reader’s patience is requested in the fact that these Jesus
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principal Web, http://www.paulonpaul.org,
and thus that the As Paul Tells It . .
. designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate.
Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents,
to be found at the top and bottom of each page.
of Jesus Traditions
in red = Mark .. in blue
.. in green = Special Matthew ..
in fuchsia = Special Luke
Apocalyptic Pot a-Boiling
The seven decades
between A.D. 30 and 100 were a period of active end-of-time proclamation
and speculation. But such speculation was tempered by
end-of-time disappointment, the delay of Christ’s glorious coming. The
impact of this delay upon the first century church and New Testament
writings was of considerable proportions.
with intense end-of-time proclamation, such as we find at the founding of
the Thessalonian congregation, he was obliged over time to make
adjustments, with the recognition that he and most others would enter the
age to come by death. Click on adjustment.
Without abandoning the hope of a future coming of Christ
(Philippians 3:20-21), Paul revised his end-of-time teaching in
Stage 1. The founding visit at Thessalonica
(and probably at other foundations too): all will be alive at Christ’s
glorious coming (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
Stage 2. After some have died at Thessalonica: most
will be alive (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Stage 3. With the passage of some months or years: some
will be alive (1 Corinthians 15:51).
Stage 4. Some months later, facing possible execution: he
himself may die and be with Christ (Philippians 1:20-23; cp.
2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10).
It also happened that Paul was emphasizing the present reality of
the end-of-time events, such as resurrection, judgment, salvation. For Paul the decisive death and resurrection
experience had already taken place, as the believer was united with
Christ in baptism (Galatians 2:19-20; Romans 6:3-4).
|The Author of
Matthew. One of the characteristics of Matthew
(A.D. 80-90) is a tendency to heighten
the end-of-time teaching which he found in Mark. In this way Matthew chose to reinforce the usual end-of-time
teaching, in the face of continuing delays in Christ’s glorious coming. A certain apocalyptic
exuberance is also evident in Matthew’s
own special material.
It is not so
simple to discern a tendency in Luke (A.D. 80-90). In contrast to
Matthew, the author’s use of Mark shows only a moderate
interest in end-of-time events, even the possibility of some reduction
of the predictive element.
Like Matthew, the pseudonymous author of this letter elected to reinforce
the end-of-time teaching, as a response to end-of-time delays. He did so with an elaborate scenario
where the end
would be preceded by the man of lawlessness (presently under
restraint), his revelation and his destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12;
click on scenario).
|The Fourth Gospel.
By contrast, this work, dating from around A.D. 100, followed the pattern of
Paul. It is a later but
similar attempt to affirm the present reality of events traditionally
located at the end of time,
especially eternal life and judgment. The author does not seem to be very
interested in end-of-time events, although he does speak of judgment, and resurrection of the believer “on the last
day” (John 6:40, 44, 54; compare 11:24), with a
future reference. Click on End-of-Time
in the Jesus Tradition
Given the intensity with which the apocalyptic pot was boiling
between A.D. 30 and 100, the interpreter is left uncertain about the
degree to which sayings in the Jesus tradition have been shaped by such
expectations. We would like to know how much of this end-of-time speculation had its
origins in the teaching of Jesus himself: was Jesus misunderstood by his
followers, or did he perhaps provide stimulus for such speculation?
The end-of-time teachings in the tradition are found, some
in Kingdom of God sayings,
and some in Son of Man
sayings. (A link will connect you to a brief discussion
of the various ways the term Son
of Man is used in the tradition.) The Kingdom of God sayings present a somewhat mixed picture, suggesting that God’s
sovereign reign would soon break into human life, and indeed had
already in significant ways broken in. In a number of sayings the Son
of man plays a decisive rôle as the agent for bringing these
end-of-time events to pass.
. . How near?
We begin with a group of sayings in which Jesus uses end-of-time
language to suggest present fulfillment in his proclamation and in his
actions. (Consult links for further comment on texts.)
after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good
news of God, 15and
saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come
near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
In Mark’s epitome of Jesus’ preaching, we find a summary announcement
of the near approach of the Kingdom. Jesus and his people are living in a
time of fulfillment, but we are not told how close is the
Matthew 12:28 || Luke 11:20
|But if it is by the Spirit
of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to
you [or, come upon you].
||But if it is by the finger of
God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to
you [or, come upon you].
saying qualifies as an unambiguous statement of the kingdom’s
presence in the healing activity of Jesus.
7:18-23 (cp. Matthew 11:2-6)
John summoned two of his disciples 19and
sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are
we to wait for another?’ 20When the
men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you
to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for
another?”’ 21Jesus had just then
cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given
sight to many who were blind. 22And he
answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the
blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the
deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
23And blessed is anyone who takes no
offense at me.’
Q saying reinforces the same understanding of Jesus’ healing activity as a
sign of present fulfillment, though the term Kingdom of God is
17:20-21 (special Lucan material)
20Once Jesus was asked by the
Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The
kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor
will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in
fact, the kingdom of God is among you [or within you].’
Is Jesus being evasive? or is he focusing on the inward, spiritual
aspect of God’s reign? or is he saying that what they are asking is just
the wrong question, implying that they really do not know what the Kingdom
of God is? The answer of Jesus in this text certainly does not qualify him as a
|Of the three groups of
sayings which we are surveying, the sayings in this group, which emphasize the present realization of
end-of-time events, are most likely to represent the views of Jesus. Given
the intense apocalyptic interests of the early church, we have little
reason to suppose that early Christians would have been inclined to create sayings of this
sort. They exhibit a degree of novelty which is unaccounted for by
views held in the early church. The same cannot be said for the next group of sayings to be
standing here will not taste death before . . .
We now take a look at texts
which date the end-of-time events to the generation of Jesus’ listeners.
This text from Mark, the earliest of the gospels, stands between a prediction
of the future coming of the Son of Man (8:38) and the Transfiguration
Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.
The coming of the kingdom within the lifetime of Jesus’ listeners seems
a straightforward interpretation. The coming with power likely refers to an
end-of-time event (though some have understood it as Jesus’ power to
conquer sin and disease, or as his resurrection, or as the gift of the
Holy Spirit in the life of the church—demonstrations of the inbreaking
of God’s reign).
The Gospel of Mark was written (A.D.
65-70) during or just after two disastrous events: the persecution of the
Christians in Rome under the emperor Nero (A.D. 64), and the Jewish Revolt
against Rome (66-70), which left Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins, and
Christianity as well as Judaism without its traditional center.
Embedded in Mark is a section often called his
“Little Apocalypse,” for its description of tribulations for the
faithful and of the end-of-time events (Mark 13). The following is
representative of the tribulations:
8For nation will rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various
places; … 9they will hand you over to councils; and you will
be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings
because of me… 12Brother
will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will
rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and
you will be hated by all because of my name.
Cosmic catastrophe and the glorious coming of
the Son of Man are associated with the tribulations:
24But in those
days, after that suffering, the
sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and
the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will
be shaken. 26Then
they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and
he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. … 30Truly
I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have
taken place. … 33Beware,
keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
may have occurred in transmission and editing, this chapter (Mark 13), as
it stands, gives the reader the impression that these end-of-time events
will take place in the writer’s generation. (Click on Little
Apocalypse for an attempt to sort out some of the confusion.)
Is this Jesus the apocalyptist? or is this a previously existing apocalypse
embedded within the gospel? or is it the composition of the author or one of his
In this scene Jesus is on trial before the Jewish high court
61Again the high priest asked him,
‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus
said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the
right hand of the Power,” and “coming with the clouds of
Jesus is represented as acknowledging his messiahship and announcing
his glorious coming, when presumably he will be visible to his judges.
10:5-8, 23 (mostly special Matthew material)
5These twelve Jesus sent out with
the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter
no town of the Samaritans, 6but
go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As
you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come
the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. . . .
I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel
before the Son of Man comes.
The coming of the Son of Man, during Jesus’ ministry? A bit of a
surprise. Did Jesus get it wrong? or did the author of Matthew? or
|One suspects that the
sayings in this second group, predicting the end of the age
in that generation,
were formulated not by Jesus but by early Christians in their apocalyptic
. . Like a Thief in the Night
As we fill in the picture of end-of-time teachings in the synoptic
tradition, we review another group of sayings, i.e. those which
announce or imply end-of-time events without dating them to that
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and
sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he
comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
|I tell you, I will never again
drink of this
fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with
you in my
||Truly I tell you, I will never
again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it
new in the kingdom of God.
I tell you that from now
on I will
not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.
This saying, which is
part of the Last Supper narrative, anticipates another meal, a meal in the age to
come. A future coming of the Kingdom may thus be indicated (and in Luke’s
version a future coming is made explicit). At the same time, it is
possible that Jesus is not predicting a future coming of the kingdom, but
that he will enter the age to come by death and will preside at the
messianic banquet as envisaged in Luke 13:28-29 || Matthew 8:11-12, below.
11:2 || Matthew 6:9-10
then in this way: Our
Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. 10Your
kingdom come. Your will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven.
||When you pray, say: Father,
hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
This brief petition (in a probably
Q passage) has a forward look. Without excluding present
manifestations of the Kingdom of God, it seems to anticipate the future
fulfillment of that reign. The phrase in Matthew, Your
will be done, appropriately explicates the meaning of Kingdom
Luke 13:28-29 (cp. Matthew 8:11-12)
tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
12while the heirs of the kingdom
will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping
and gnashing of teeth.
will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac
and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you
yourselves thrown out. 29Then
people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will
eat in the kingdom of God.
banquet in the age to come seems to be the theme common to Matthew and
Luke in this Q
saying. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, figure prominently here, in
line with prevailing Jewish expectation. While such a celebration seems to
be a future event (relative to historical experience), we find no
suggestion that end-of-time events are dated, or are imminent.
12:39-40 || Matthew 24:43-44
39But know this: if
the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he
would not have let his house be broken into. 40You
also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Here in a Q
saying we have end-of-time teaching without an
apocalyptic scenario; its point is the suddenness and unpredictability of
the coming. To much the same effect is another Q saying, which
compares the Son of Man’s day to a lightning flash, lighting up the sky
from one side to the other (Luke
17:23-24 || Matthew 24:26-27), and thus not an event to be
What are we to make of these sayings, which expect end-of-time events imminently
but without dating them? We may well proceed
with caution, whether we accept them as authentic, or understand them as the product of the early church’s proclamation.
They create fewer
problems of non-fulfillment than the sayings in group two, but the passage of each
day—and of each century and
each millenium— makes them less convincing.
of end-of-time teaching would be incomplete without reference to the
episode of The Transfiguration,
which may be understood in various ways, but which in the link referenced
is interpreted as a preview of end-of-time events.
February 7, 2004
of Jesus Traditions