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The major issue for historical Jesus research, at the moment, for me, is how do you hold together, or reconcile, the emphasis on the presence of the kingdom and the future of the kingdom. How do you do it? Because scholars will argue and I think, the general consensus is that Jesus talks about both.
My way of doing it is always beginning with the present. I think anyone should talk about the present before they talk about the future. And as I understand what the historical Jesus is saying, he would represent (my language now) a paradigm shift in the traditional expectation of his own people.
The traditional expectation in John the Baptist is a good example of it: is that any day now God is going to come transform the world from a place of oppression and injustice and violence and impurity into a place of purity and holiness. And God’s going to do it. Now we can prepare for it, we can pray for it, we can hope for it, says John the Baptist, but God is going to do it. It’s going to be an act of transcendental intervention.
As I understand what Jesus is saying, within that tradition, but swerving within that tradition, Jesus is saying, no, the kingdom is already here, but only in so far as, you enter in it, take it upon you. It is—my language now—a collaborative eschatology, and you can imagine somebody saying to Jesus, you mean God’s not going to do it all for us if we are just patient and holy and ready? And Jesus would say, “No, that’s why nothing is happening. You are waiting for God and God is waiting for you.” And it’s like—now my language again—two people on a date waiting at different places, it’s never going to happen. So, the person, I think, who best summarized in an aphorism the teaching of Jesus is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “God without you won’t, you without God can’t.” I think that is as good an aphorism, if I may put it this way, as good an aphorism as I’ve ever heard even from Jesus, and he is one of the great aphorists of the world!