Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jesus & The Language Of The Prophets (part 2 of 2)

Jesus, like Isaiah, is employing apocalyptic imagery, vesting His words with the weight that He believes is due them, and doing it by utilizing the familiar words of one of Israel’s great prophets---words that came to pass and, owing to the fact that Israel had been in subjection to a foreign power and therefore under God’s continued judgment from that point on, served to define Israel’s existence to that very day. 

If we disabuse ourselves of the notion that Jesus is somehow speaking about the end of the world (as the question from His disciples in Matthew is about “the end of the age,” which is not, for a Jew, an “end of the material world” concern or idea, whereas neither Mark nor Luke use “end of the age” but merely have the disciples posing the questions directly from Jesus’ statement that the Temple will fall---they ask, when will this happen?---thus the weight of the textual evidence falls on the side of the concerns presented by Mark and Luke), and have positioned ourselves as responsible hearers of His words and readers of the text, then we do not fall into that trap. 

What we do hear Jesus saying, as He speaks unswervingly about the Temple---which is what He has been doing since His triumphal entry into Jerusalem---and as He builds upon the words and actions of judgment against the Temple and its regime that were delivered in the wake of that triumphal entry, is that the Temple, through its leadership and its power brokers, is corrupt and its purpose is going unfulfilled.  For that reason then, God is going to bring judgment against it.  God did it with the Babylonians, and now, given the situation then in existence, it is obvious that it is Rome that is going to perform the role of Babylon.  Here is where we consider the Jesus tradition’s talk about Himself as a new Temple, along with the early church’s understanding, as reflected in its earliest written documents, that it was the church itself, through its participation in Christ, that was going to be functioning as God’s Temple going forward. 

Jesus then goes on to link this judging event to the Son of Man’s coming to the Ancient of Days, adding “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven,” or the sky, “ and all the tribes of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30).  This is what follows His talk about the sun, the moon, the stars, and the powers of the heavens.  Indeed, it will be an earth-shattering event, especially for the Jewish people, whose lives are oriented around the Temple and whose communal story is told in, around, and by the Temple.  Beyond that, the Temple is also the repository of power in Israel, thus that which provides sense and order to life, as well as being the source of continued courage to stand against the Roman influence (partially owing to the fact that the Temple itself, in which there is no image of Caesar or of Rome unlike almost every other temple within the Roman empire, bears witness to Jewish resistance).  We again remember that this language is part and parcel of Jesus’ response to  His disciples query concerning His words about the fall of the Temple. 

With this, Jesus references what would have been the very familiar and popular passage from Daniel seven, linking the time of the fall of the Temple to the time when the Son of Man receives His kingdom.  Though we are not talking cause and effect, but rather, confirmation of Israel’s God having rendered His dual judgment concerning the Temple and the Son of Man (the old Temple having passed away), what or when is Jesus insisting will be the confirming sign that the Son of Man has received His kingdom and all power and authority?  When the Temple falls.  When will the Temple fall?  When the Son of Man receives His kingdom and all power and authority.  Again, we are not to look at this as a cause and effect, whereby the Son of Man (Jesus) does not gain all power and authority (as king of an eternal kingdom) at the time that the Temple falls, but rather, we look at this as Jesus giving His followers a confirming sign, with this being well and finally understood by those followers when the Temple was eventually cast down.   

Finally, and with all of that said, because we are diligently and squarely focused on the Temple, and are also hearing things correctly as first-century Jews that are inhabiting the narrative, we are also able to successfully resist the temptation to see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven as a movement to earth, and instead, rightly understand it as the movement of an event in the heavenly realm, which, owing to the predominant Daniel seven imagery concerning the Son of Man, is the way that it would have been understood by Jesus’ original hearers. 

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