Sunday, September 15, 2013

Calling Down Fire (part 4)

In addition to what would have been a widespread cultural familiarity with the method that was employed, the message of “The kingdom of God has come upon you” would not have been unfamiliar.  Though it held particular and incredibly significant meaning to those that dwelled in the land of Israel, not only was it the case that Jesus’ disciples would not be the first to go out heralding the arrival of a messiah, and thus the arrival of the kingdom of God, but it was also the case that this was largely the same message that Caesar’s representatives dutifully carried into the world that he had conquered as well. 

Those that would come to hear this message of the kingdom of God, whether inside or outside of Israel as it was shared before and after the ordeal of the cross and the vindication of the Resurrection, were likely to have been familiar with the “gospel of Caesar.”  This “gospel” was, among other things of course (as the Caesar cult aided in the spread of imperial propaganda), that the Caesar was lord of all and the savior of mankind.  This message could easily be presented as the “kingdom of the son of god has come upon you; and you do not need to feel conquered, as Caesar extends his realm of peace and security to you.”  This should serve as a reminder that one would do well to always consider the setting into which the message of the Christ had come.   
Before continuing to move forward, it is necessary to back up just a bit so as to continue what one hopes is an effective contextualization and historical integration.  Included within Jesus’ commands to His appointed disciples, He can be heard to say: “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house!’” (Luke 10:5)  There would have been a number of reasons for giving this particular greeting, but there is one particular reason to which has already been alluded, which is that of the Caesar and Rome’s notion of peace. 

Remember, Luke still has the reader of his work situated within the mental context of that which he has previously written, as chapters nine through nineteen (which includes chapter ten) of his Gospel narrative are presented as a lengthy, single story.  As would have been familiar to the Roman government official (most excellent Theophilus) for whom Luke is presumed to have constructed his two-part series, Caesar’s peace---Roman peace, or the “pax Romana,” would have been part and parcel of the message of the herald of the Caesar, as Caesar (as Jesus would also be shown to do) “sent messengers on ahead of him… to make things ready in advance for him” (9:52a,c). 

What would happen if Caesar’s peace and gospel message about himself and his kingdom was rejected?  As has been previously indicated, it is quite likely that death would come upon those that rejected the message.  This death would have fallen until there were either no more rejecters, or until all willingly bowed the knee to accept his “peace.”  This is the context, as has been seen, for James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven and consume those that rejected Jesus. 

This would also be the context for Jesus’ rebuke of them for wanting to adopt Caesar’s forceful and deadly way and contra-kingdom-of-heaven way of establishing his rule and authority.  It would seem to be clear that, at that point, they did not understand Jesus’ true power or the nature of the kingdom and peace that He was bringing to the world, as they were likely to have been steeped in messiah and kingdom expectation that was rooted in forceful overthrow of a foreign oppressor by violent means and awe-inspiring displays of power. 

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