Realized Eschatology is the theory that the eschatological passages in the bible do not refer to the future, but instead refer to the ministry of Jesus in the present world and its transformative effects. Eschatology does not refer to the end of the world, but rather to its rebirth as instituted by Jesus’ revolutionary program of social activism. For Jesus the coming of the ‘Kingdom of God’ was a historical event brought about by the actions of his followers in the here and now. But in the decades following his death, Pauline theology had completely altered that dynamic by changing it to one of transcendental apocalypticism. It went from being a program of an engaged self-actualization to one of passively waiting for an external agent to deliver the Kingdom to them. John Dominic Crossan, of the Jesus Seminar, uses the term ‘sapiential eschatology.’ He makes the distinction as follows:
Apocalyptic eschatology is world-negation stressing imminent divine intervention: we wait for God to act; sapiential eschatology is world-negation emphasizing immediate divine imitation: God waits for us to act.
Jesus preached a message of collective social, economic, and political deliverance from the oppression of both the Romans and of the Temple State that exploited the people and showed little concern for their daily troubles. It is clear that Jesus thought the people could bring this kingdom into being within their own lifetimes through the practice of social justice. After Jesus’ death, Paul upended this by thinking it would be Jesus himself who would usher in the Kingdom upon his return. So for Paul, since Jesus’ return was expected imminently, there was little point in reforming the present world. The believers needed only to be patient and wait for his return. A profound shift occurred within Christianity whereby the emphasis went from being one of concern for social justice to one of personal piety. Jesus’ concern for the poor and oppressed of the world was changed into Paul’s concern about personal sin. Christianity went from being about carrying on Jesus’ reformative social activism to being a cult about the personhood of Jesus himself. In other words, they worshipped the man, but ignored his message.
This complete corruption of Jesus’ message was brought full circle when Constantine adopted Christianity himself and it was later made the official religion of the Roman State. Christianity had gone from being the radical faith of the oppressed to the official religion of the oppressor. Christianity began serving the needs of the state and institutionalizing its own power while completely dropping all of the political activism preached by Jesus himself. Throughout history there have been people who have seen through this corruption of Jesus’ message and who have tried to get back to the original Christianity, but far too many people continue to put their faith in the badly skewed Pauline theology as brought to its ultimate depths by the Great Constantinian Shift. It is on rare occasions like this when I ask myself: WWJD?