Today I will respond to another section in Ehrman’s sixth chapter entitled “The Beginning of Christology.” On page 227 he begins discussing Acts 2:36, which comes at the tail end of Peter’s first speech in the Book of Acts. The passage reads, “Let the entire house of Israel know with assurance that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Ehrman correctly points out that the earliest followers used Psalm 110:1 as a support passage to refer to Jesus’ exaltation after his death. Sounds good so far.
Then Ehrman makes the following statement on page 228,
“During his lifetime Jesus’ followers had thought he would be the future messiah who would reign as king in the coming kingdom of God to be brought by the Son of Man, as Jesus himself had taught them, But when they came to believe he was raised from the dead, as Acts 2:36 so clearly indicates, they concluded that he had been made messiah already. He was already ruling as the king, in heaven, elevated to the side of God.”
I have to point out that a careful reading of what Ehrman has stated here reveals a clever cover up. He says that the disciples looked forward to Jesus reigning as king in the coming kingdom of God. But now, Jesus is instead reigning in heaven. Does Ehrman mean to argue that the early Christians no longer believed that Jesus would return to reign as king in the kingdom since Jesus is, in some sense, enthroned in heaven? It seems that Ehrman is subtly arguing that the disciples have changed their minds about the kingly rule of Jesus.
I don’t think even Ehrman believes this to be true. On pp. 107-8 he argues from his historical Jesus criteria that Matt. 25:31-46 almost certainly is a statement which goes back to the lips of Jesus. Matthew 25:31 states, on the lips of Jesus, that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, accompanied with his angels, will then sit on his glorious throne. The next two verses speak of a universal judgment which is to ensue. Matthew 25:34 records Jesus saying to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.”
In this passage, which Ehrman argues to be authentically “Jesus,” Jesus states that he (the Son of Man) will return with his angels, and at that point he will sit on his glorious throne. This throne is not the right hand position in heaven next to Yahweh. It is, rather, the promised throne of David covenanted to the future Messiah. This perspective in Jewish messianic thought can be observed in the following texts:
“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”‘ (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isa. 9:7)
“I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4)
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
It seems that Jesus, in Matt. 25:31, has in mind the idea of the throne of David covenanted to the coming Messiah. The throne of David always existed on earth, namely, in Jerusalem. The act of enthronement spoken of in Psalm 110:1 and Acts 2:36 culminates in heaven.
If the author of the first Gospel preserved this saying of Jesus, added it to Mark’s material around the year 80 CE, then how can it be true, as Ehrman contends, that the disciples changed their minds about the kingly rule of Jesus?