The explanation of the life and mission of Jesus Christ in terms of His alleged expectation of the full realization of the visible reign of God on earth in the immediate future through His own messianic activity.
In 1892 the German scholar Johannes Weiss published his pioneer work, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, which won for him the distinction of being one of the founders of the "eschatological school." According to J. Weiss, Jesus simply adopted the apocalyptic attitude of His contemporaries. Their eager anticipation of the day of the lord was greatly intensified by the preaching of john the baptist. Gradually Jesus' messianic self-consciousness convinced Him that it would be His own mission that would bring about the coming of the kingdom of god in power; this was confirmed by Peter's confession (Mt 16.16). All of the events of Christ's life are viewed by J. Weiss from this perspective.
At the turn of the century another German theologian, Albert Schweitzer, carried this thesis to its logical though extreme conclusion. He maintained that Jesus—firmly convinced that God's judgment on the world was imminent—had no intention of founding a church: such an institution presupposed an extended period of time. Indeed, Jesus did not even look upon Himself as a moral teacher or as the messiah; He saw His earthly task as merely outlining the conditions for entry into the kingdom in the very near future when He would return as the heavenly son of man. Schweitzer considered the Sermon on the Mount and the other ethical statements of Jesus as provisional, much as a captain's orders to the crew of a sinking ship. The delay of the expected divine intervention forced Him to include His own martyrdom in His plan to precipitate the coming of the kingdom.
Schweitzer expressed these ideas in a book entitled Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (1906). Though actually an attempt to save the "historical" Jesus from the morass of 19th-century rationalism, this work concluded skeptically that the real Jesus cannot be found in the Gospels, but only through personal encounter in the toils and conflicts of His service.
Other scholars, such as M. Werner and R. Otto, were to take up his thesis. Alfred loisy [ L'Évangile et l'église (1902), Autour d'un petit livre (1903)] used this approach in an attempt to prove a purely natural origin of the NT as a Christian apology for the failure of the expected reign of God to materialize. J. Munck, the Danish scholar, further tried to show that St. Paul shared Jesus' messianic expectation to the extent of concluding that it was his (Paul's) preaching to the Gentiles on which the final consummation of all things depended.
Besides ignoring the many statements of Christ that speak of the presence of the kingdom, this Schweitzerian "unrealized (or consequent) eschatology" nullifies such basic dogmas as the Incarnation, hypostatic union, Redemption, and grace; it denies as well the visibility of the church. W. D. Davies, a Congregational minister, showed that to connect Jesus with a sectarian apocalyptic movement is "to sever [Him] from the main stream of Judaism." He pointed out, moreover, that the Synoptic Gospels do not support this viewpoint because (1) Jesus' insistence on a strict moral code is too emphatic to pass for an interim ethic; (2) His apocalyptic imagery is borrowed from the OT, not from current apocalypses; and (3) to categorize Christ as a deluded visionary does violence to the Gospel portrayal of Him as "one having authority" (Mt 7.29; cf. 13.54).
Opposed to this futurist interpretation of the life of Jesus is the other extreme sometimes designated as the school of "realized eschatology." Its foremost spokesman in the English-speaking world was C. H. Dodd. Although he did not deny the existence of a future life with God, he saw a perfect fulfillment of the messianic hope in the earthly ministry of Christ. By imitating His obedience, His followers can make the kingdom "come" for themselves and attain its fruition. Dodd did not carry this position as far as did the disciples of A. ritschl, who equated the kingdom preached by Jesus with the development of man's religious sentiment.
Contrasting with both of these opposing viewpoints is that of the moderate eschatology held by the majority of Christian scholars. Blending realization with unrealization, this position sees Jesus as teaching that the kingdom of God would experience two levels of fulfillment:(1) a genuine but partial fulfillment through His Passion and Resurrection in the conquest of Satan, sin, and death shared sacramentally with His followers; and (2) a future level of perfect fulfillment at the parousia, when He will reappear in glory to judge mankind and to inaugurate the other-worldly, spiritual phase of the kingdom.
See Also: church, articles on; hope of salvation (in the bible); messianism; people of god.
Bibliography: f. j. schierse, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10 v. (Freiburg 1930–38) 3:1098–99. j. bonsirven, The Theology of the New Testament, tr. s. f. l. tye (Westminster, Md. 1963) 140–152. w. d. davies, Christian Origins and Judaism (Philadelphia 1962) ch. 2, 8. c. h. dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (rev. ed. New York 1961). r. otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, tr. f. v. filson and b. lee-woolf (rev. ed. London 1943). r. schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom, tr. j. murray (New York 1963). a. schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, tr. w. lowrie (New York 1950).
[m. k. hopkins]