Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus, the Kingdom of God, Apocalypse Now

Please read Psalm 18: 1-20

Jesus the Procreator

The call of the Old Testament is not just to individual but to community. The New Testament changes the equation to the individual and to the world and cosmos. The icon at right is commonly called "Jesus the Procreator," and it is one of the earliest known depictions of Jesus (much copied) and attempts to portray that concept.

The purpose of the community: 

Christians make a unique claim – that “Jesus Saves.” The claim of Christianity is that Jesus has a unique role in this circle of Redemption – and that is what we are talking about tonight.

The purpose of the called community – the community of faith – is to restore the creation to be the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ ministry and teaching centers on the kingdom of God: Jesus’s proclamation in the Gospels is that the kingdom of God is here and now – not at a distant place and future but now. That is the Good News.

We see this in the gospels – there are four gospels – Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Three of the four are closely related – scholars generally believe that Mark is the oldest and that Matt and Luke borrow heavily from Mark. The important thing for our purposes isn’t the difference but that the gospels are telling us about this extraordinary proclamation by Jesus about the kingdom of God being right here with us “if only we have ears to hear,” as Mark puts it.

Jesus begins by proclaiming “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel (Good News) (Mark 1:15) and concludes with the Last Supper: “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the Vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)
So what is going on here? We are in that gap of what things “ought” to be and what they really are.

Let’s define some terms. The term “kingdom” should be understood more in terms of who rules than as a political geography.

1. Thus the kingdom of God is any time and place where God reigns. It might be better to call this “The Reign of God.”

2. The reign of God is God’s act, not a human achievement.

3. In fact, Jesus’s proclamations throughout the gospels are to declare that with Jesus the Reign of God has now begun.

4. Jesus declares that reality isn’t just what is seen, but the relationship of humanity to the holiness of God in the acts of God to save humanity. God is not just a tough guy but is holy because God heals and saves people. The covenant with God is a covenant where God promises to save God's people.


Early followers had an encounter with the Risen Christ, and it changed everything about them. But how to explain the Jesus event?

First, they thought the end of the world was soon, a week or two at most. But then time dragged on.

You could also read these predictions of the end of time as “soon” quite literally, as some do today, and many did in the early church. The problem, of course, is that the world didn’t end when the earliest Christians writers thought it would.
Problem: How soon is “soon.”

Read Rev 1:3
• The end is “near”

The problem is as time marched on, it didn’t seem so near:

Read 2 Peter 3: 8-10

• Peter is saying we can’t know when but it will come like a thief

Paul dealt with the problem, too:

Read 2 Thess 2:1-3
• The day is postponed, other things must happen first

There is another way to read/hear these predictions of the end time:
• That the “end times” are not about this world at all;

• Rather it is to get us to touch a mystical world;

• One way to escape the brutality of this world is to touch a different world, and to see that (mystical) world as more “real” than this world.

• The escaton predictions force us to get out of our linear way of thinking about time; they force us into a different dimension of time/space so that we can touch the future of everlasting life with God that isn’t here but has already happened. If that sounds like a paradox, it is.

Read: John 17: 28-29

• How do you make sense of that?
• Do you hear the paradoxical language?
• How is this saying of Jesus pushing you into a different way of seeing time?


The word “apocalypse” is from the Greek “apokalypsis” (αποκαλυψις) which means “revelation” or “disclosure” and that comes from the title of the last book of the Bible, which is…?

• In Greek, connotations include: a disclosure of a particular kind, i.e., a vision, supernatural revelations; the word includes the interpretation of the visions.; secrets of the “last days.”

This is tough stuff – about future events, the “end” of time, the “end” of history.
The following books are considered “apocalyptic”:
• Daniel
• Ezekiel
• NT: The Revelation to John (note it is not “the book of revelations.”) You could translate it as “The Disclosure to John” or even “The Visions of John”.
• In the NT, there are many passages that contain apocalyptic language, for example Mt. 27-28; and 1, 2 John. But Revelation is the only apocalyptic book in the NT. We will look at Rev more closely later.
• Outside the Bible: 1, 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2,3 Baruch, Jubilees and the Apocalypse of Abraham, and other books

Where does this stuff come from?

• Temple destroyed; Macabees killed, brutal invasions, exiles, repressions
• The present world looks terrible; there must be a better world in a time to come; looking for an escape from the present atrocities.
• One answer is to escape to the desert, set up small communities to await this time and stay pure; Qumran was one such community (160s BC), hid its sacred texts in caves, later found: Dead Sea Scrolls.
• John the Baptist may have been in one of these communities.
• Link to gnosticism:
o “gnosis” = knowledge (as in secret knowledge)
o There is a cosmic supernatural clash between good and evil; it burst through in this world, but that is evidence of the spirit world which really matters.

Important to see that apocalyptic books are quite common in the world of Jesus. Common themes to apocalyptic biblical literature:

• Each is a story about mysterious revelations mediated by angels about a supernatural world.
• Each reflect a profound dissatisfaction with the present world and seeks salvation in a new world to come or another world beyond.
• Each is focused on the “end of time” or “end times.”
• Each uses symbols to push the reader/listener beyond a conventional understanding of the universe.
• Each uses cataclysmic imagery (death, destruction) to graphically get the story across.
• Apocalyptic literature faces evil straight on; does not dodge the existence of evil; God always emerges triumphant over evil and in command of the universe.

Important: Need to see these ultimately as documents of hope – the righteous will suffer but in the end, the bad guys lose. Look back at Ps 18:1-20 – How would you see hope?


Early church looked for a formula. I suspect part of the problem was, then as now, visions like John were scarey, or at best, incomphrensible. How do you build an institution on that?

Constantine demanded orthodoxy, doctrines like the columns of his buildings for the church to be built upon. In effect, he told the Christians to stop squabbling and come up with a common set of beliefs that people could work with and believe in. Who is this Jesus you worship? How is a man God if you say you are a monotheistic religion?

-- God the Father was easy to explain; the creator, Yahweh.

-- God the Son, harder concept, but could explain the messiah concept in Jewish terms, or in cosmic terms as John did.

-- Holy Spirit – last concept to come along; the risen God still present

Early bishops struggled with creeds and statements to explain how a monotheistic religion could have three “gods.”

The Capadocian bishops of the second century explained it as an army moving as one; they wrote a series of sermons that are something like the federalist papers of a later era.

It took until the fourth century to work out a forumla that won more or less acceptance amongst the bishops; the Nicene Creed. Still many dissented, and the struggles continued.

My concept of the Trinity: like a diamond. Whatever perspective you view it, you still see the center. I think that gets us off the hook from an exclusionary way of viewing God.

Perhaps therefore we should peel all of this a way for a few moments and look at Jesus. What was he getting at?

Perhaps therefore we should peel all of this a way for a few moments and look at Jesus. What was he getting at? What do you think?

Your homework: Write your own creed.

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