The concept of time figures prominently in the Gospels, suggesting a range of meanings and narrative strategies. What can we learn about early conceptions of Jesus when we attend to the various ways the Gospel texts grapple with time? How does time function as a component of Jesus’s message, identity, and meaning? My book explores these questions by analyzing four sayings concerning temporality (here, understood as the concept or experience of time) attributed to Jesus: Mark 4:26-29 (Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly); Luke 14:15-24 (Parable of the Great Feast); Mark 13:28-37 (Parable of the Night Watchers); and Luke 17:20-21 (“The Kingdom of God is within you”). Given the interest of Continental philosophers since the late 20th century in “thinking with” early Christian texts, mostly with respect to the Letters of Paul, I wanted to advance this dialogue in the direction of New Testament Studies and to focus on the Synoptic Gospels . Specifically, I look to the writings of Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Derrida, all of whom use early Christian materials to engage the concept of the messianic as it relates to time and temporality, as an analytical resource for interpreting the biblical material. As I delineate the contours of the messianic as it relates to time and temporality in both sets of texts, I offer an interpretation of the Kingdom of God as representing a disjuncture in the linear continuum of time, one that reveals the intrinsic connection between God and humankind.
The first chapters of the book discuss time in Jewish and Hellenistic sources, apocalypticism and messianism, and the pertinent works of Benjamin, Derrida, and Agamben. I then turn my attention in Chapter 3 to Mark 4:26-29, known as the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly . Here, Jesus describes the mysterious growth of seeds alongside the image of the eschatological harvest, juxtaposing the presence of the Kingdom in the seed with the coming of the Kingdom on the day of judgment. While some commentators emphasize that the “moment” the scene elicits undergirds Jesus’s commands to action and discipleship, I argue that it conveys a conception of time instead concerned with salvation. Like the first-century apocalypse 4 Ezra, the agricultural metaphors of the parable relate to childbirth metaphors, suggesting that even signs of the coming Kingdom break down as surefire indicators. Thus, both texts indicate a tension between divine providence and human agency, leading to the urgent question of when the Kingdom will come, a tension that is never fully resolved.
The temporality of the parable—particularly the arrival of the Kingdom expressing itself in the transience of the created world, in the seed growing and reaching fulfillment—resonates with Benjamin’s thought on the messianic in “Theologico-Political Fragment.” For Benjamin, the growth and gradual passing away of all that is living introduces an a-temporal element into temporality, in that this passing away is eternal . This a-temporal element is constitutive of all creation even though it originates outside it. Thus the growth of the seed occurs in time but apart from human activity; it is a force not of the world, beyond the thought of the farmer, who recognizes only that the wheat, like time in Mark 1:15, has been “fulfilled.”
Offering another perspective from Derrida’s writings, the messianic represents an encounter with a radical alterity. As such, that which is wholly “other” cannot be anticipated. Yet, it also never arrives; no encounter is unmediated by the preconditions of our experience and preconceptions. Understood in this way, the messianic always leaves open an impossible possibility, one that sets the conditions for the encounter. Derrida’s thought on the messianic illuminates the absence of content that is the secret growth of the seed. In Derridean terms, this is the encounter with the wholly “other” marking the event of the parable. In this context, Jesus’s telling of the Seed Growing Secretly points to the Kingdom of God as representing an irreducible relationality between the farmer and that which is beyond all categories of thought: as he sleeps and rises, the seed grows, but he “does not know how.” He knows only when the moment of the harvest arrives. Thus the meaning of the parable is determined, paradoxically, by the indeterminacy at its center.
In contrast to Derrida’s refusal to settle on meaning and content, Agamben, in his re-reading of the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans in The Time that Remains , sees the messianic in more content-specific terms as the nun kairos or “Now-time.” This “time within time” is that which makes historical time present to be seized. The messianic time of “now” reveals the constructed nature of linear time and if extended can expose the false premise upon which all systems of power are based. The messianic, for Agamben, nullifies all conditions of the world without doing away with them, revealing all creation as a blank space that he calls “bare life” or “pure potentiality.” The fulfillment of the wheat in the Seed Growing Secretly thus represents the “Now-time.” The growth of the seed occurs apart from human knowledge, holding another time within linear time, a time that the farmer can seize in the moment of sending for the sickle because the wheat, like time, is “fulfilled.” Thus the farmer illuminates the futility of the question of when the harvest, or eschaton, will come. The seed, and by extension all creation, already always contains its salvation.
Chapter 4 focuses on Luke 14:15-24, the Parable of the Great Feast, which attests to temporality by relating Jesus’s meal fellowship as representative of the Kingdom of God. The parable focuses on the social and religious customs of meals and evokes the eschatological feast. The feast itself, however, never takes place. Those invited to the feast decline the invitation, and the slave must go outside the city walls to invite “the crippled, blind, and lame.” My analysis classes this group of disabled individuals as a category of particular weakness and vulnerability in antiquity , a stark contrast to the unblemished and pious ones who, among the righteous, might expect to be included in the eschatological banquet. By replacing those who would presumably attend such a feast with those most marginalized in society, the reversal of the parable hinges on the “crippled, blind, and lame” who come when they are called. In this sense, the Kingdom of God occurs within a time that is now, which occurs, in a philosophical understanding of the messianic, as a disruption in all the conditions of the world. Thus, the presence of Jesus at the anticipated feast undermines the religious and social customs governing the meal.
Derrida’s use of the concept of hospitality illuminates the implications of such a messianic suspension of worldly conditions . Consistent with Derrida’s interest in aporia, he conceives of hospitality as an absolute law that, although impossible to achieve, establishes the conditions under which hospitality operates. Reading the Gospel passage through Derrida’s framework, one begins to understand the eschatological banquet as existing beyond the structures of reciprocity. In recognizing that the time of the feast is now, the “poor, crippled, blind, and lame” come when they are called, unconcerned with the strictures of time. Furthermore, they are not healed or transformed by Jesus. Rather, they are called to the presence of the Messiah, with no condition tied to status or reciprocity.
Agamben and Benjamin also offer resources for interpreting the parable. When Agamben thinks through his concept of “pure potentiality,” he imagines human beings with no social or political identities that precipitate a will-to-power. In the abolishment of social hierarchy in the parable’s reversal, the guests retain their status as “crippled, blind, and lame” but that particularity no longer bears any meaning in itself. In the mouth of the Lukan Jesus, the parable thereby represents what Judith Butler calls an “insurrectionary process” , by which social forms are reiterated to signify new meanings. In this reading, the messianic force acts within a given context such that the unstable structure of the social form is exposed and transformed. Similarly, in Benjamin’s thought, the parable represents the divine violence he describes as the messianic “weak force” in proletarian strikes, by which state power is overturned and the myth of historical progress is debunked. Benjamin, in “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” describes historical progress as the myth espoused by those in power that all social and political conditions improve with time. He instead argues that time, as a construct of the consciousness, is subject to interruptions and arrest. Thus, a redemption of past events is made possible by actions taken in the present , or, as in the case of the parable, time can allow for a new set of conditions within a community.
Chapter 5 focuses on Mark 13:28-37, the Parable of the Night Watchers. Initially, I focus on apocalyptic language and imagery to provide the sociohistorical context of this parable of keeping watch for the Messiah. The watcher in the parable is a doorkeeper in a household, representing a master-slave relationship. The parable subverts this relationship with the command to open the door to the Messiah, the one who will end this evil age. As numerous commentators have noted, the four watches of the night described in the parable echo the episodes of Jesus at Gethsemane, and a typically Markan “politics of the cross” is in the forefront . Benjamin, Derrida, and Agamben’s thoughts on the political dimensions of the messianic are especially fruitful here. Benjamin’s Jetztzeit, or “Now-time,” describes how time can be punctuated by actions in the present that seek to redeem the past. In this context, the slave acts in a moment that, far from being an empty transition between past and future, is the now, time “fulfilled,” taking action that will bring the redemption of Israel. Agamben’s idea of the structure of time holding within it another time to be seized illuminates the doorkeeper as one who, watching as Jesus did at Gethsemane, grasps the kairos in its moment of fulfillment.
In Chapter 6, I examine Luke 17:20-21, an aphorism known as “The Kingdom of God is within you.” This saying offers a number of interpretational possibilities. Some of these possibilities connect to the Wisdom tradition and Stoic philosophy, both of which concern themselves with the idea of an in-dwelling divinity and the possibility that self-knowledge can achieve unity with the divine. Among the modern philosophers, the idea of a Kingdom “within” resonates most strongly with Benjamin. He suggested that the relation between the eternal and the transient he called “messianic” is temporal because the transience of the created world occurs in a continuum of time. Benjamin writes, however, that in the realization that time has no immutable or external basis we can recognize the ability to be released from time. We are capable of self-transcendence . The passage’s parallels with the Gospel of Thomas, and intersections with the thought of Derrida and Agamben, suggest a Kingdom “within” as a site of interiority by which one “knows” God. This knowledge is not moderated with outward signs but is within and irreducible to any category of thought, including time.
In this book, I aim to expand beyond the traditional critical-exegetical methods (while these always remain indispensable) to show how Continental philosophy, with its emphasis on disrupting metaphysical and dualistic orders, offers a useful hermeneutical resource that poses new lines of questioning to the biblical texts. Thus, in each chapter, I both situate the saying of Jesus in its sociohistorical and literary context and engage the modern philosophers as interlocutors. The concept of time and its fulfilment is central to the claim of Jesus as Messiah and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Yet, this is a relatively underexplored topic in the field of New Testament Studies. Given the work on time and temporality in Jewish Studies and in philosophy, classics, and literary theory , it seems that now is an opportune moment to explore how underlying structures of thought and experience impact fundamental presuppositions—for both ancient writers and modern readers.
 For example, Giorgio Agamben, The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Translated by Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015); Alain Badiou, St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Translated by Ray Brassier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003); Slavoj Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003).
 For New Testament scholarship that has engaged with philosophers on the Letters of Paul, see Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul. Translated by Dana Hollander (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Peter Frick, ed. Paul in the Grip of the Philosophers (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2005); L.L. Welborn, Paul’s Summons to Messianic Life: Political Theology and the Coming Awakening (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); and Benjamin H. Dunning, Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosophers’ Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
 “And Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed upon the earth. And he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows long; he does not know how. The earth bears fruit by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature wheat in the stalk. When the crop permits, immediately he sends for the sickle, because the harvest is here.”
 See Walter Benjamin, “Theologico-Political Fragment,” in Reflections, Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. Edited by Peter Demetz. Translated by Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken, 1984).
 Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Translated by Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005).
 Saul M. Olyan, Disability in the Hebrew Bible: Interpreting Mental and Physical Differences (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Judith M. Abrams, Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavir (Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press, 1998); Robert Garland, The Eye of the Beholder: Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995); Nicole Kelley, “Deformity and Disability in Greece and Rome,” in This Abled-Bodied: Rethinking Disability in Biblical Studies. Edited by Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007).
 Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, On Hospitality. Translated by Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London: Routledge, 1997).
 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 2007).
 See, for example, Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988).
 Walter Benjamin, “Metaphysics of Youth,” in Early Writings (1910-1917). Edited and translated by Howard Eiland (Cambridge: Belknap, 2011), 151.
 See, for example, Lynn Kaye, Time in the Babylonian Talmud: Natural and Imagined Time in Jewish Law and Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming); Gershon Brin, The Concept of Time in the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill, 2001); Sacha Stern, Time and Process in Ancient Judaism (Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2003); Hindy Najman, Losing the Temple and Recovering the Future: An Analysis of 4 Ezra (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Alexei Chernyakov, The Ontology of Time: Being and Time in the Philosophies of Aristotle, Husserl, and Heidegger (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 2002); Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).
Lynne Moss Bahr is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Fordham University, where she earned her Ph.D. in 2017. She has also taught at St. John’s University and Manhattan College. Her work focuses on the development of cultural concepts in early Christian texts, such as temporality, the messianic, and in her latest project, forgiveness. Her research employs critical theory and reflects a commitment to interdisciplinary collaborations. The contents of this article are adapted from her book, “The Time Is Fulfilled”: Jesus’s Apocalypticism in the Context of Continental Philosophy, Library of New Testament Studies (T & T Clark/Bloomsbury, 2019).