Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Jesus the Apocalyptist?

Jesus was not an apocalyptist. He subverted the apocalyptic language of his day by hollowing it out and giving it new content. The shock of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the theological effects for the first generations of Christians, took time to work its way through, leaving many parts of the New Testament hanging between the apocalyptic and (what James Alison calls) the eschatological.

Edvard Munch, Golgotha
Mark's little apocalypse of Chapter 13 omits the God of vengeance. Human violence is human violence, the violence that murdered Jesus. The apocalyptic moment is no longer some future event replete with scenes of violent retribution, but shifts to the Passion of Jesus. And it is the Passion that follows immediately after the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. The apocalyptic moment (13:35-36) is the handing over of Jesus  - in the evening (cf 14:17 Last Super & 15:42), at midnight (betrayal by Judas), at cockcrow (Peter's denial, 14:72), and at dawn (handed over to the Romans 15:1). The discourse is directed to the disciples of Jesus, now living their Gethsemane, warning them to remain awake with their crucified Lord. That is, we are warned to keep awake, just as the disciples could not at Gethsemane. (14:41-42)

Luke's version of Mark 13 is to be found in Chapter 21. The three major prophetic sections of the discourse correspond to future persecutions of the disciples, the destruction of jerusalem, and the coming of the Son of Man. The first two, at the time of the writing of Luke, have already been fulfilled. The Book of Acts has narrated the persecution of the disciples, and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. The eschatological elements of the coming of the Son of Man in the third prophecy so general to be of no use to an apocalyptist. And the discourse ends with Luke's more full version of 'Keep awake'. (Mark 13:37; cf Luke 21:34-36)

All this is hardly surprising given apocalyptists' tendency to envision a future of salvation based on expunging all trace of sinners from God's future. There is no wholeness to be found at the expense of excluding others. Jesus' ministry, directed to the 'sick', and his death for the sins of the whole world as a victim of human sin and violence undercuts the point of apocalyptic's vision of purity.

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