For my write-up today on Ben Witherington III's Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World, I'll use as my starting-point something that Witherington says on page 82:
"For Paul basileia
[(kingdom)] in the present is God's dynamic saving activity, or his
reign in human lives brought about through the Holy Spirit, or the
results of that activity. In the future, the basileia is a realm that believers may enter, but it too comes as a result of the dynamic action of God's agent at his parousia."
Witherington believes that Paul regards the Kingdom of God as
already-and-not-yet: a reality that has a present dimension and yet will
have a future fulfillment at the Second Coming of Christ. And,
according to Witherington, Jesus had a similar view on the Kingdom. At
the same time, Witherington denies that Paul and Jesus equated the
Kingdom of God with the church.
Witherington argues that
Jesus and his disciples were seeking to bring Israel to God so she could
avoid disaster. Witherington appears to hold that Jesus has
eschatological motivations for his ministry that relate to the
inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. In Witherington's scenario
(if I am understanding it correctly), whereas Paul in Romans 9-11
envisions a scenario in which the inclusion of the Gentiles into God's
people will precede the spiritual restoration of Israel, Jesus has
another view: that the spiritual restoration of Israel will precede the
reconciliation of the Gentiles with God. Witherington says that Jesus
in Matthew 28 envisioned the early Christians going into all the world
and preaching first to the Diaspora Jews, which is essentially what we
see in the Book of Acts: Paul visits a foreign country and often goes
first to the local synagogue. At the same time, Witherington seems to
think that Jesus was not thoroughly optimistic about Israel repenting
and that preceding the Gentile worship of God, for Witherington appeals
to such passages as Luke 13:29, which envisions Gentiles taking the
place of non-repentant Jews at the eschatological banquet.
(UPDATE: I may be wrong in my interpretation of Witherington on the
issue of Jesus thinking that Gentiles would take the place of
non-repentant Jews at the messianic banquet. On page 229, Witherington
says it's more likely that Jesus envisioned Diaspora Jews, not Gentiles,
coming from afar and replacing Jesus' "unfaithful listeners ('this
generation') at the banquet.")
am I puzzled? Witherington appears to maintain that Jesus did
eschatological things that pertained to the Kingdom of God, such as
bringing Israel back to God. But he simultaneously denies that Jesus
believed that the end of the world was necessarily imminent.
If Witherington is right about that, then what was the purpose of Jesus'
mission to restore Israel and thereby bring the Gentiles to God? Did
Jesus work in light of the "already" dimension of the Kingdom of
God----people converting and embracing God's rule over their lives? To
be honest (and I am open to correction), I don't think that's an overly
big deal (as important as it is). People prior to Jesus were turning to
God and choosing to be ruled by God. I just have a hard time accepting
that what we basically have now----Christians living decent moral
lives----was the inbreaking Kingdom of God that motivated Jesus to act.
I'd expect Jesus' mission to concern something a little more unusual,
Another point: Witherington defends the authenticity of sayings in the
Gospels about the church, treating them as from the historical Jesus.
Witherington does so on the basis of their Jewish or Aramaic feel. Witherington
states that there are scholars who do not deem those sayings to be
authentic to Jesus, for why would Jesus speak of the establishment of an
institution if he expected for the world to end soon? I think that's a
good question to someone like me, who tends to think that Jesus
regarded the end as imminent. Witherington responds that such
an objection presumes that Jesus saw the end as imminent, which
Witherington does not think is necessarily true. But Witherington also
contends that, even if Jesus thought that the end was imminent, he could
have still envisioned the establishment of an institution. The Qumran
community believed that the end was imminent, Witherington notes, and it
established a community with institutions.