the catechism and confession of the Church at its commencement consisted of a single phrase
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter two||
The Kingdom of Heaven must however be understood “according to Jewish ways of thought.” Neither Jesus nor the Baptist ever explain this expression; therefore they must have been content to have it understood in its known and customary sense. That means that Jesus took His stand within the Jewish religion, and accepted its Messianic expectations without in any way correcting them. If He gives a new development to this religion it is only in so far that He proclaims as near at hand the realisation of ideals and hopes which were alive in thousands of hearts.
There was thus no need for detailed instruction regarding the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven; the catechism and confession of the Church at its commencement consisted of a single phrase. Belief was not difficult: “they need only believe the Gospel, namely that Jesus was about to bring in the Kingdom of God.” As there were many among the Jews who were already waiting for the Kingdom of God, it was no wonder that in a few days, nay in a few hours, some thousands believed, although they had been told only that Jesus was the promised prophet.
This was the sum total of what the disciples knew about the Kingdom of God when they were sent out by their Master to proclaim its coming. Their hearers would naturally think of the customary meaning of the term and the hopes which attached themselves to it. “The purpose of sending out such propagandists could only be that the Jews who groaned under the Roman yoke and had long cherished the hope of deliverance should be stirred up all over Judaea and assemble themselves in their thousands.”
Jesus must have known, too, that if the people believed His messengers they would look about for an earthly deliverer and turn to Him for this purpose. The Gospel, therefore, meant nothing more or less to all who heard it than that, under the leadership of Jesus, the Kingdom of Messiah was about to be brought in. For them there was no difficulty in accepting the belief that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, for this belief did not involve anything metaphysical. The nation was the Son of God; the kings of the covenant-people were Sons of God; the Messiah was in a pre-eminent sense the Son of God. Thus even in His Messianic claims Jesus remained “within the limits of humanity.”
The fact that He did not need to explain to His contemporaries what He meant by the Kingdom of God constitutes a difficulty for us. The parables do not enlighten us, for they presuppose a knowledge of the conception. “If we could not gather from the writings of the Jews some further information as to what was understood at that time by the Messiah and the Kingdom of God, these points of primary importance would be very obscure and incomprehensible.”
If, therefore, we desire to gain a historical understanding of Jesus’ teaching, we must leave behind what we learned in our catechism regarding the metaphysical Divine Sonship, the Trinity, and similar dogmatic conceptions, and go out into a wholly Jewish world of thought. Only those who carry the teachings of the catechism back into the preaching of the Jewish Messiah will arrive at the idea that He was the founder of a new religion. To all unprejudiced persons it is manifest “that Jesus had not the slightest intention of doing away with the Jewish religion and putting another in its place.”
 The quotations inserted without special introduction are, of course, from Reimarus. It is Dr. Schweitzer’s method to lead up by a paragraph of exposition to one of these characteristic phrases.—TRANSLATOR.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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