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What Jesus was Thinking
Table of Contents / Text
Chapter 1 About the Story of Jesus: The story of Jesus is seen in the context of Jewish prophecies about the Messiah and the coming Kingdom of God. The credibility of prophecy depends upon belief that a prediction was written down before the predicted events came to pass. Old Testament prophecy is an attempt to resolve dissonance between predictions and subsequent history.
Chapter 2 About Religion: The British historian Arnold Toynbee has identified three objects of religious worship which are found in three successive epochs of societal development. In pre-civilized societies, humanity tends to worship elements of nature. In the earliest civilizations, worship is transferred to human communities or political states. The higher religions worship what Toynbee calls "Absolute Reality" or, in other words, God.
Chapter 3 A Political History of the Jews to the Diaspora: As told in the Bible, the history of the Jewish people begins with the Patriarchs, encompasses the exile in Egypt, and continues through the period of the monarchy under David and Solomon and succeeding kingdoms in Israel and Judah until extinguished in the middle of the first millennium B.C. However, the period during which the Jewish nation lived under foreign domination coincides with the writing of prophecy and the appearance of Messiahs.
Chapter 4 Prophets from Amos through Second Zechariah: Writing prophets starting with Amos produced scenarios of future history in which God would intervene in human affairs to overthrow the existing order of society and establish a divine kingdom. A descendant of David, the Messiah, would be restored to the throne of this kingdom. A process of separating individuals on moral grounds would determine whether a person would be admitted to the Kingdom when it arrived. The scenario of future events became ever more miraculous and fantastic in later years.
Chapter 5 Daniel and the Apocalyptists of Late Judaism: After the Biblical canon was closed, pious Jews continued write prophecy under the name of a revered figure from the past. The Book of Daniel illustrates this process. Daniel begins a new tradition of regarding the Messiah as "Son of Man", a supernatural figure who arrives with God's Kingdom. Zoroastrianism influenced Jewish religion after the exile to Babylon. This religion introduced the concepts of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, Satan, angels and archangels, the last judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. Apocalypses written in the century before Jesus exerted a strong influence upon his Messianic thinking.
Chapter 6 Jesus and John the Baptist: John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God was imminent. Individuals could be rid of sin and admitted to the Kingdom by ritualistic immersion in water. Jesus accepted John's baptism. It is here that he received the call to be the Messiah. Jesus understood, though John did not, that John was the Elijah whose return to earth was predicted before the Kingdom arrived. John's preaching and death meant that this scriptural condition had been fulfilled.
Chapter 7 Jesus' Teachings about the Kingdom of God: Jesus prepared his listeners for moral fitness to enter the imminent Kingdom of God. His teachings assumed that human history had run its course and only the Kingdom mattered. To be admitted to the Kingdom, one needed a higher degree of righteousness than could be had by traditional obedience to Law. One needed to avoid judging others or holding grudges. Love was an important qualification for entrance to the Kingdom. One needed to be devoted to doing the will of God. Jesus believed in a supernatural rather than spiritualized kingdom. This was the view of late Judaism.
Chapter 8 Jesus' Messianic Secret: Jesus was not the Messiah during his earthly ministry, only the future Messiah who would arrive with the Kingdom. This was to be a supernatural figure. Although Jesus was lineally descended from David through his stepfather Joseph, his Messiahship did not rest upon that alone but upon his transformation into a supernatural figure with the coming of the Kingdom. His Messianic secret consisted of knowing that he was the one who would soon be transformed. But he could not afford to reveal the secret since the religious authorities could use it to prosecute him for blasphemy. This secret was betrayed by Judas, who had learned it from Peter and the other disciples.
Chapter 9 Short Cut to the Kingdom: Prophetic scripture had foretold that, before the Kingdom of God arrived, humanity would have to pass through a period of intense suffering known as the "pre-Messianic tribulation". Jesus had predicted that this tribulation would occur while his disciples were visiting the cities of Israel. When they returned to Jesus unscathed, Jesus pondered the situation and then came to the conclusion that God might allow the period of tribulation to be omitted if he alone fulfilled the condition. He would take upon himself the suffering, that others might be spared. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught the disciples to ask God to allow them to enter the Kingdom without being put to the test. Jesus satisfied this last remaining precondition to the Kingdom through his own death.
Chapter 10 The End Comes: In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught the disciples how to put pressure on God to bring the Kingdom more quickly. The reference to "our daily bread" is to the banquet in the Messianic kingdom. Contrary to later doctrine, Jesus' death was not significant as an atonement for the sins of others but as fulfillment of the scriptural condition relating to the tribulation. Forgiveness of others' sins was sufficient for forgiveness of one's own sins by God. Before Jesus went to the Cross, he had to make sure that his disciples who had promised to share his fate did not have to die with him. Jesus pondered this issue in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Chapter 11 Practices and Beliefs after Jesus' Resurrection: After the two Marys discovered that Jesus' tomb was empty, the disciples and other followers realized that Jesus was the Messiah, being now in a supernatural form. They recalled what Jesus himself had said about dying in Jerusalem, rising again, and leading them to Galilee. Remaining in Jerusalem, the disciples thought that Jesus would soon return in his Messianic glory. There was a belief that Jesus' own death atoned for their sins. Jesus' followers also believed that the world was dissolving into spirit and certain events such as "speaking in tongues" indicated that this process was underway. Christian baptism, based on the example set by John the Baptist, became a means of being accepted into the Christian community. The ritual of communion, foreshadowing the Messianic banquet, was thought to be an occasion when Jesus might return.
Chapter 12 Paul's View of the Kingdom: Despite contrary appearances, Paul believed that the Kingdom of God had already come. It had come with Jesus' death and resurrection. The Christian community now shared Jesus' situation. The problem was one of appearances. Like the dawning of a new day, God's kingdom was gradually becoming more apparent as the transformation to spirit progressed. Paul wrote of a mystical participation in Jesus' dying and rising again. However, the angels allied with Satan were desperately trying to ensnare souls during that time of uncertainty. Unlike Jesus, Paul conceived that two separate kingdoms would appear: first the Messiah's, then God's. Christians had to struggle to remain in the spiritualized state they had gained through Christian baptism lest worldly sins and temptations cause them to forfeit their salvation.
Chapter 13 Paul's Ethic: Whereas the ethic of Jesus prepared individuals for the imminent arrival of God's Kingdom, Paul's ethic had to instruct men in how to live in the interim. Like Jesus, Paul believed that love was the highest good. It was a good made possible by Spirit. For Paul, the important thing in the period of incomplete transformation to spiritual being was to avoid attachments to the present world. One's sins were already forgiven through Christ, but salvation could still be lost. Paul was adamantly opposed to the Law which he saw as an influence distracting from the Gospel of Christ. Instead of looking for the Kingdom to arrive in the future, Paul gave the Christian community a framework of belief that would allow them to accept present conditions. Even after the original expectations of the Kingdom were forgotten, the church has endured through his words.
Chapter 14 The Christian Church Comes: From the memory of Jesus' life and teaching, the Christian community developed an enduring structure through writings and acts that spread the Gospel. At first, Christians were persecuted in the Roman world. Their peaceful ways allowed them to survive the slaughter of groups practicing armed resistance to the state. In time, Christianity became the state religion of Rome. Then, after Rome fell, the church developed a relationship with barbarian kings who ruled the western territories of the fallen empire. In the east, the church enjoyed the continued support of the Byzantine state. Roman pontiffs, inheriting Peter's office, called for a holy war against the Moslem rulers of Jerusalem. The effect was to weaken Christianity. Martin Luther's criticisms of papal indulgences led to a split within the western church. Secular influences were affecting western culture. At the same time, European colonization of other lands spread the Christian religion around the earth.
Chapter 15 Prophecies of a Second Coming of Christ: After Jesus' death and resurrection, the Christian community looked for Jesus' return to earth on the clouds of glory. New prophecies concerned with his Second Coming were added to scripture, notably the Book of Revelation. This final book of the New Testament was written by John of Patmos at the end of the first century A.D. Revelation describes John's vision of the final days, following a prolonged period of suffering and bloodshed endured by the saints. A ruler known as the Anti-Christ would emerge, aided by a false prophet. This evil ruler would gather earthly kings at Armageddon. Jesus, the lamb, would destroy these forces in an instant. Then would begin the long-awaited Messianic kingdom, followed after a thousand years by God's eternal kingdom. In our own time, people have continued to look for signs that this scenario of events would shortly begin. The restoration of a Jewish nation in Israel has given hope that the long-deferred events will at last take place.
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