Meier on Jesus’ Imminent Eschatology

In my last reading of volume 2 of John Meier’s A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Meier talks about whether Jesus anticipated an imminent coming of the Kingdom of God (defined as God’s overthrow of evil, the restoration of Israel, and the inclusion of Gentiles at the eschatological banquet) and placed that coming within a specific time frame (e.g., within “this generation”).  Meier essentially asks, “Did Jesus give a deadline for the Kingdom?”  Meier’s conclusion is that Jesus expected for the Kingdom of God to come soon, but that the passages in the Gospel that specify a time frame for that coming are from the early Christians, not Jesus himself.   

Meier believes that there is evidence that Jesus saw the coming of the Kingdom as imminent, rather than something that will take place in the distant future.  Meier observes that Jesus gave up his “normal mode of living”, asked “some of his disciples to do likewise”, called on people to live their lives in light of the Kingdom, issued warnings, projected a sense of “urgency and intense anticipation”, and stood in the tradition of John the Baptist, who himself “proclaimed an imminent-future eschatology tinged with apocalyptic” (pages 337-338).  For Meier, these things are consistent with a belief that the eschaton is imminent.

But Meier argues that Gospel passages that specify a time frame for the coming of the Kingdom were from the early Christians rather than Jesus.  Meier looks at Matthew 10:23, Mark 9:1, and Mark 13:30.

Matthew 10:23 states (in the King James Version): “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”  Matthew 10:17-22 discusses the harsh experiences of the early Christians, presumably after Jesus’ death, which included being delivered up to councils, being beaten in synagogues, testifying before governors and kings, being betrayed by family, and being hated by all men on account of Christ.  Because this reflects the situation of the early Christians after Jesus’ death, Meier maintains that Matthew 10:23, also, came from that time, as a Christian prophet encouraged the suffering Christians that the Son of Man would come soon to deliver them from their affliction.

Mark 9:1 states: “And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”  While Meier thinks that the Gospel of Mark presents Jesus’ Transfiguration as a partial fulfillment of that prophecy, he does not believe that it is a total fulfillment, for the prophecy itself appears to concern a longer time than six days (the time between the prophecy and the Transfiguration, according to Mark 9:2).  After all, the prophecy says that a few people within the group standing there will see the Kingdom coming in power before they die, which implies that most of the group will die before that happens.  That in itself shows that the origin of the passage is later than the time of Jesus, according to Meier.  Jesus expected for the Kingdom to come sooner than that, and so did Paul, who expected for more Christians to be alive when Christ returned (I Thessalonians 4:15; I Corinthians 15:51).  For Meier, Mark 9:1 originated as early Christians sought to encourage themselves that the Son of Man would come soon, even though most first generation Christians had already died.

Mark 13:30 says: “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.”  Meier defines “these things” as the events of 70 C.E., which Mark 13 discusses.  According to Meier, Mark 13:30 was added to encourage early Christians that the Son of Man’s coming was soon.  Originally, however, Mark 13 held that nobody knew the time that the Son of Man would come, and so there was a need for Jesus’ disciples to watch continuously.  Mark 13:32 states: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”  Meier appears to hold that Mark 13:32 was authentic to Jesus, for why would an early Christian prophet say that the Son of Man would not know about his own coming?  For Meier, Mark 13:32 was authentic to Jesus, whereas Mark 13:30—-which contradicts Mark 13:32 in that it says that we can know the general time frame of the Son of Man’s coming—-came from the early Christians.

I have problems with Meier’s attribution of Mark 13:32 to Jesus.  For one, Meier argues that Mark 14:25 (where Jesus says that he will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the time of the Kingdom) and Matthew 8:11-12/Luke 13:28-29 (where Jesus predicts that Gentiles will eat with the patriarchs) are authentic to Jesus because they do not have a Christology, and the early Christians would have ascribed to Jesus a higher status in these traditions if they had originated with them.  For Meier, Jesus in these passages does not inaugurate the Kingdom, but Jesus is a messenger.  Meier states that Jesus hopes in Mark 14:25 that the coming of the Kingdom will resurrect him after his death.  Does this mean that Meier does not believe that Jesus had a Messianic consciousness?  If so, what was Jesus talking about when he discussed the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13:32?  Did Jesus think that the Son of Man was someone other than himself?

Second, in my opinion, it’s conceivable that the early Christians thought that the Son of Man would not know the day or the hour of his coming.  Of course, the Son of Man would know when he was coming while he was actually coming, but, regarding the time before then, why couldn’t the early Christians have believed that only the Father knew when the eschaton would unfold?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.