Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Judgment of Israel (5)

... continued from last year. ;-)
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Some have suggested that Jesus' action in the temple meant to enact its coming destruction symbolically. [1]  No doubt at least looking back many Christians understood it this way.  The Synoptic gospels remember Jesus predicting the temple's destruction.  Whether it was entirely clear to them at the time is another question.

The key passage here is Jesus' "end times" sermon in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21.  These gospels all present Jesus' teaching on coming judgment in the context of the Jerusalem temple and a prediction that its stones will all be torn down (e.g., Mark 13:2). Jesus begins to tell of a coming distress and then of the coming of the Son of Man.

The first part of the sermon is about a distress that is coming on Israel.  Given the way Mark introduces this teaching, we know that it involves the destruction of the temple.  In fact, Luke 21:20 paraphrases Jesus' teaching to make it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is the desecration Jesus is predicting.  The way Mark puts it is much more ambiguous: "when you see 'the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong" (Mark 13:14).

So there may be some element of hindsight in the way the gospels present Jesus' teaching here. The sermon itself does not actually mention the temple's destruction--only its desecration is implied. [2]  The Jerusalem Christians in Acts worship in the temple without much of a sense of its impending doom, and Paul's enigmatic teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2 only speaks of a man of lawlessness setting himself up in the temple as god (2:4).

The second part of the sermon concerns the coming of the Son of Man and presumably the final judgment (e.g., Mark 13:24-31).  We know now--as the early Christians came to know--that there is a significant gap of time between the first and the second part of the sermon.  The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70, but we still wait for Christ's return. Luke in particular seems to bring out this distinction in the way he paraphrases the teaching.  He speaks of a "times of the Gentiles" that intervenes (Luke 21:24).

How should we as Christians today appropriate this teaching? ...

[1] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism...


[2] So John Kloppenborg, "Evocatio Deorum and ***) JBL.

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