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 Christian on October 12, 2007 - 3:18 pm

    Jason, the laws are no longer God’s laws when they are used to hurt rather than heal. When the compassion is removed from the law then the law becomes bitter and stands in the way of the spirit. To allow suffering because there was a law againts ‘work’ on the sabbath takes the law and turns it against God.

    I am a little (very little) familiar with the concepts imputation and propitiation and as they apply to theology you are correct in assuming a lack of interest on my part. Too much working of the material.

    That is an interesting point about OT salvation, a question I have asked concerinng the many different incarnational theories. Perhaps we need to define ‘salvation’.

    I’ll bet the lambs weren’t pissed off – they were too stupid. But I get your point. Jesus willingly went to the slaughter. He certainly wasn’t pissed, he was forgiving.

    If you said you loved me and jumped in front of the bus I would assume your were insane, a moron or both. Your actions would do little to prove your words. If you never said a thing to me, if I was a complete stranger, and you jumped in front of the bus to push me out of harm’s way then that would demonstrably be the utlimate act of love. Jesus died for our sin, not only to satisfy a legal requirement as presented in covenant theology, but to show us how his way can turn us back to God.

    I am not saying that this view of the Cross is the only view, but it is the most dynamic one for me. I don’t think that Jesus’ sacrifice was for soley a post death salvation but also addresses restoration of God’s creation through working towards is Kingdom.

  2. #2 by Jason on October 12, 2007 - 4:06 pm

    Hiya,

    Perhaps you havve more to say about it, but you’re not describing someone saving someone else from getting hit by a bus. You are describing aomeone jumping in front of a bus for no apparent reason other than an empathetic expression; that’s the idea that is most dynamic for you, the one that’s nuts?

    My insertion regarding the pissed lamb wasn’t ment to be such a distraction to you from my obvious point. OK. But the problem still is there…In your formulation the entire sacrificial system was a big “whoops” by God…or it has considerable parallels with Christ. What are they?

    “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Is Paul over working the issues, or are we? As well, in matters of overworking the issues, “the many different incarnational theories.” That overworking of the issues is OK? I think that it is, (like I said before gotta do a lotta work to deal with the goofy ideas) but how does what happened on the cross become comparitavely unimportant and the unimaginable, God in flesh, become the central issue? Where biblically is the incarnation more than one of the unthinkable stepping stones to what was accomplished on the cross and the resurrection?

    I agree the Kingdom of God is at work right there and right now. However, this world sucks if you hadn’t noticed. If this is salvation, then the whole bible over sold it to the point of dishonesty. And it does beg the question as to what Christ meant in John 18:36-7.

    Lastly, could you help me out biblically with “Jesus died for our sin, not only to satisfy a legal requirement as presented in covenant theology, but to show us how his way can turn us back to God.” His way? Do we do his way and turn back to God? Wouldn’t that fall under rules for salvation, stuff we gotta do? I thought that was a problem for you (I know it’s a problem for me.)

    Has somebody answered the E85 question?

  3. #3 by Jason on October 12, 2007 - 4:12 pm

    I forgot something. No stone unchucked.

    I appreciate your reframing of the God’s Laws/Not God’s Laws thing. I agree with the way that you reframed it, generally. Although, Paul in 2 Corinthians was pleased that people were hurt as long as they repented of their sin and sins and wanted Christ alone.

  4. #4 by Christian on October 12, 2007 - 5:32 pm

    No one jumps in front of a bus to express empathy. They jump in front of a bus to save them from death and suffering. They way you are expressing it (and I know this is a biggie with most folks) I deserved to be hit by the bus and you took the hit for me. And I can accept that. But you aren’t God, so I would be grateful but that would be it. Maybe I would follow your example and jump in front of some buses myself. God on the other hand is going to hang around with me for some time. Knowing that he understands my pain, while also being indebted to him for the taking the hit, helps me to love him more. The more I love him, the better things are for me, and for everyone.

    What makes you think that I hold the Cross to be comparatively unimportant? I’m not sure what you are asking but maybe this helps; until God became man I could not relate to God. He is up there and I am down here. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and probably omniverous to boot. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. 8) )

    I can’t LOVE him as much as l love my wife and children. Until I encountered Jesus I didn’t see how it was possible to love God. For those that can, great. But for me, he was nameless, faceless and terrifying.
    Jesus changed all that.

    Things do suck because there are a lot of people out there who don’t love God and consequently do not love each oter. For many who believe in God they may be afraid, they may even be very obedient. but I doubt if love is the primary connection. But love does seem to be the key, for our own salvation as well as the world’s.

    It’s not the hurt people that are the problem, it’s the people doing the hurting.

    Yeah, I think we have to do it his way. To utter the sinner’s prayer, ‘accept ‘Jesus as your savior and then ignore follow his teachings or example is no salvation. Unless we are just talking about ‘going to heaven’. When I talk about rules, I mean the requirement that certain words, rituals, doctrines or beliefs be held in common with all who claim to follow Christ. For example; you, I and others disagree about many doctrinal points. For me that is not an issue. What is an issue is when someone says that I need to accept their doctrinal points. Or when someone’s profession of faith results in the persecution of others. I don’t think that applies to everyone in this discussion but there is at least one person who’s Christian organization is not very Christ like.

  5. #5 by Jason on October 12, 2007 - 6:37 pm

    Still not understanding me. If the cross is an example and an expression of empathy then it is nuts. Is the fact that I deserve to get hit by the bus a problem with you? Again, you must, and probably do, marginalize or rationalize, or metaphor-ize any thing that says it…and that is an awful lot…even in the gospels (gasp).

    I have no idea what you are talking about in the “hurt” comment.

    Fear does not sustain obedience, quite right, love does, but when the angels sing to God they don’t sing “all you need is Love” They sing “Holy , Holy, Holy”
    this Holiness draws those who Love Jesus to him and repels those who don’t love Jesus from him. As well, strangely judgmental comment on the quality of another’s faith because they don’t feel like you. I thought you were against that?

    As well, you are still thinking in some very unfortunate stereotypes with the sinner’s prayer comment and choosing to not deal with what I said. Your strange turns into your own neuroses do not help.

    Oh, well, its your blog, you can change the subject tif you want to, change the subject if you want to.

    Seems like I’ve been talking about what the bible says and you’ve been avoiding it, not an issue of me pushing doctrinal points. See the previous paragraph.

    see you next week.

  6. #6 by Christian on October 12, 2007 - 7:09 pm

    Jason, you need to relax a bit. That’s my point. I don’t see why you should harbor such angst. As far as reading what we are writing – let me repeat myself; I have no problem with what anyone else believes, only if:

    A) They insist that their way is the only way and therefore I (or someone else) is damned.

    B) Their belief results in additional human suffering.

    Some may find one or both of these positions to be “Biblical”. I don’t.

    A Dios, amigo.

  7. #7 by Ambrosia de Milano on October 12, 2007 - 9:19 pm

    Why are Christians so afraid of the truth. Suppose for a moment that our most treasured crucibles were smashed? I am not saying that Christ is merely human, or the resurrection did not happen.

    We hold certain ideas as so dear, that we project our ideas on others. Why do we have to cast Jewish messianic thought into a Christian mold? Can’t their Messiah be one who brings immediate peace, feeds the world, brings true healing . . .

    I am willing to wait for “World without end Amen” as is a part of Christian doctrine, but maybe we ought to be asking Jews their idea of Messiah, rather than telling them that their Messiah is really our Messiah.

    Ambrosia

    P. S. it is imbibing–don’t encourage C. B. to imbibe.

  8. #8 by Ambrosia de Milano on October 12, 2007 - 9:20 pm

    Awe, come on, C. B., you know more than you let on.
    Who knows more about food than C. B.?

  9. #9 by lovewillbringustogether on October 12, 2007 - 11:34 pm

    Ok – I admit! I skimmed over most of the above so i no doubt misesed a point ot three, but as long as you guys get it, I’m comfy with that. Forgive me if I missed something important.

    I did see a q about Evil?

    I am no expert on the subject but I am as capable of being ‘subject’ to it as anyone else. I probably have a differing view than do most so, if it is of some use…

    Briefly first though – seems to me anyone who believes in ‘good’ angels has to believe in ‘bad’ spirits also (Universal ‘balance’ thing).

    Logically, Evil can only exist on it’s own as an entity in it’s own right if Good does too. The one would necessitate the other surely? Introducing God into the equation is where most of us tend to diverge it seems.

    Buddy and I tend to favour Both exist ‘within’ God as our perspective, while I believe Big C goes more for the God is Only Good line of thought (and Evil does not exist per se but is the ‘absence’ of God?? or is turning ‘away’ from Him?

    Of particular and most vital interest to us as finite, fallible humans is: can Evil exist independently of ‘us’ and affect us over our own will? Can Good do likewise? What does God ‘do’ in our lives?

    What, more to the point, will we ‘let’ Him do?

    It is probably going to sound like a cop out (and it may be partially) but I am going to say that Evil affects each human and so in that sense is ‘real’. It exists ‘outside’ of us in the sense that other humans do, and they can ‘lead us astray’ from our true beliefs. Ditto for Good. Humans are finte and so constrained to duality – this side or it’s opposite – that side.

    By turning away from one we face the other as in Buddy’s pendulum analogy – the pendulum moves at it’s fastest at the bottom (middle) of it’s stroke back and forth. At one extreme it stops and reverses it’s momentum. By being at one end (Evil) we can only see in the direction of Good and are dragged back in that ‘direction’ and vice versa. We charge back towards the Middle God but can get carried away by the force of the attraction to Him and reach the opposite extreme. Nice analogy.

    That works for human ‘duality’ purposes. If we adopt the polar co-ordinate model, then we are where we are ‘now’ (the Origin or zero point). Any move we make from ‘here’ could simultaneously be towards good and towards evil! It would be the outcome or end point that determined if we had actually moved towards ‘good’ or in the direction of ‘evil’. It (our heading) could also be dependent upon our initial motivation choosing either what we believe to be a good one or an evil one, but often good intentions can produce bad results so clearly this is not the only deciding factor.

    Y’know? I’m really going to have to put more time and thought into this and write it down somewhere – the trails i could follow are splitting and diverging all over the joint.

    For now I will settle with ‘Evil is in the eye of the beholder’ and leave it at that for the present.

    Anyone got a ‘Beam’? 😉

    How does that sound? 🙂

  10. #10 by Christian on October 12, 2007 - 11:38 pm

    “Evil is in the eye of the beholder”. Simplistic and probably facetious but maybe not too far off the mark. The challenge is to see things with Jesus’ eyes.

    I get dizzy on Buddy’s pendulum. Perhaps it is more like an airplane propeller, spinning so quickly as to appear motionless. It just dawned on me that Buddy is no stranger to metaphor. I think he’s been jerking my chain!

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