Written By: Albert Schweitzer Translated By: Walter Lowrie Original Edition: 1914 Reviewed Edition: Prometheus Books, 1985 Paperback, 173 Pages ISBN 0-87975-294-7 Quotes Table of Contents
The Mystery of the Kingdom of God is an important theological work. In it, Schweitzer offers a life of Jesus radically unconventional for its times which changed the nature of theological inquiry, and which is still seriously regarded by theologians today. Schweitzer analyzed the Gospels, and became convinced that Jesus' message was essentially eschatological. That is, it was about the forthcoming end of the world. The Kingdom of God which Jesus expected early in his ministry was not a ethical revolution to come after his death, as many before and since have preached, but a true end of the world followed by the judgement of all people. In fact, he expected it to happen at any moment. When he made his commission to the twelve disciples to go about the country and preach, he told them to preach the Kingdom, Repentance, and the Judgment. In fact, he expected the end to come before they returned. When it didn't, he realized that the Son of Man must atone for Israel's sins before the Kingdom arrives. He understands that his own death is required, and therefore not only does nothing to prevent it but rather goes out of his way to encounter it. During his Passion, Jesus expected the Kingdom--the literal end of the world--to come about immediately following his death.
This short, inexpert description cannot do justice to the tightly reasoned arguments Schweitzer puts forward to defend his interpretation. As might be expected of any argument which presents Jesus as essentially wrong in his expectations (but not necessarily his ethics), Schweitzer's views were controversial and in recent years have been frequently dismissed. Nevertheless, there is still a significant, number of theologians who view the Gospels as primarily eschatological and who trace their understanding back to Schweitzer. For more on this subject, see the sidebar on Schweitzer from a recent issue of Bible Review.
This book is written in plain language easily understandable by the interested layman.
"In what relation, however, did [Jesus'] ethics and his eschatology stand to each other? So long as one starts with the ethics and seeks to comprehend the eschatology as something adventitious, there appears to be no organic connection between the two, since the ethics of Jesus, as we are accustomed to conceive it, is not in the least accommodated to the eschatology but stands upon a much higher level. One must therefore take the opposite course and see if the ethical proclamation in essence is not conditioned by the eschatological view of the world."
"The concept of the final Affliction contains the thought of atonement and pacification. All they who are destined for the Kingdom must win forgiveness for the guilt contracted in the earthly aeon by encountering steadfastly the world-power as it collects itself for a last attack. For through this guilt they were still subject to the power of ungodliness. This guilt constitutes a counter weight which holds back the coming of the Kingdom.
But now God does not bring the Affliction to pass. And yet the atonement must be made. Then it occurred to Jesus that he as the coming Son of Man must accomplish the atonement in his own person. He who one day shall reign over the believers as Messiah now humbles himself under them and serves them by giving his life a ransom for many, in order that the Kingdom may dawn upon them... That is the secret of the Passion. Jesus did actually die for the sins of men. ..."
"This Jesus is far greater than the one conceived in modern terms: he is really a superhuman personality. With his death he destroyed the form of his Weltanschauung, rendering his own eschatology impossible. Thereby he gives to all peoples and to all times the right to apprehend him in terms of their thoughts and conceptions, in order that his spirit may pervade their 'Weltanschauung' as it quickened and transfigured the Jewish eschatology."
Foreword Preface Translator's Introduction
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