Friday, October 07, 2011

The Coming Kingdom

Continued from yesterday and the day before...
To a large extent, many of these questions are unanswerable.  We are plodding through them to get a sense of exactly what we are dealing with here, what the possibilities are and which are more and less likely.  As we continue this troublesome journey, we notice interestingly that Luke 21 has seriously toned down the immanent expectation of Mark 13.  For well over a century, most gospel experts have concluded that Luke likely used Mark as a major source when writing.  We can thus see Luke's mind at work in where he seems to edit Mark's text.

For example, if Mark and Matthew seem to blur the events surrounding the destruction of the temple with Christ's second coming, Luke has apparently edited Mark to focus almost exclusively on the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  So Mark 13:14 is somewhat ambiguous: "When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be" (NASB).  After Luke's editing, it reads like this: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near" (Luke 21:20). [1] Luke has made it clearer that this event took place when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD70.

Similarly, Luke has apparently removed statements in Mark like 13:19: "in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be" (NRSV; this verse should have followed Luke 21:23).  Luke also removes Mark 13:20: "if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved" (should also have appeared before Luke 21:24).  The effect is to limit the scope of catastrophe in Mark and Matthew.  Now we hear of the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), a period during which the Gentiles will trample on Jerusalem in between the the time when the first part of the prophecy is fulfilled and when the kingdom will be restored to Israel at Christ's return (Acts 1:6). [2]

The impression we get is that we are not the first to wrestle with this question of when the kingdom of God will be here in full, when Christ will return to the earth to rule.  Already in Luke we see early Christians wrestling with what some call the "delay of the parousia," the fact that Jesus did not return to earth as soon as his first followers initially anticipated.  How did Jesus originally put it?  To what extent did Mark interpret it?  It seems impossible to answer these questions with any certainty from a historical perspective.

What we do have are the conclusions Christians have reached on these issues over the centuries. Does not the Holy Spirit come on the church at Pentecost?  Perhaps it is not what Mark himself had in mind, but does not the birth of the church through the Spirit constitute "that the kingdom of God has come in power" (9:1)?  Did not that generation see the destruction of Jerusalem and did not at least most of Mark 13 come true in their lifetimes?  What if the events of the second coming were "telescoped" into material about the destruction of the temple?

It is often said that when you look at things through a telescope, things that are far removed from each other may look right next to each other.  So it is often said of prophecy.  We also know from Jonah also that God reserves the right to "change his mind" on prophecy.  Predictions of destruction can be reversed because of human response--presumably, predictions of blessing can also.

We as Christians believe that Jesus inaugurated the rule of God on earth as it is in heaven.  The kingdom was starting on earth in his ministry.  We believe it came to earth spiritually with the pouring out of God's Spirit on the earth, beginning the age of the church, which has continued up until the present.  And we believe that the kingdom will become entirely literal when Christ returns to earth and sets up an eternal kingdom here.

This is a theological perspective on the kingdom.  It is the result of centuries-long Christian reflection on Jesus' words and the events that followed.  The earliest followers of Jesus probably did not have a full understanding of how God was playing it all out.  This is one of the blessings of having so many interpreters go before us.  We have inherited the answers God has bequeathed to the church through them... often when we did not even realize there was a question.

[1] The clarity of Luke's paraphrase here is one reason to conclude that Luke-Acts was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  The desolation of Jerusalem by armies is a massive interpretation of the ambiguous, "abomination that causes desolation standing where it should not be."

[2] The freedom with which Luke paraphrases Mark should not worry us.  All the evidence we have indicates that the New Testament authors felt free to paraphrase Scripture freely and interpretively, much as Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message.  We should not be bothered that Luke is doing it to statements of Jesus, in effect altering historical statements.  Our sense of what is appropriate in history writing is simply not the same as theirs was.  Luke is giving an inspired interpretation of Jesus. 


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I recognize that John Wesley's view was on holiness, which was social and its perfection was in "love". But, there are many problems to this understanding, I believe. Primarily, the political and ethical philosophy that underwrites our government. Our government granted "rights", not the demands of "duties". Duties were self-chosen aspects of conscience, or character.

The individual is known to be of value and importance in our country. This is why we allow liberty regarding choice and allegiance to one's political and religious opinions. In that sense there is no "social holiness", because there is no uniformity or organizing structure which determines a function of an individual in a free society! The individual chooses for themselves.

Those that would like to affirm a "care model" (paternalistic) to morality, instead of a "rational model" want to entitle certain individuals that are defined within certain minority groups, as having certain priviledges. These priviledges are to equalize "the playing field". The problem to equalizing everyone's playing field is a futile and endless task, as other groups (individuals) always end up discriminated against.

Life isn't fair, and when government intervenes to create "fairness", it brings about much more damage to "justice" for all, than it brings about fairness!

Justice is about equality before the law, and equality before the law has to do innatedness. Citizens are granted protection "up front" by their government because all citizens have "rights before the law". These are civil liberties. This is justice as it is no respector of persons, but justice can never mean fairness as to outcomes, because outcomes are not in government's control. Outcomes are only in the control of the individual, as they pursue ther own interests! But, ironically, as indivduals pursue their own intersts, (within the bounds of law), society flourishes.

Justice is government's place to provide solutions to conflicts when individual interests conflict and to protect from overt discrimination where transparency hasn't been forthcoming! All men desire to prosper, but what "prosper" means must be defined by the individual, not government.

Some men choose political liberty over material prosperity, as they enjoy independence as a value in life. Others might choose material prosperity, but understand that there will be certain limitations in pursuing that interest.

America is an individualist society, that values "the human" as to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, John Wesley's "moral model" isn't America's (unless one wants to undermine the nation state and go for a "one world government" as the "moral solution". What human entity will rule then? And how will power by limited to protect against corruption?)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

My past response is a realist perspective, isn't it?

Idealism would assume the "possibility of God", meaning that "God intevenes", as to Providential outcomes. Then one will Stoically assume one's place as determined by "God" or "take matters into one's own hands" as "God's co-regent". (This is "Dominion theology"). And leadership is of primary importance in this view as the determining factor of "classifying" (defining) society.

Dominion theological perspectives believe that only Chrisitans have the 'mandate" to intervene on "God's behalf" in implementing a "biblical worldview" or "God"s perscriptives" for society! This is unifying or politicizing "faith claims"! America is to be a "Christian Nation" not in principle but in "form"! This brings about conflicts in understanding "faith itself" and limits others in liberty of conscience!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whether one believes that humans are "called" by a Supernatural realm, or whether they are "called" by "duties" under a natural government, one has to allow for parallel universes, if one wants to affirm human choice, as a value to human personhood.

Take Steve Jobs, for instance. I read yesterday that he went to Reed College for one semester! He slept on the floor of fellow students, exchanging Coke bottles for the 5 cents to get enought to buy food everyday. Sundays he's walk the 7 miles across campus to get a good meal at the Hare Krishna Temple. He dropped out due to the financial stress on his Mom and Dad! What if government had intevened in his life?

What if someone or government thought that Steve had a "right" to a college education? Would Steve have made the contacts and had the impact that he had on our society or the world? It is something to think about!

Many that are self-made businessmen have not had "entitlements" which spoil them, but have had obstacles to overcome. And their own determination to accomplish an end or challenge themselves was enough to help them "overcome"!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Herman Cain and Clarence Thomas are primary examples of overcoming a racial groupism, to accomplish and commit to conservative principles!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But such self determination as Jobs, Thomas, and Cain, also admits that "formation" as to conforming to a particular purpose is also at odds with American ideals, of life and liberty!

Scott F said...

"New Testament authors felt free to paraphrase Scripture freely and interpretively, much as Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message."

It's nice to see someone acknowledge that the same kinds of activity that occurred in the first century to produce the surviving gospels and other works is the activity that we witness today in books, as above, and movies - as noted by Mark Goodacre. This really gives us a broader window into how the human mind absorbs and transmits this type of material. I for one believe that we share enough with our first century cousins to make the comparisons instructive.