Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Meier's Eschatological Jesus

I started volume 2 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. On page 3, Meier sums up Jesus' ministry:

"Because of his claim to work miracles, a claim accepted by many, Jesus was not just another prophet or teacher. At one and the same time he acted as (1) the prophet of the last days, which were soon to come and yet were somehow already present in his ministry; (2.) the gatherer of the Israel of the last days, the twelve tribes of Israel being symbolized by the circle of the twelve disciples Jesus formed around himself; (3) the teacher of both general moral truths and detailed directives concerning the observance of the Mosaic Law (e.g., divorce); and last but not least (4) the exorcist and healer of illnesses who was even reputed, like Elijah and Elisha, to have raised the dead."

Meier views Jesus as someone who regarded himself as a prophet to Israel (and perhaps more, if my impression of the above passage is correct) in the last days: one who was bringing Israel to repentance in light of an impending eschaton. In that sense, Jesus was continuing the mission of John the Baptist, who was baptizing people so that they could be saved from the wrath to come and experience the renewal by the Holy Spirit that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible talked about. At the same time, Meier maintains that Jesus' focus was different from that of John the Baptist: whereas John emphasized judgment, Jesus focused on God's offer of mercy and forgiveness as he ate with sinners and healed. What is interesting, however, is that Meier regards certain Gospel statements about the kingdom coming during the lifespan of Jesus' own generation (i.e., Matthew 10:23; Mark 9:1; 13:30) to come, not from Jesus, but rather from the early Christians, "who sought to reassure themselves of Christ's coming in glory as the years passed by with no parousia in sight" (page 6). Overall, though, Meier differs from John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who tend to regard the historical Jesus as devoid of eschatology.

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