Thursday, December 29, 2011

Coming Judgment 2

Yesterday I wrote on Judging Others.  Today I want to look on what Jesus likely preached about the coming judgment.
Way back in chapter 1 I argued that John the Baptist's baptism of repentance was not only in preparation for the coming restoration of Israel but also to ensure salvation in a coming judgment.  I don't think Jesus' message to the crowds focused on this judgment nearly as much as John's did, but it was almost certainly part of his message.  After all, Jesus endorsed John's teaching when he was baptized, and we do find this teaching in the gospels.

It makes sense to think that most of Jesus' teaching on the coming judgment took place in his final days, particularly in Jerusalem.  This is how the first three gospels remember it. [1]  They connect Jesus' action in the temple with the impending destruction of Jerusalem and each includes a final sermon on coming judgment in Jesus' final week.

In fact, the Gospel of Mark is arranged so that it has a turning point just before Jesus heads for Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. Up to that point, the tone is optimistic and Jesus tells good news to the crowds that flock to him.  After Mark 8, however, Jesus looks toward Jerusalem and the gospel takes on a tone of foreboding.  Jesus seems to withdraw more from the crowds and spend more time privately with his key followers.

So what was this coming judgment?  The next section looks at Jesus and the judgment of Israel.  In this one, I'm arguing that Jesus focused on the coming judgment of the earth.  The final section of this chapter looks at what Jesus might have said about the afterlife.  But I don't think that Jesus actually preached much on that topic.  Rather, like the rest of the New Testament, he focused on something that was going to happen on earth.

Some of the verses I most enjoy in the Bible are the weird ones.  The reason is because I suspect that these are the passages that most expose the spots where our own assumptions are slightly off, where our own glasses make it difficult for us to see the original meaning as it actually was.  Take Mark 9:47: "If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."  A couple things strike me about this verse.

First, will the kingdom really involve one eyed people?  To be sure, Jesus is not speaking literally here.  It's hyperbole--making a point with exaggeration.  Paul makes it clear that we will have transformed bodies in the kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:50).  But the very concept of entering into the kingdom with one eye sounds like my body is entering in right here from earth.  It doesn't sound like I'm going up to heaven to enter it and it certainly doesn't sound like something that happens after I die.

In other words, the judgment sounds like an event that will take place on earth.  I get the same impression from the other person with two eyes who is thrown into hell, into "Gehenna." It reminds me of another verse in Matthew where Jesus says that his followers should not fear the person who can only kill their bodies.  Rather they should fear the God who can destroy both their souls and bodies in Gehenna (Matt. 10:28).  We at least get the impression that the judgment starts right here on earth and involves the physical bodies of the wicked. [2]

[1] John does not have an "end times" sermon like Matthew, Mark, and Luke do.

[2] Most translations rightly translate Gehenna as hell, but it is interesting to wonder if any of Jesus' audience thought of the valley gehinnom just outside Jerusalem, where they burned the trash of the city.  This is the place from which Gehenna in fact got its name.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken, some believe that their views about "God" sanction them to make judgments based on their particular bias. When does it become abusive when actions are taken and threats are made that are totally antithetical to "common courtesies" that one finds in the larger political world?

Excommunication is an action taken that is done in the Church to bring about repentance. Shunning and emotional sabatage is useful for control in such groups. Such actions are taken because these really believe that "eternal destinies" are at stake. And if blasphemy is allowed, there will be no end to the corruptive influence the blasphemy will produce. There is an urgency to protect the "dogma","purity", or some other standard that is important to such societies.

The "soul" that is excommunicated is to be "broken". And no damage to the person is too great for the sake of their "soul". Hans Kung has been excommunicated from teaching theology, yet he still teaches.

But, how does one gauge such a "fact" or state of heart objectively? Are such actions only "objective" in the sense that they are what that particular society views as a social norm?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The traditional understanding of Israel being disciplined by God is a case in point, as to a particular view of theology.

Israel would go into exile, or become destitute, which was pre-supposed to be "God's judgment" upon the nation. When there was "sin in the camp" then the whole nation was under "God's judgment"! The Bible is used as a "proof text" upon "the human condition"!

Such thinking does not lend itself toward the real world where mistakes are made, a larger context doesn't fit and limitations abound in the real world as to controlling all varibles! God is not Sovereignly ordaining all events. (and some doubt he controls any aspect of reality) Real life doesn't hand us "perfect" solutions, or a direct cause and effect in human relations.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The first comment is primarily about Tradition's limitations, while the later comment is the Text's limitations. Both group action and theology limit "the human" as to experience and/or reason!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Not group action, but group boundaries concerning "God"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

and group definitions about "God"...