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The Preaching of Jesus in a Nutshell

I am trying to set up what I want to say about Jesus’ view of the afterlife, and am finding that it requires a good bit of background information.  I have already done two things: shown what he taught about the coming kingdom and explained that his teaching (about the kingdom and everything else) is very different in John from the Synoptics.  Scholars are almost unanimous that given these differences, the older sources (the Synoptics and the accounts they built on, e.g., Q, M, and L) are more likely to be accurate about Jesus’ words than the later and heavily theologized John.  Now I need to explain more broadly, if in very brief form, the major elements in Jesus’ preaching/teaching.   For that I have borrowed from a post a few years ago, as follows:


We could obviously have a year-long thread on the topic of what it was Jesus taught during his itinerant preaching ministry.  Many people have written very long books on the subject – and the books just keep comin’ out.   If you want a more extended discussion of my views on the matter, you can see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  I include bibliography of other works to consult.  For my money, among the best and most influential have been John Meier, E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, and Paula Fredriksen – all of whom agree that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic preacher.

Here let me summarize under several rubrics what I think we can say with reasonable reliability about Jesus’ preaching:

The Kingdom of God:  Jesus’ preaching was principally about the coming Kingdom of God.  Like other Jewish apocalypticists, Jesus did not mean by “Kingdom of God” what…

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Explaining Jesus’ Apocalyptic Assumptions
The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan: Readers Mailbag October 8, 2017



  1. Avatar
    Candlestickone  October 9, 2017

    U don’t beleive g-d but want to be a spokesman for his inspiration, what are u drinking ? Luv & warmth mic

    • Bart
      Bart  October 10, 2017

      I’m not sure what you mean that I want to be a spokesman for his inspiration! But as to drinking, I prefer Southern Rhone reds. 🙂

    • Avatar
      TBeard  October 11, 2017

      Candlestickone, It appears you don’t know much about Bart Ehrman.

  2. Avatar
    Michael Toon  October 9, 2017


    You explain: “People will be able to enter into the kingdom; other people will be thrown out of it; there will be eating and drinking there…”

    In your personal view, if the Kingdom of God was destined to be a utopian world, then why would Jesus believe that food and drinks would be a part of it? It seems to me these things are requirements to sustain life in the face of entropy. And, further, the objection to this is usually the food and drinks will be there for our “enjoyment.” Excuse me? Anytime there is DESIRE, it means there is something unfulfilled in the mind/body of the desirer. And in the present context, it signifies that there is something about this coming kingdom that isn’t perfect at all (hence desire).

    Do you agree with any of this?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 10, 2017

      Even Adam and Eve ate and drank before that rather disastrous moment with the forbidden fruit. Desire can be good, not just bad.

      • Avatar
        Michael Toon  October 10, 2017

        Thanks, Bart. But I suppose we see things differently here. And it is true about Adam and Eve. The same logic applies for them, however, too. If the coming kingdom is believed to be a perfect utopia, then I don’t see how one can “add” something good to a world that is already perfect.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 11, 2017

          I’m not disagreeing with your logic. I’m saying it’s not the logic used in these texts.

    • DestinationReign
      DestinationReign  October 10, 2017

      It’s best not to focus too heavily on literality with His symbolic, metaphorical Kingdom teachings. The actual onset of the Kingdom will bring a higher-dimensional state of being. So, “eating” and “drinking” are earthly representations of something transpiring at a higher level.

      But it is correct to say that this all deals with either fulfilled or UNfulfilled desire. To truly REIGN in transcendence is to partake of an existence in which every imaginable desire is fulfilled. Nothing that is desired will be unfulfilled, and nothing that cannot be fulfilled will be desired. (Ponder that.) This will be the reward for those who have overcome the snares of the earth-construct through self-discipline and Kingdom compliance. (Basically, those who have lived a life in accord with the Bible’s “red-lettered” instructions.)

      However, those who have lived an indulgent or malicious lifestyle will be excluded from that transcendent state of being (Luke 13:25, Rev. 22:15, etc.) throughout the Kingdom Age.

      It is CHRISTIANITY that has muddled the true message of the Kingdom with its blood atonement/eternal hell tenets. (“Jesus did all the work so you don’t have to do any. Just believe in Him!”) The age of Christianity has interrupted the grand revelation of Kingdom Truth, but as the age of Christianity is drawing to a close, it is time for the true Kingdom message to once again begin being revealed.

  3. Avatar
    Bstevens  October 9, 2017

    Was the mustard seed considered to be the smallest of all seeds to jews in the first century? I have seen an argument before about if Jesus was God (omniscient) he should have known that this statement was false.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 10, 2017

      Apparently so! I too had problems with that passage when I held to inerrancy!

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 11, 2017

        Do superlatives not sometimes have a rhetorical function in Greek, as in English. If I say, “Bart is the best of men,” I don’t mean, and few would think I mean, “Bart is the very best man in the world.” Could Jesus not have meant that the mustard seed is very small indeed, as seeds go?

      • Avatar
        Barnsweb  October 30, 2017

        A number of statements are inconsistent between the gospels, which is why I rely on Matthew more than Mark or Luke. Would the sayings of Jesus in Matthew present inconsistency within itself? Mark is as out on a limb at the conclusion as the great commission makes perfect sense to the rest of Jesus’ teachings to be “that prophet” we are to hear *if Peter’s words in Acts 3 have relevance.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2017

          Are you asking if Matthew could be internally inconsistent? Yes indeed!

  4. Avatar
    Judith  October 9, 2017

    The universe benefits, Dr. Ehrman?! You know I’m all for you and your work but that just might be going a little far. It was good for a laugh though. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    godspell  October 9, 2017

    It’s a large nutshell, but I think you crammed everything in there just fine.

    But is the Kingdom a place on earth, or the entire earth? Did Jesus himself ever think it out that far? I would think he started out thinking it would be mainly or entirely his fellow Jews, but there are numerous signs that he was changing his mind about that as he went on. Faith was what mattered, not franchise. Certainly not race, which is to say family–family is an earthly thing. The Kingdom is on this earth, but not of it. So blood relationships don’t matter anymore.

    Maybe he thought it would start in Palestine, and then expand outwards? Or God (or the Son of Man) would just find all the people throughout the world who had the capacity for that kind of faith, that kind of goodness. Maybe there was going to be a place on earth set aside for those who didn’t make the grade, or maybe they were just going to disappear (to where?)

    And if sin had been abolished–did he believe, as Augustine did later on, that sin was the reason for death, so all in the Kingdom would live on in bodily form forever?

    It’s easier to say what he didn’t believe than what he did believe. But I agree, he didn’t believe the goal was some heavenly plane. The goal was here. Live for today, or there’s no tomorrow. Live every day as if you’ll be judged for it at dusk.

    There have been lots of utopias imagined by human beings, not all or even most religious in nature (to be sure, Thomas More was a notoriously, if not excessively devout Catholic). Always pretty vague about how it happened, and none of them terribly convincing.

    This is the one that says we get to the promised land by making ourselves worthy of it. You enter the Kingdom by behaving as if it’s already here. God will transform the world when we transform ourselves.

    Since we didn’t do that, it could be argued Jesus was not proven wrong. Except in his timetable.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 10, 2017

      He seemed to think there would be people *outside* the kingdom; but maybe just at first? It’s hard to say….

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 10, 2017

        I’m far from convinced he could have explained it in any great detail. He wasn’t Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard. He wasn’t going to come up with this elaborate scenario where everything was spelled out. Because he wasn’t conning anybody. Except, maybe himself.

    • Avatar
      HawksJ  October 10, 2017

      “God will transform the world when we transform ourselves. Since we didn’t do that, it could be argued Jesus was not proven wrong.”

      Except there is no ‘we’. By acknowledging that some will be left out of the Kingdom, he is acknowledging that it’s an individual reward or punishment. By it’s very nature, the Kindom wasn’t an ‘everybody or nobody’ thing.

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 9, 2017

    Since Jesus believed that those who belonged to the Kingdom of God would not taste death, I’m wondering if he meant that once Judgement took place, no one would ever die again, and he would rule on earth for all eternity.

  7. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 9, 2017

    Follow-up to my last thought–Did Jesus believe the resurrection would bring the dead out of Sheol? And when Judgement was implemented to the wicked, they also went to Sheol for eternity? Heaven was for God and his angels, earth was for people.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 10, 2017

      1) Yup; 2) My sense is he thought those not coming into the kingdom would be annihilated.

      • Rick
        Rick  October 10, 2017

        And those (annihilated) would be any and all who did not follow the Torah, i.e. gentiles (perhaps with exceptions for faithful converts like the Canaanite woman in the “dogs” verse)? I guess my point is (ironically) that the vast majority of the “church” in his name that followed would not have made into his kingdom?

  8. tompicard
    tompicard  October 9, 2017

    A lot of information in this post, and I agree that Jesus’ preaching touched the above 7 headings. Though many, many of the details are conjectures which I don’t think are supported by Jesus words from the Gospels.

    Take your ‘Beginning of the Kingdom’ paragraph, you make excellent points
    >Already people are seeing what the kingdom would be like.
    > the kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds,
    >but which becomes an enormous bush.
    >The kingdom is manifest in a tiny way now,
    if this is the case, [I mean if this is what Jesus believed], why force a rather odd interpretation [which is NOT clearly expounded by him] that God needs to preform some kind of magical supernatural miracle sending a angelic superhero to bring the Kingdom to completion ???

    Better is to take the analogy of the mustard seed little further
    if the kingdom has started as a seed it will progress automatically to its full completion as Jesus’ message and example is spread. there is certainly no supernatural / cataclysmic event between the moment the plant is the tiny seed till the time its can enormous bush, in fact there is no discernible moment when we can say decisively yesterday it was a seed today it is a bush.

    Additionally the kingdom is coming without signs to be observed.
    A guy coming on a cloud is a pretty obvious sign if you ask me.

    • DestinationReign
      DestinationReign  October 10, 2017

      The Kingdom/seed analogy is very important in understanding what has been going on in the big picture of the revelation of the Kingdom. Jesus Himself compared His historical time of preaching the Kingdom to the scattering of good seed (Mat. 13:24). But it is important to note that in that same parable, He said that people would be ASLEEP after that time. This slumber is what transpired after He left the world, in which it was to be “night.” (John 9:4-5). The world has been asleep and oblivious to Kingdom Truth throughout the Church Age.

      Just as seeds must be buried in darkness in order to LATER reap a harvest, Kingdom Truth has been in darkness and “unseen” for the last 2,000 years. However, we are now transitioning to the dawn of a new (“third”) day; the “end of the age,” which is also the time of the HARVEST (Mat. 13:39). The point must be re-emphasized ad nauseam that the age of Christianity has been an INTERRUPTION of Kingdom Truth during a time of darkness.

      This was actually laid out prophetically in the narrative of Jesus’ own crucifixion and entombment. For 2,000 years, a salvific necessity of Jesus’ death and entombment has been broadcasted to the world through Christianity. But this was NOT the true message of the Kingdom! A blood atonement death and resurrection was not a part of His message about the Kingdom 2,000 years ago. Thus, the INTERRUPTION of Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment in a historical sense was merely a microcosm, or miniature preview, of the interrupting AGE of Christianity that has put forth a necessity of His crucifixion and death. Divine Intelligence has laid this out in grand templates:

      Christ walked as a man > Christ crucified and entombed > Christ exits the tomb and soon ascends

      True Kingdom message > Age of Christianity’s blood atonement death > True Kingdom message restored

      Kingdom Truth preached > Kingdom Truth buried in darkness > Kingdom Truth restored/Kingdom revealed

      Kingdom Truth has been entombed for 2 millennia; the seeds scattered 2,000 years ago were buried. But we are now in store for a “resurrection” of Kingdom Truth!

      Seeds sown > Seeds buried in darkness > Harvest time

      We are approaching the time of the harvest, when Kingdom Truth is to be restored; this, by way of abolishing the entombing Christian institution with irrefutable Truth (Luke 21:15)! However, a respected voice of prominence in Biblical matters is a VITAL element in bringing about this monumental transition of the ages.

  9. talmoore
    talmoore  October 9, 2017

    For my money, the quote that I think best characterizes Jesus’ actual, historical preaching is this one paragraph purportedly transmitted by Papias:

    “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, ‘I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man.”

    This, to me, sounds exactly like something a 1st century Jewish apocalyptic preacher would have said. In fact, if before I’d ever heard of Papias you were to tell me that that paragraph comes from the Talmud, I would have believed you. That’s how Jewish it sounds.

  10. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  October 9, 2017

    His teaching to love one’s neighbor as oneself continues to inspire today. An example is The Matthew 25 Movement. Individuals and organizations can go online and sign the pledge ” to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.”

  11. Avatar
    ardeare  October 9, 2017

    Jesus teachings could be summed up like this; in the afterlife, you will be among people most like yourselves.

  12. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  October 10, 2017

    Interesting post Dr Bart I could see clearly now the difference between the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John. While the former focuses on kingdom of God coming down on earth the latter focuses on heavenly kingdom. John 24:2 In my Father’s house there are many abodes; were it not so, I had told you: for I go to prepare you a place;

  13. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 10, 2017

    That explains the gnashing of teeth: people on the inside are feasting; those on the outside are starving.

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 10, 2017

      But they were the ones who used to feast while others starved. Symmetry.

  14. Avatar
    mannix  October 10, 2017

    I tend to focus on Jesus’ teaching vis-a-vis *behavior* rather than apocalypticism; e.g. “love your neighbor as thyself”, the Beatitudes, and exhortations at the Sermon on the Mount. Anyway, I would wonder about the “Kingdom”. Will people age? Will there be reproduction and evolution? Any animals? Plants? Will they not die either? No cockroaches or poison ivy please!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 11, 2017

      My view is that his ethical teaching needs to be understood in light of his overarching apocalyptic concerns. Following his ethical injunctions could allow one to enter the coming kingdom.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  October 13, 2017

        why do you you prefer to look at it that way rather than
        following Jesus ethical instructions would make substantial the Kingdom of heaven? ( thereby removing the requirements of supernatural events)

        • Bart
          Bart  October 15, 2017

          Because he is explicit that the kingdom will be brought by means of a cataclysmic act of judgment with the arrival of a cosmic judge from heaven.

  15. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 10, 2017

    So…as I see it, Jesus’s call to his followers to “love thy neghbor as thyself” is tainted, because their *reason* for doing it is to assure *their* entrance into the Kingdom.

    • webo112
      webo112  October 26, 2017

      That’s how (I see) many religious people’s motive are; even if its unclear to themselves…they want to be good people to either get rewarded (enter heaven, prayers answered), or please their god…or ensure they are not punished -go to hell. (plus not too mention that many also think they are “better” than others by being good)… I think many religious people would NOT continue to live as “good” people if it meant that it would go un-rewarded and un-recognized in any way.
      Even perhaps the historical Jesus would probably NOT campaigned on these virtues; if not only, he knew there was NOT going to be an Apocalyptic ending, but especially if he thought there was NOT going to be any kind of kingdom/reward or saving of his (poor/oppressed) Jewish people.

  16. Avatar
    Franz Liszt  October 10, 2017

    Bart, I was wondering what your thoughts were on NT Wright’s arguments about the ‘immanence’ of the Kingdom. Wright argues that in passages like Mark 9 and Mark 13, Jesus is using classical Jewish eschatological symbolism to describe events which would be ‘earth-shattering,’ not necessarily the end of the world as we think of it today. I believe that he views these passages as generally about the inauguration of the Kingdom [which took place in his death, resurrection, and enthronement (which is what Dan 9 is about, the enthronement of the Son of Man in Heaven)]. Do you think such a reading (where the focus is on the Son of Man being enthroned, both in the resurrection and in 70 CE), and not on the ‘end of the world’ is plausible?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 11, 2017

      I can see why he would think that Jesus didn’t really mean it literally, since if he did, he was obviously wrong! But that in itself is not a good reason for thinking that he didn’t mean it.

      • Avatar
        Franz Liszt  October 11, 2017

        Definitely, and I’m wary of a lot of scholarship which comes from believers for that very reason. I suppose you could say I like to apply the criterion of embarrassment to modern scholarship. That being said, the conclusion being convenient for the scholar isn’t a good reason for thinking it’s wrong either. For example, I think his point about Daniel 7 being about the enthronement of the Son of Man in Heaven is undeniably true. Combining that with the fact that the Gospel authors present Jesus as being enthroned as a consequence of his Resurrection makes me question the ‘delayed parousia’ and ‘failed second coming’ narrative that I see a lot today.

  17. Avatar
    Robert1945  October 11, 2017

    Hi, Doc. This may be a little off topic but what influence did the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch have on 2nd temple Jews and first century Christians (for myself I consider first century Christians to be another sect of 2nd temple Judaism)? Were these books popular amongst the common people of the day? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 11, 2017

      Enoch was popular among Christians (and Jews). I’m not so sure about Jubilees

  18. Robert
    Robert  October 11, 2017

    “Jesus referred to [this divine figure] ***(as did some others)*** as the Son of Man – in reference to the vision that the prophet Daniel had in which the wicked kingdoms of earth, represented in his dream by wild beasts, were overthrown by “one like a son of Man” (see Daniel 7:13-14).”

    My question concerns “as did some others”. If I understand your discussion of this point with Larry Hurtado, you admitted that there is no evidence of anyone else using the Son of Man title in such a way prior to Jesus himself using it this way in the gospels. So why repeat this claim here?

    The title is, of course, absent from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Paul’s letters or any other extant contemporary literature. If any of the Q statements about the Son of Man date back to Jesus himself, there is in them no clear reliance on the text of Daniel. As far as we know Mark was the first to clearly relate Jesus and the Son of Man to the book of Daniel. Do you really think that Mark faithfully preserves something of Jesus’ own Danielic theology of the Son of Man?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 11, 2017

      You must have misunderstood me. It does get used this way, e.g., in 1 Enoch.

      • Robert
        Robert  October 11, 2017

        I don’t think so. From your own link to the earlier discussion:

        “I think this is how Jesus used the term [Son of Man]. ***Whether it was widely used that way or not before his time, by other Jewish preachers, I don’t know. We don’t have evidence that it was.” (The closest analogy is 1 Enoch.) Did Jesus coin the title himself? I doubt it, ***but I don’t really know. And either does anyone else!””””

        The problem with 1 Enoch is that none of the parts that mention, in different ways, some kind of Son of Man, are witnessed to until Medieval times in Ethiopic translation. The Qumran Aramaic Enochic texts and the Oxyrhynchus Greek fragments lack these Similtudes of Enoch entirely. One can choose to assume that this usage was already current among Jesus’ contemporaries, but (as I thought you already admitted) there is no evidence of anyone else using the Son of Man title in such a way prior to Jesus himself using it this way in the gospels.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 13, 2017

          Yes, the Similitudes were not found at Qumran. But they do show that it is not anomalous for a first century Jew to speak of a cosmic Son of man.

          • Robert
            Robert  October 13, 2017

            If one believes the crucial passages in the Similitudes were written very early in the first century, prior to the ministry of Jesus. But even with that supposition, one has to consider whether or not Son of Man really is a title in the Similitudes AND the fact that this figure is also considered to be the Messiah. You believe that Jesus (and his disciples during his ministry) believed Jesus to be the Messiah but NOT the Son of Man.

  19. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 11, 2017

    The book of Thomas the Contender is one of my favorites.
    Also, The gospel of Thomas is one of my favorites.
    Since you are familiar with Nag Hammadi library. I feel it is relevant to post this. Once again Professor, thank you for your hard work and dedication. You are appreciated and we are thankful.

    These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.
    (1) And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.”
    (2) Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”

    The savior said, “Brother Thomas while you have time in the world, listen to me, and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind.
    “Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth. So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called ‘the one who knows himself’. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all. So then, you, my brother Thomas, have beheld what is obscure to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against.

    Now Thomas answered and said to the savior, “Tell us about these things that you say are not visible, but are hidden from us.”

  20. Avatar
    Jayredinger  October 12, 2017

    Hi Bart, how do you tie in Jesus’ preaching of the coming kingdom of God with his own prediction of the son of man dying and being raised from the dead? Would this not in a sense be contradictory?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2017

      I don’t think those sayings about teh coming death of the son of man actually are authentic teachings of Jesus. I explain why in a number of places — for example my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

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