of Hosanna and, sustained by the enthusiasm of the Galilean pilgrims to the feast, could behave for days on end as lord of the Temple.” (Schweitzer, p. 112)

The High Priest and elders could have had Jesus stoned. They had every right to do it under the Law. Why did they not? They had, said Schweitzer, “the right, but not the power ... The masses who honored him as a prophet, would not have allowed it. That was why they had to arrest him at night, condemn him at a night session (which was illegal), bring him before Pilate and through him have the sentence confirmed and immediately carried out. The crowd which shouted ‘Crucify, crucify’ was not that which had cried ‘Hosanna’, but a group collected at dawn by his accusers. Jesus must hang on the cross and die before his devoted Gailileans had even heard of his arrest. That is the explanation of the fact that Jesus was not stoned but crucified.” (Schweitzer, p. 113)

Some believe that Jesus traveled in Galilee and surrounding territories to escape growing opposition to his ministry. Schweitzer argues convincingly that this explanation is untrue. Jesus fled the crowds for another reason. When he left Galilee for a time, it was not to escape the authorities or hostile critics. Jesus wanted time to be alone with his disciples. His preaching near the shores of Lake Galilee had attracted a multitude of listeners. He now had something else on his mind.

Jesus had sent the disciples, in pairs, out on a mission to announce the coming of the Kingdom, heal the sick, and perform miracles. When the disciples returned to Jesus, he said to them: “Come with me, by yourselves, to some lonely place where you can rest quietly.” (Mark 6: 30) Jesus and the disciples left the area by boat but the crowds followed them. Many were gathered at the landing place. To make the crowds go away, the disciples proposed sending people off to the farms to gather food. Jesus had another idea. Gathering fish and bread, he caused this food supply to multiply miraculously. Then Jesus and the disciples crossed Lake Galilee in a boat. Jesus walked on water during a storm. On the other side of the lake, another crowd was gathered. Many requested that Jesus heal the sick. He was busy much of the time. (See Mark 6: 36-56.)

A Change in Plans

“Far too little attention has been paid to the fact that the disciples (when they return to Jesus) have not fully carried out the commission they received from Jesus. He sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel to visit the cities of Israel ... In what directions and how far they went in pairs is not recorded.” They were to have visited all parts of Judaea, including Jerusalem, though not Samaria. “At any rate they do not seem to have proclaimed their message in Judaea and Jerusalem. We get the impression that they were not absent very long.” (Schweitzer, p. 114)

“Why does Jesus leave off his preaching after the return of the disciples to be alone with them? What has happened? The prospect he held out to the disciples in his speech as he sent them out has not been fulfilled. He told them to proclaim that the Kingdom had begun to dawn and promised them that the Son of Man would come before they had finished with the cities of Israel. (Matthew 10: 7, 23) ... What he had expected did not occur. In the speech delivered as he sent them out he also held out the prospect of grave persecutions which they would have to endure. (Matthew 10: 16-18) ... The disciples, however, return to Jesus without a hair of their head having been touched.” (Schweitzer, p. 115)

With respect to persecution, Jesus had warned the disciples that during their journeys around Israel, “men will hand you over to their courts, they will flog you in synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings, for my sake ... Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will turn against their parents and send them to their death. All will hate you for your allegiance to me.” (Matthew 10: 17-22). But, said Jesus, “the man who holds out to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one town, take refuge in another; I tell you this: before you have gone through all the towns of Israel the Son of Man will have come.” (Matthew 10: 22-23)

This is explained in eschatological terms. Jesus is warning the disciples about the pre-Messianic tribulation. The scenario of events in the final days had always included a period of intense suffering. Jesus supposed that this period of tribulation would take place when the disciples were on the road preaching to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” By this time, the prophet Elijah - John the Baptist - had already appeared. Once the tribulation was also behind them, it would be time for the Kingdom of God to come. Indeed, that is what Jesus expects. He says, “Before you have gone through all the towns of Israel the Son of Man will have come.” Simultaneously with the Messiah’s arrival comes the Kingdom of God.

But now Jesus must confront the fact that what he promised the disciples has not come to pass. Jesus must reflect upon the unexpected turn of events. What was his previous expectation? From the beginning, Jesus had preached about the tribulation. Even in the Sermon on the Mount, he had mentioned this event. Anyone expecting the Kingdom to come in accordance with scripture would have done the same. An unresolved question, however, is what would happen to Jesus and the disciples during this time. Would they, too, have to undergo the tribulation? If so, what would be their fate?

Jesus, the future Messiah, will be in the midst of the tribulation. “If he who is to be revealed as Messiah at the coming of the Kingdom is already on earth, walking unrecognized among those who are waiting for its appearance, the question inevitably arises, what will happen to him in the pre-Messianic tribulation? Jesus expects that he will have to live through it along with the faithful. In his view the persecution will range about him as the future Son of Man-Messiah. The faithful assembled around him will be particularly assailed by it. For the evil powers of the world, which vent their fury for the last time in the pre-Messianic tribulation, will be looking out for those who belong to God and who are delivered up to them for a time.” (Schweitzer, p.115-116)

Jesus expects that he will be humiliated. He expects his disciples to share the same experience. They, too, will be subject to extreme “testing”. It is possible that some of them will die. They who die faithful to him will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They who abandon him under pressure will fail to enter the Kingdom. It is therefore critical that Jesus’ followers remain steadfast in their faith during the difficult time. The idea of testing is, of course, found in the prophets, especially Ezekial. While Jesus does not cover all the miraculous events foretold in the tribulation, he does mention one feature included in the Apocalypse of Enoch. That is the idea that brother will turn against brother, father against child, children against parents, and deliver each other to death.

This expectation of a severe challenge during the period of tribulation accounts for some of Jesus’ more gruesome teachings. Sending the disciples out on their mission, Jesus said: “You must not think that I have come to bring peace to earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother ... and a man will find enemies under his own roof. No man is worthy of me who cares more for father or mother than for me; no man is worthy of me who cares more for son or daughter; no man is worthy of me who does not take up his cross and walk in my footsteps. By gaining his life a man will lose it; by losing his life for my sake, he will gain it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39)

Jesus is not thinking earthly relationships. He is thinking of the pre-Messianic tribulation. It will be, unfortunately, a time of such extreme testing that only those who give up all worldly attachments, including loyalty to family members, will be able to hold fast to him and survive.

The Lord’s Prayer

The fact that Jesus has sent the disciples out on a mission with a promise that has not been fulfilled causes Jesus to rethink the situation. Jesus now “deems it possible that it may be God’s will to spare the faithful the need to prove themselves, with the attendant danger that they may fail to pass the test. He teaches them to beg God to do this. Where? In the two last petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.” (Schweitzer, p. 119)

This prayer is often stated: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Schweitzer points out the offensiveness of the idea that God is leading us into temptation. God is not wanting to make men do evil. The “temptation” is not a temptation to commit evil acts but a testing period when evil forces put pressure on individuals. It is, in fact, the pre-Messianic tribulation.In another translation, closer to the original meaning, the two petitions are stated: “And do not bring us to the test, but save us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6: 13) The forces of evil, led by the devil, are raging in the world. Some succumb to those forces while others survive. “Deliver us from evil” means, then, deliver us from the devil, who is the evil one. This prayer asks God to help us resist pressures from the devil who controls the world during that difficult time.

This prayer also asks God to spare us of the tribulation itself. “Lead us not into temptation” - alternatively worded, “do not bring us to the test” - means that we ask God to allow us to bypass that difficult experience. We want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without having to pass the test posed by the tribulation. “Jesus bids them (the disciples) pray that God may not lead them into this (i.e., make them undergo it), but that he may rescue them from the evil powers to which they are to be delivered up for a time in the tribulation. He is to make an end of the rule of these powers and to let the Kingdom appear without a prior occurrence of the pre-Messianic tribulation. What has been foreseen as the first occurrence in the scheme of events at the end of the world is to be omitted.” (Schweitzer, p. 119)

How the pre-Messianic Tribulation might be Canceled

“Because of the delay in the tribulation the prospect of which he had held out to the disciples when he sent them out on their mission, Jesus came to the conclusion that God was willing to spare believers from it if he fulfilled it in his own person. This he would accomplish by voluntarily undergoing death and so bringing about that end of the domination of evil which was to mark the conclusion of the tribulation.” (Schweitzer, p.119-120) There was, in other words, a change in plans. God does not make the disciples endure the tribulation that was expected when they went out to preach in the cities of Israel. But scripture still needs to be fulfilled. Jesus now believes that his own self-sacrifice will satisfy the requirement of the tribulation which was predicted before God’s Kingdom arrives.

Another conclusion can be drawn. According to Schweitzer, “the many for whom his death is thus a ransom are the righteous of the last generation of mankind, who are to find a place in the Kingdom. According to this view of the meaning of his death, Jesus dies only for them, not for all men. There was never any question of the righteous dead of former generations having to undergo the tribulation. They enter the Kingdom through the resurrection, without any further ado. Jesus is not thinking of future generations, since he holds that the end of time has come.” (Schweitzer, p. 120)

What Led Jesus to this Idea?

The first event to have inspired Jesus’ new thinking may have been the death of John the Baptist. Jesus believes that John is the destined Elijah. Scripture had said that Elijah would return to earth but did not say that he would die. The original prophet Elijah had been taken straight to heaven. It might have been assumed that Elijah in returning to earth would do the same when God’s Kingdom arrived. “In none of the passages which speak of his coming is there any expectation that Elijah will have to die when he comes back in the final age.” (Schweitzer, p. 120) But John the Baptist - Elijah - has already been beheaded by Herod Antipas. This happened before the period of tribulation.

“The fact that the Baptist did not suffer death in the pre-Messianic tribulation, but through a purely human plot, confirms Jesus in his conviction that a similar fate is in store for himself.” (Schweitzer, p. 120) So at the Transfiguration Jesus answers the disciples’ question about Elijah: “Yes, Elijah will come and set everything right. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they failed to recognize him, and worked their will upon him; and in the same way the Son of Man is to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17: 11-13)

The prophecies of Zechariah contain references to events in Jesus’ latter days. The inhabitants of Jerusalem “shall look upon me (the Messiah), on him whom they have pierced.” The Messianic king shall enter Jerusalem “mounted on an ass.” The death of Jesus shows how “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered abroad.” When one of Jesus’ companions draws a sword to protect Jesus from arrest, Jesus replies: “Put up your sword ... Do you suppose that I cannot appeal to my Father, who would at once send to my aid more than twelve legions of angels? But how then could the scriptures be fulfilled, which say that this must be?” (Matthew 26: 52-54) Jesus seems to be saying that scripture foretold his arrest by agents of an earthly state.

Schweitzer disagrees. There is “nothing in the Old Testament about the suffering and death of the Messiah. There could not be anything about it there. In the Old Testament the Messiah is a being for whom suffering and death could never be considered. Jesus too does not expect to suffer and die as the Messiah, but only as the future Messiah, who has been sojourning unrecognized as a man among men. The scripture could have spoken of this only as a secret, applying to the death of the future Son of Man-Messiah while he was walking unrecognized among men: it could not possibly name him.” (Schweitzer, p. 121)

Even so, Jesus “doubtless found the clearest prophecy of his death in the passages of Deutero-Isaiah which deal with the Servant of the Lord, whose suffering is of benefit to those who witness it though they do not know it.” (Schweitzer, p. 121-122) In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, it is written: “He was despised ... tormented and humbled by suffering ... on himself he bore our sufferings, our torments he endured, while we counted him smitten by God ... but he was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our inequities; and the chastisement he bore is health for us and by his scourging we are healed. We had all strayed like sheep, each of us had gone his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” (Isaiah 53: 3-6)

When Jesus said that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45), he may have had these passages in mind. He may have been thinking of Isaiah’s description of God’s suffering servant when he stood silent before the High Priest as the Council debated charges against him. Isaiah had written: “He was afflicted, he submitted to be struck down and did not open his mouth; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, like a ewe that is dumb before the shearers.” (Isaiah 53: 7) So, Jesus voluntarily submits to suffering at the hands of the religious and political authorities.

“Jesus is thus convinced that the meaning and effect of the pre-Messianic tribulation are transferred by God to the suffering and death which he has freely accepted as the future Messiah. His self-sacrifice accordingly has the consequence that the final events have now arrived at the point that they would have reached after the tribulation had taken place. This means that the evil world-powers have lost the domination which they possessed alongside of God’s. According to late Jewish eschatology it was their allotted role to rise against God in a final contest at the pre-Messianic tribulation, in order that they might suffer destruction at his hands and the Kingdom could then appear. The death of Jesus thus brings about the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is its fundamental meaning. The way in which it benefits believers is that it gives them the possibility of entering the Kingdom. At the same time it also benefits them by sparing them the necessity of having to pass through the tribulation before entering the Kingdom.” (Schweitzer, p. 122-123)

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