Schweitzer gets redemption and eschatology half right

One of the most serious exegetical-hermeneutical-theological failings of modern evangelicalism has been to take soteriology out of eschatology, to disconnect the saying about the Son of Man giving his life as a ransom for many from the expectation that the Son of Man will be seen coming in glory on the clouds of heaven to the consternation of Caiaphas and the Council (Mk. 10:45; 14:61-64).

I would say that we should all go back to Schweitzer and start again. This statement requires careful reading, but it hits the nail on the head. Almost.

Foreign to our ideas as is the thought of Jesus’ atoning death as shaped by the eschatological idea of redemption, it is nevertheless both simple and profound. The atoning tribulation, which man was to suffer in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins, the future Messiah takes, by the gracious permission of God, upon Himself. How much more living and fruitful is this historically true version of Jesus’ thought, growing naturally as it does out of the universal attribution of atoning value to suffering, than the host of theological or untheological inventions which have been foisted upon Him! (A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 61-62)

The problem is that Schweitzer gets the principle right—Jesus’ death is not a standalone theological transaction, a death “for humanity as a whole” (58); it is a decisive and inseparable moment in an eschatological process. But his Jesus operates with an exclusively cosmic eschatology. His death is an atonement for the sins of the Elect so that they would not have to suffer the tribulation that would climax in the Messianic Kingdom and the overthrow of Satan and the demonic forces that possessed the earth.

Only passing reference to Jerusalem. Barely a thought of Israel. These are no more than flimsy, superfluous painted backgrounds and props to the central cosmic drama. The distinctive Jewish tradition of martyrdom, going back to the resistance to Antiochus Epiphanies, has been replaced with some “universal attribution of atoning value to suffering”.

Jesus’ death has eschatological significance insofar as it is part of a story that culminates in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. We may then find that it has further ramifications, but we do the story a great disservice if we bulldoze the Jewish narrative infrastructure in order to get a clearer view of the cosmic triumph.