Thursday, October 20, 2011
For example, in Mark 13:24-27 Jesus talks to some of his disciples about the "coming of the Son of Man," specifically, how they will see him coming in the clouds with great power, at which point angels will be sent out to gather the elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Now, this sounds very much like end of the world stuff...unless we remember Daniel chapter seven. In Daniel seven, Daniel shares a vision where one "like a son of man" comes to the throne of heaven and is given dominion, glory, and kingship over all things. This dominion would last forever and his kingdom would never be destroyed. This has led some scholars (and in my opinion, rightly so) to interpret Jesus' sayings in Mark 13:24-27 as a prophecy about his own death and resurrection. So it is future oriented, but not our future oriented. It then makes sense that Jesus, toward the end of chapter 13, says, "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."
And now to contradict myself...
I think one of the reasons individuals who interpret passages like this as end of the world stuff feel so threatened when someone like me comes along and says they aren't about end of the world stuff is because they think that means people like me don't believe Jesus is coming back. Au contraire mon frere (yes, I googled how to spell that)...there are numerous places in the New Testament that blatantly make that claim. I'm just saying that Mark 13 probably isn't one of them, but that does bring up another way of interpreting Jesus's apocalyptic language that has to be acknowledged.
An idealist would read these passages and say (to the preterist and the futurist alike), "Both of you are wrong. This language is figurative in order to convey a message, an idea." In other words, preterists are wrong because they think these words relate to an event coming just around the corner, and futurists are wrong because they think these words relate to an event coming thousands of miles down the road. An idealist would suggest that we all stop looking for events and just get the moral of the story. In other words, the Grimm's Fairy Tales can convey truth even if they aren't factual.
Now, as a preterist I would strongly point out the dangers of an exclusively idealist interpretation, such as the fact that individuals become the final arbitors of their own truth. However, there is some value in an idealist approach. So, in Jesus' death and resurrection, God makes a way for all to come to him, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven, because one like a "Son of Man" has been enthroned as king of all. But when does that happen, just once over 2000 years ago? Or...does Jesus still reign, making it possible for God to bring all people to him from the ends of our earth and our heaven? Can't it be both? Also, just as Jesus returned with "great power and glory" after his crucifixion, so too will he return again, and when he does, shouldn't we still "keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come"? Granted, I think that prophecy has to do with the coming armies of Rome, but does that make it any less good advice for us? I don't think so.
So, I guess this post is about keeping a healthy does of humility and self-skepticism when it comes to thinking we know all the ins and outs of Biblical interpretation. As is often times the case with the things that are most important in life, there is more to be seen than meets the eye.
Stopping point: Mark 13