Millennialism: Pre-Messianic Christianity

For hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus the Jewish people waited, some patiently, some not so patiently, for the coming of the Messiah. The prophets foretold of the power that he would wield as he restored Israel to its proper place at the head of all nations. Those that had subjugated and persecuted God’s chosen people would be dealt with in a swift and decisive fashion.

battle_of_armageddon_2_ls.jpg

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.

He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.

The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River. [
He will break it up into seven streams
so that men can cross over in sandals.

There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.

Isaiah 11: 10-16

John the Baptist prepared those who would listen for the imminent appearance of the Messiah. He also warned them that upon his arrival they should be prepared for judgment followed by harsh punishments and great rewards. He singled out the religious ruling class for particular admonishment, as he saw them as being unfair in their treatment of God’s people.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:7-10

checking the books

This righteous anger and outspokenness on John’s part led many to wonder if perhaps he was the Messiah. John was quick to correct their mis-perceptions, letting them know that the one that followed him was not to be trifled with. His talk of the One Lord coming to reward the faithful and wreak vengeance on the sinful was music to the ears of the poor and wounded Jews, who had suffered for so long under the domination of so many foreign and pagan lords.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John 3: 15-17

John publicly identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah who has come to save his people. Yet Jesus looks and acts quite unlike what the Jews had come to expect. John himself doubts Jesus’ authority;

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Matt 11:2-6

compassionate jesus

Jesus does not respond with a clear yes or no, instead describing the nature of the ‘true’ Messiah as contrasted with that of prophecy. Not long after this, as described in Matthew 16, Jesus asks the apostles who they think he is;

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus is obviously pleased with their response, particularly Peter’s. He indicates that Peter realized his divine nature through revelation, not by what any man had said. The inference here is that it was commendable that Peter had made up his own mind about Jesus instead of relying upon the current wisdom obout what the Messiah would be like.

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And then he does something strange. He tells the apostles to keep his authority secret.

Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Many have suggested that Jesus did not feel the time was right to announce his true identity. Perhaps instead he knew that his message was in most ways contradictory to what the people expected of the Messiah.

He follows this up with a mysterious prediction that very soon he will return in divine glory to fulfill the prophecies. He even stresses that it will be within the lifetime of some of his listeners.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

There has been plenty of controversy as to what Jesus actually meant here. His literal second coming obviously did not take place in the first or second centuries. Two millennia later it still has not occurred and various self proclaimed prophets have read the signs and announced that the time was at hand. This is in spite of the fact that, although he tells us what signs would presage the event, he also says that no one could predict this time with any accuracy.revelation

From Thomas Darby to Charles Taze Russel, Hal Lindsey to Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye many Christians have become excited about the prospect of the End Times and Armageddon. As plain as the meanings of the apocalyptic scriptures are to these people, many others do not see them in quite the same light. Anticipation of the Messiah’s coming as warrior King at the command of legions of angels as they assist him in battle against the forces of evil is something that the millennial Christian has in common with conservative Judaism.

Jesus’ pacifistic teachings were hard to swallow for a people who had waited so long for justice to be served. They could not accept this ‘weak’ way as The Way to salvation, a Way that enables the follower to experience peace and joy even when oppressed and persecuted. Some objected because they had so much to lose if they risked following this ‘messiah’. Many more, envious and bitter with those who had been ‘blessed’ with more than they had, relished the idea of violent retribution. This Jesus of Nazareth did not meet their expectations of the Messiah and he was soundly dealt with.

attacking_gladiator.jpg

The same branches of Christianity that seem to have the most difficulty with Jesus’ simple yet ‘soft’ message of love, sacrifice and grace are also those who are most inclined to take the apocalyptic scriptures literally. To zealously look forward to an exacting final judgment followed by the harsh and brutal punishment of most of the world’s people may be preventing much of the Church from effectively serving the Kingdom. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, or not? Has he come to free us from bondage by showing us his Way? Or will we continue to wait for someone who more closely feeds our ‘righteous’ hunger for vengeance and retribution? It was while nailed to the cross that he said, “It is finished.”

off the cross

 

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  1. #1 by BuddyO on October 10, 2007 - 4:02 pm

    Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, or not?

    Yes.

    Has he come to free us from bondage by showing us his Way?

    Yes.

    Or will we continue to wait for someone who more closely feeds our ‘righteous’ hunger for vengeance and retribution?

    Yes… well kind of… perhaps it’s the same person…

    Maybe your getting at the crux of it Chris. This is right along the lines of what I feel to be true. LWBUT has been alluding to it in many of his comments.

    Just maybe there’s more than one (or two) sides to God. In our systematic modern minds we insist on focusing on just one aspect and cannot seem to reconcile two seemingly opposite natures.

    Your last post about Jonathan Edwards seems to indicate that just maybe he understood.

    The one whom Isaiah and John, in his Revelation, speak of perhaps is the one who has already come. What if Jesus, out of His infinite Love and Compassion, made an advance appearance (Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.) as the ‘Good Cop’, because He knew what it would be like when the Isaiah prophecy was fullfilled.

    We tend to get stuck in this either/or mentality and miss the Truth.

    I haven’t had to post much lateley because LWBUT has been writing all the same things I would have said. This example from his comments on your ‘Personal Creed’ fit perfectly into what I am saying now:

    I was hoping to expand our view of ALL that God is in order that we have greater understanding of Him than many have held over the past 2 millenia.

    Maybe we can then see the Big Picture a little more clearly and increase our tollerance of the faults and failings of us humans and not hate so much?

    “expand our view of ALL that God is..” That’s what I’ve been (inadequately apparently) been trying to say for over a year now.

  2. #2 by Christian on October 10, 2007 - 4:26 pm

    Wow, that was fast! 8)

    No, I think you have been very clear and concise. I actually understand you better than LWBUT (no offence LWBUT – I’ve known Buddy for some time and I think I almost have him figured out). It’s just that I don’t agree with you here (or you don’t agree with me 😉 )

    I think that it can be pretty cool to see the warrior Jesus as a metaphor, in that he is (already) victorious over sin and death. I think the apocalyptic metaphors – pestilence, famine, war, hunger etc – are accurate metaphors for what happens in the world when we turn away from God and his Way. Just look at history.

    Even the damnation metaphors work well in emphasizing how awful things will be if you choose to turn away from God.

    But when we take these things literally then we ascribe to God characteristics that are not complimentary but contradictory.

    We always apologize away apparent inconsistencies and contradictions by saying that God is too big for us to understand. I agree. God is too big for any human language to effectively convey his message literally. It is through story, simile and allegory that we can capture the essence of his communication with us.

    I also think that it is possible for an over emphasis on the literalism of the types of passages found in Revelation to become poisonous, with people using them as an excuse for violent and hateful action. I can’t think of this being a likely outcome of overemphasizing the Good News.

  3. #3 by lovewillbringustogether on October 10, 2007 - 9:12 pm

    No Offence taken Big C, and I am honoured by Buddy that he has not had to write as much since i opened my mouth first to say what he would have, but in my own inimitable way 😉

    I liked your Post – it was interesting reading and of course, on in commenting on this Buddy and I seem to be in large agreement/alignment.

    I hope i don’t appear to ‘apologise’ away apparent inconsistencies and contradictions ( i suspect there exist some as might see it this way but I am not saying you are one of those).

    I agree with your last para on possible over-emphasis.

    I thnk the stumbling block between our two ‘camps’ has to do with contradiction which leads to refutation as opposed to apparent contradiction which only exists because our view is not quite fittting all of the picture in.

    Most people do not easily distinguish between the two – i see a BIG difference.

    I also understand your desire not to ascribe to a Loving God any seemingly ‘negative’ ( to man) aspects.

    Clearly people like Reuben have no such queasy qualms! They may contain more than just a teeny bit of truth in such belief 🙂 Perhaps?

    I also understand that a large portion of humanity is not only poor in wealth, but poor in Spirit ( the poor ye shall have with ye always Matt 26:11) and may never get to see ‘the Big Picture’ and will continue to be the root of strife and rebellion because of it and that my ‘airy’ philosophy faces a decided struggle to overcome all that!

  4. #4 by Jason on October 10, 2007 - 9:42 pm

    Hiya,

    Just checking in, seeing what utterly nonsensical man centered eisegetical reasoning is going on. I see little has changed.

    For instance, did you mean to show that John the Baptist was rebuking the Pharisees for “being unfair in their treatment of God’s people.” with your citation of Matthew 3:7-10. Perhaps you could unfold that a bit. Your usual “yer not nice” routine is notably absent in that particular passage. But..maybe..due to your own proclivities..you read that into the passage? Maybe next timeyou can pick a verse that actually says what you say it says.

    From the painting with a broad brush department: “Anticipation of the Messiah’s coming as warrior King at the command of legions of angels as they assist him in battle against the forces of evil is something that the millennial Christian has in common with conservative Judaism.”

    I know that the comfy gospel has a problem with it but the parousia followed by judgment as you describe it defies the narrow picture you give. This final battle, though what preceeds and follows it is of some dispute, is one of the most consistent creedal features throughout all of Christianity. Your picture of some misguided literalists in their basement with dry goods and arms waiting for the big one is, as ususl, an inaccurate stereotype. Know who and what you are insulting before you do it, perhaps.

    And, of course, your summative statement at the end again ignores huge passages within the gospels which you yourself say are the only things that matter.

    Again, even if you are only able to pull off red-letter Christianity, you still have to include all the red-letters, and this Jesus cum Gandhi projection of yours is nothing more than wishful thinking…to the considerable obscurance of much of Scripture.

    Christ has much to say about false teaching. Perhaps you should study that a bit more and stop with this imaginary Palestinian Abby Hoffman/Neville Chamberlain religion of yours.

  5. #5 by Christian on October 10, 2007 - 11:32 pm

    Actually Jason, I toned my post down, not wanting to insult. But since you took personal exception to what I wrote and already stand insulted let me spell out what I am really thinking.;

    I think that the conservative, reformed, fundamentalist church has succumbed to and now preaches the ‘false teachings’ that you so easily bandy about. I was inferring, and now stating, that perhaps you and other fundamentalists have accepted Jesus but not Jesus’ teachings. The Gospel is not comfy. It is hard to show compassion, humility and mercy. As you and I are demonstrating right now.

    The brush is broad because Revelation is a re-shaping of what is found in Daniel and Ezekiel and both of them have the Book of Enoch found in the Hebrew apocrypha to thank for source material. Take the time to check out the similarities. I think that it was a mistake to place this book in the canon and I am not the only or the first one to feel this way. Of course if we have made the Bible into an idol this will not sit well with us. (BTW – that picture of the folks in the basement– that came from your brush. I never even hinted at such a thing and do not ascribe to the idea.)

    I realize that I am an eisegete and have no problem with that. Of course, so are you and everyone else who claim to be pure exegete. The Bible has way too much poetic language to avoid this and all of us interpret it in ways that are unique to our own experiences. I am merely being realistic when I admit to interpreting most scripture metaphorically. My interpretation of the Judaic parousia (that’s the Second Coming, guys) does not change merely because it is repeated in various fashion though out scripture. I have not ignored it, just did not reference all of it, for the sake of brevity and the fact that it would unnecessarily underscore my point. They are long standing pre-messianic Jewish traditions that need not be considered literally, especially by Christians.

    The Gospels are not the only things that matter. But you cannot ignore the fact the Gospels are the accepted near first hand accounts of what we believe is God incarnate. You are picking and choosing what you feel has the most gravitas, something which you condemn me for. Are you a Christian, who has accepted Jesus as lord or are you a neo-pseudo-pre-messianic Jew who is still awaiting a sword wielding savior? Can’t you see that a literal sword in the hand of Jesus is blasphemy? Now as a metaphor…..

    The red letters are gimmicks. Just as are the numbered verses. Along with the leading headings that some bibles have. These are all modern tools to help people forget that the bible is a book of stories and not a book of law. Or a scriptural Ouija board.

    It’s interesting that you bring politics into this, assuming that I am a ‘liberal’. Even though your accusation is not relevant I will address it. For most of my life I have been a right wing, card carrying Republican with a 30 year subscription to National Review and a picture of Winston Churchill over my desk. I voted for Reagan, Bush and Bush and Robert Bork should be the Supreme Court Chief Justice. I own a couple of guns and I smoke cigars in public. That being said, since I became a follower of Christ I have begun to see how many ‘liberal’ causes are not the evil things I once thought they were. I guess transformation should result in some sort of transforming, right?

    I think that this uniquely American Religion that we call conservative Christianity has many of the same elements of most authoritarian systems (read fascist and communist governments here). Everyone’s favorite biblical book, Revelation, tells us that the church and nationalism (let’s be honest and call it patriotism) don’t mix. So to lump me in with the Palestinians and Abbey Hoffman might make sense. However, if I was like Chamberlain I would probably have already conceded my position to you. 😉

    But anyway, thanks for stopping by. It’s no fun if we all agree, right?

  6. #6 by inWorship on October 11, 2007 - 1:49 am

    Oh man, I am so getting the popcorn out for this one 🙂

  7. #7 by lovewillbringustogether on October 11, 2007 - 2:20 am

    ‘It’s no fun if we all agree, right?’

    Speaking as an outside observer…

    There is no way in hell anyone is ever going to accuse Christians* (*insert religion of your choice here) of agreeing with anyone – least of all their with their own schisms.

    I never cease to wonder that people of God spend so much of their time disagreeing with others instead of concentrating more on those things that bind us to our fellow man and not just our fellow churchgoers.

    Maybe that is just me, but listening to those who hate religion and turn away from God I don’t really think it is.

    Overcoming is not the same thing as overlooking but forcing someone to take an opposing position to you on theology is never going to ‘overcome’ guys – haven’t any of you fully got that YET???

    Oh – Big C my most recent blog might aid your understanding of where I and perhaps Buddy are coming from with the ‘wider view’ thing. It may even let you agree with me on that.

    Not that there is any fun in agreeing tho’ 😉

  8. #8 by lovewillbringustogether on October 11, 2007 - 2:22 am

    Any chance of sharing that popcorn InWorship? 🙂

  9. #9 by Christian on October 11, 2007 - 8:08 am

    APOLOGIES

    Jason, the tone of my response to your comment was uncharitable and harsh. I have no excuse other than my own ego. Please forgive me.

    I would also like to apologize to anyone else I may have insulted or been insensitive to on this or any other thread. I’d like to say that everytime was a misunderstanding or the cost of communicating in this forum, but I know that to be dishonest. I still take pride in vying for the upper hand.

    It’s that damn beam.

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