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How the Crucifixion Destroyed Jesus’ Vision of the Future

I have been arguing that during his lifetime Jesus had come to think that he was the messiah of God, the one who would be king when God intervened in history to overthrow the forces of evil and establish a good kingdom here on earth.   A number of readers have asked how or why he would come to that view about himself.  I’m afraid the answer is that I don’t know, and either does anyone else.

There are, of course, lots of theories, some of which are no doubt held by different people on this blog, for example, Christians often say that it was because he really is the coming messiah and that God had told him this.  Others might say that he had some kind of visionary experience that led him to think this (at his baptism?  During his 40 days in the wilderness?  Some other time?).  Others might think that this is a rather exalted view to have of oneself as a lower class peasant in the remote backwaters of Galilee – that you would be the king of Israel, or even of the entire earth – and might suggest, then, that he had a megalomaniacal streak.    I myself really don’t know.

What I am pretty sure about is that Jesus had a highly exalted view about what was going to happen in the imminent future – within his own generation – and that both he and his disciples were going to play a significant role in it.  When they soon-to-arrive kingdom appeared with the advent of the Son of Man, they would be made the rulers of this kingdom.  He himself would be appointed to be king.   This would happen very soon.  His disciples bought into this vision of the future.  The thirteen of them would be exalted in the very near future.

When thinking about the early Jesus movement, nothing can be more important than realizing just how radically and thoroughly these fervent expectations and hopes were shattered by the events that happened at the end of Jesus’ life.   The followers of Jesus were…

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The Reversal of the Disciples’ Decisive Disconfirmation
Readers’ Mailbag December 4, 2015

65

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 8, 2015

    Bart…I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t help thinking there’s a flaw in your reasoning. About the “twelve thrones” quote… You say a later writer or writers passed it on without its occurring to them that the betrayer was one of the twelve. If you think that was possible, shouldn’t you acknowledge it’s *also* possible that a person who *made it up* could have failed to think of that?

    I can accept that Jesus probably thought of himself as being, in some sense, the Messiah. But I’m not really convinced by either of your pieces of evidence for it. Not that he made that grandiose promise to his disciples, or that he claimed to be the future “King of the Jews.”

    I admit I’d *rather* think he saw himself as a “Messiah” who was destined to proclaim the coming of the “Kingdom,” and speed its coming by persuading more and more of his countrymen to prepare for it by leading good lives. That he expected the “Son of Man” would actually bring it about…and thereafter, he and his disciples would enjoy the same *blissful*, *eternal*, lives as all the others who’d been “saved.” That there *couldn’t* be anything “better” than that!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2015

      Yes, I do accept that as a possibility. But it seems less probably to me.

  2. Avatar
    RAhmed  December 8, 2015

    What I don’t really understand is if Jesus’ death came as such a shock to his disciples, why did they remain faithful followers of his after they saw him die, making all his prophecies about himself false. I understand that some of them began to think that he had been resurrected, but even if he was, all of those prophecies he made remained and would remain unfulfilled. So why did James and the non-Pauline followers of Jesus continue to think that he was the messiah? Was it because they, like Paul, also imaged that he would soon return and fulfill all of those prophecies?

  3. Avatar
    willow  December 9, 2015

    In order for us to know, or to at least come to a far better understanding, we’d have to know what occurred during all of those years of Jesus’ life that have been left out of our Gospel stories.

    Pretty much all we know is:
    He was born.
    At around 12 years of age his parents couldn’t find him.
    Skip, skip, skip to around age 30 when he begins his ministry, which is to have lasted for appx 3 years, but even in these there’s a whole lot missing.
    And then he’s dead.

    I’d like to know: what happened to Joseph? Where did he go? What did he teach his children, in particular his sons, about God; about the Romans and Roman rule?
    Did he succomb to illness or was he, perhaps, crucified?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2015

      My view is that we know almost precisely nothing about Jesus’ father.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 9, 2015

        I think it’s interesting to *speculate* that Jesus may have been a few years older than generally believed, his father among the 2000 rebels said to have been crucified in Sepphoris. His younger siblings could have been his mother’s children from a second marriage.

        That could have given him a real, personal reason for wanting to speed the “general resurrection”: to get his father back! Of course, having lost his father and been left the “man of the family” at an early age could have had that effect on him no matter *how* his father had died…

        • Bart
          Bart  December 11, 2015

          Sure, most anything is possible. But historians want to establish probabilities based on evidence and knowledge! So what would lead someone to make speculation? That’s always the question!

        • Avatar
          willow  December 12, 2015

          Wilusa

          “That could have given him a real, personal reason for wanting to speed the “general resurrection”: to get his father back!”

          Why not to simply claim his right to King David’s throne, through Joseph? I find it most intriguing that we know so little about Joseph, though I believe we can be certain he was Jesus’ father “in the flesh”, of his seed, and that being heir to the throne might have meant something to not only him, but to his firstborn son, Jesus, as well.

          Your mention of the crucifixions in Sepphoris further inspires me if only to speculate further, for as little as it is that we know, or have been told. But then, this is even why history and archaeology are so utterly important, so that we might know.

  4. Avatar
    Jana  December 10, 2015

    I read your other two blogs before this one and again I wonder about the parallel conversions of both Paul and the disciples after viewing a living Christ following his crucifixion. If I had no knowledge of mysticism and how it works and were basically illiterate and grief stricken, I would interpret literally a Visitation. (Not sure about starting a religion though/ I’m more the quiet introverted type 🙂

  5. Avatar
    mikehamm123  December 20, 2015

    Excellent article Bart, I thank you.

    Much food for thought.

  6. Avatar
    Steefen  December 22, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman: I have been arguing that during his lifetime Jesus had come to think that he was the messiah of God, the one who would be king when God intervened in history to overthrow the forces of evil and establish a good kingdom here on earth. What I am pretty sure about is that Jesus had a highly exalted view about what was going to happen in the imminent future – within his own generation – and that both he and his disciples were going to play a significant role in it. When they soon-to-arrive kingdom appeared with the advent of the Son of Man, they would be made the rulers of this kingdom. He himself would be appointed to be king. This would happen very soon. His disciples bought into this vision of the future. The thirteen of them would be exalted in the very near future.

    Steefen: This also ruins any pesher or topology about or comparison to Moses. Moses knew and was justified in his faith that God was going to intervene in history. Second, Jesus spoke with so much authority about God. This too suffers. Jesus cannot speak on behalf of God, Heavenly Father, or Heaven. Back to my first point, for Jesus to succeed as Moses did, we would see a better version of the Five Books of Moses. We would not only see a new covenant but a New Torah. That did not happen.

    Third, even with the resurrection of a Jesus, first unrecognizable to his closest associates, the disciples were not appointed to high places. Jesus’ credibility would still be damaged. There should be no bait and switch. “I know God, he is going to give us a kingdom” [nice bait] but not only do we not get a kingdom in a generation, civic appointments for leaving parents, spouses, children, we lose the Temple, the advertiser (Jesus) dies but unsteadily comes back to life (we don’t recognize him; now we see him, now we don’t), but disciples do not resurrect.

    Fourth, the #2 person in Heaven, the Jewish Son of Man does not show up, even after the resurrection. Jesus really cannot speak for Heaven.

  7. Avatar
    jhague  July 15, 2016

    “Jesus had a highly exalted view about what was going to happen in the imminent future – within his own generation – and that both he and his disciples were going to play a significant role in it. When they soon-to-arrive kingdom appeared with the advent of the Son of Man, they would be made the rulers of this kingdom. He himself would be appointed to be king. This would happen very soon. His disciples bought into this vision of the future. The thirteen of them would be exalted in the very near future.”

    Would most first century people have thought that Jesus and his disciples were delusional?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 17, 2016

      I think it’s impossible to say! Probably some would. But certainly not his followers themselves.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  July 17, 2016

        Not delusional perhaps but maybe some rolled their eyes as if to say, “Oh, Boy, here we go again….”

  8. Avatar
    mdwyer  October 27, 2016

    Why was Jesus crucified, in your opinion?
    Also what do you think was his motivation for storming the temple, and do you believe he said the words “This was meant to be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a house of thieves” or was that a later addition?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2016

      For calling himself the king of the Jews. I imagine these words were placed on his lips (it’s a quotaiton of the Jeremiah), but my sense is that he found the entire business enterprise upsetting, and was trying to show that God was soon to destroy the temple.

  9. Avatar
    Zboilen  January 7, 2017

    Hi Bart, I found an article by Mike Licona where he argues that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. One of the reasons he uses is Peter rebuking Jesus. He believes that this is unlikely for the early church to make up since Peter was one of the leaders in the early church. This sounds compelling to me. What do you think about it?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2017

      I think that view profoundly misunderstands the literary function of the secrecy motif in Mark’s Gospel.

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