I just read Part 1 of Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament, and in that section he outlines the basic message/theology of Jesus and the early Church before Paul. To determine this message, one must distinguish between three levels of the message: 1) actual events/words of Christ, 2) the Gospel writers, and 3) later emindations. Most of the pre-Easter comments attributed to Jesus regarding his self-knowledge and his Messianic task, per Bultmann, would belong to the 2nd and 3rd categories.
Following Schweitzer’s lead, Bultmann begins his dicussion of Jesus as having an eschatological message. That is, Jesus preached about the irruption of the Reign of God into world history. While Jesus did not see himself as the coming Messiah, he did see himself as a prophet proclaiming the Kingdom of God breaking in upon humanity through judgment and blessing. Accordingly, people should prepare themselves, not just following the commands of the Law to gain favor with God but out of radical obedience which springs from a true inner motivation to follow God. According to Bultmann, “Jesus’ eschatological message and his ethical message constitute a unity (19),” which he explains as “Fullfilment of God’s will is the condition for participation in the salvation of His Reign (20).”
The Earliest Church sprang up in Palestine after the Easter events. It was here that Jesus is first called Messiah, and his return was expected in the mold of Jewish eschatological expectations regarding the Messiah/Son of Man. As such they saw themselves a the eschatological congregation awaiting the emmenent end. As the church spread to Gentiles it developed new leadership structures and a cultus not centered around the Temple, but even as the church spread out, Jerusalem remained the center of authority.
The basic message of the earliest church was the preaching of a monotheistic God and his judgment, of Jesus Christ, the Judge and Savior, and the demand for faith. When preaching monotheism to the Greeks, the Jews incorporated Greek philosophical terms and categories (especially from the Stoics) to help explain God. A call to the one true God was simultaneously a call to repentance, which would save the person from the impending judgment. This eschatological call was also bound up with the preaching of resurrection from the dead–both Christ’s and those who believe. This eschatological call meant that the church viewed salvation as the fellowship of God’s people into which the individual is incorporated rather than only in individual terms of the release of the individual soul from the contamination of sin and from suffering and death (93).
In developing the christian message, the church also borrowed from Mystery Religions and particularly Gnosticism to develop the cultus and theological concepts. Gnosticism, in particular, was a key influence on the church’s theology. Though probably incorporated into Christian congregations through Hellenistic Judaism, these Gnostic teachers would have been viewed as a phenomenon within Christianity. However, disputes arose and many of the biblical writings warn against Gnostic ideas. Personally, I think this is a big weakness is Bultmann’s thought. Why would the church so embrace Gnosticism and then turn around so quickly and fight against it?