By Chaplain Mike
Two years ago, Scot McKnight did a five-part series called “The Future of Christian Eschatology” on his Jesus Creed blog. We have all had this subject on our mind this week, thanks to the looney predictions of Harold Camping and all the press they received.
Today, I offer a summary from one of Scot’s posts that I think points in a fruitful direction for our continuing consideration of the Bible’s eschatological message.
Take some time to read and meditate on his thoughts. I think you will see the fruits of his own specialty in NT studiesâ€”the Gospelsâ€”as well as the influence of contemporary Jesus scholarship such as that of N.T. Wright.
I like what Scot says here. It brings the Jewish context and events in the days of Jesus into prominence in the discussion in a way that is not always considered. So many crazy things have been said about the end times that it’s almost as though pastors and teachers are talking about science fiction. Indeed, I think “science fiction” pictures are what many people actually have in their minds when they imagine Christ’s return.
Instead, what if we were to imagine eschatology in terms of Jesus’ own socio-political context? N.T. Wright has helped us do this with regard to the mission of Jesus. Scot here summarizes an approach that does the same with Jesus’ eschatological message.
Let me now try to draw together some threads. The temporal indicators of Mark 13 and parallels suggest that Jesus envisioned everything therein described as occurring within one generation. Roughly speaking, he sees things occurring in about 40 years. History shows that the Romans sacked Jerusalem brutally and banished them from the City, and this event largely confirms what Jesus predicted. …Furthermore, we have seen plausible reasons, some more compelling than others, for seeing the language of Mark 13:24 27/Matt 24:29-31 as metaphorical descriptions of Jesus’ vindication and reception of power in the event of Jerusalem’s destruction. When Jerusalem went down, Jesus went up — down in ignominy and up in vindication.
Jerusalem’s destruction was proof that Jesus was right. In addition, this event marks and shapes the focus of Jesus’ ministry and message: his mission was to call Israel to repentance (and that meant to live a life of love and justice and peace) before the final bell rang. If Israel responds, the destruction can be averted; if it does not, the destruction will establish him as Messiah. What Jesus saw beyond this is, in my mind, a mystery. I think he saw connected to this event the resurrection, the final judgment, and the establishment of the Age to Come. He tied them together, the destruction and these “eternal things” because, as a prophet who relied upon God’s revelation for knowledge of the future, this is how prophets worked all along. The next event on God’s calendar was the End Event — and when it did not occur literally on earth, no one was bothered because prophetic knowledge about the future is like that. It trades in metaphor and metaphor is capable of various interpretations. What Jesus was referring to was Israel’s destruction; it had ultimate significance to him. And he got it right.
…The implication of what I have said about Jesus’ eschatology is this: before Jesus’ message is brought into our world, and he needs to be, Jesus has to be understood in his world. And that means as a Jew, as a Jewish prophet, a prophet who spoke to his people, Israel, who spoke to his people about Israel about the need to repent and live in light of the Kingdom before it is too late, and that “too late” is to be understood temporally for Jesus as before A.D. 70 when God would wreak vengeance on the nation for its waywardness (as God had done with both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans). In other words, Jesus’ eschatology was fully immersed in his day and was about his day — he spoke to the political disaster about to fall upon the Land.
This Jewish prophet Jesus, however, is also the Messiah of the Endtime who was destined to come to lead Israel into the “fortunes of Israel”. Those fortunes have not yet been completely fulfilled.