Sunday, November 02, 2014

notes on the apocalypse of Jesus

Matthew 24

"Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’"

I agree with Elaine Pagels that it is likely Jesus did predict the destruction of Herod's Temple, and that this isn't one of those prophecies most likely written after the fact. I think it was this prophecy, as well as his guerrilla theater in the Temple, that was identified with him and that was the basis of the movement, especially after the Temple was destroyed (although some stones still remain upon stones). Back at the Mount of Olives, his disciples ask for details and the prophecy he gives them refers to events of the Jewish war with Rome that Matthew's generation had experienced, and that had culminated with the siege of Jerusalem, but it also points to the future ("immediately after the suffering of those days") end times and the coming of the son of man on the clouds. The capitalization of "son of man" by the English translators is an interpretation of the text. This convention of capitalizing isn't in the original text. The phrase "son of man" means "human being," but Christian interpretation reads or misreads "Son of Man" to mean Jesus as Messiah. Jesus told his disciples that all this warfare and persecution would continue until the news of the transcendent community he called the "kingdom of heaven" had spread to all nations, and THEN the end would come.
Jesus' apocalyptic discourse draws on the prophets, especially Daniel. Daniel's prophetic writing is understood to be "after the fact" and to interpret history up to his time.
 The meaning one finds in any text depends on one's existential relationship with its perceived message. So the meaning of apocalyptic texts can be amplified emotionally when you are in the center of a crisis that demands too much emotionally and practically and ultimately is going to change you and your world, which is why a lot of people avoid apocalyptic prophecy/poetry like Ebola, and why they are dangerous in the hands of paranoids, but they can also provide you with a symbolic language to talk about current events. The parables Matthew attaches to the prophecy here confront the listener with questions.  Are you taking care of the people you are supposed to take care of? Are you prepared for the ceremony you are going to take part in?  Is there oil for your lamp? Have you invested your talents and realized their potential, or have you hidden your gifts away? Think of these parables like vivid dreams that seem to be telling you something, to draw attention to aspects of your present situation you have been putting out of your thoughts. The prophetic call to responsibility and righteousness goes the individual as well as the community, and this is how parables act like dreams to disturb your complacency, like a thief in the night.
Well, Jesus was speaking in code in the parables, but everyone knew, I think, what he was talking about. Was it simply so he wouldn't say anything incriminating? The "abomination of desolation in the holy place"  or "desolating sacrilege" (let the reader understand) quotes the prophet Daniel. Daniel's prophecy is thought (by the secular humanist critical bible scholars I rely on) to be "after the fact" and to be about a specific invader impressively named Antiochus Epiphanes who lived centuries after the time Daniel is supposed to be set in, and over a century before Jesus. I think Daniel's prophecy is a symbolic interpretation of historical events, putting them in the mythical history of Israel.

Matthew 25 1-30
And this is the end times part of Jesus' discourse in the Mount of Olives. He is clearly telling his disciples that things are going to get bad, but ultimately each nation (or individuals within each nation?) will be judged according to whether they fed the hungry, clothed the poor, took care of the sick, welcomed the immigrant, and was compassionate to those in prison. So, if you are unclear about what a real "christian" nation might be, there it is in Matthew 25: 31 - 46, and it has nothing to do with manger scenes in front of City Hall or ritual prayers in public schools, but this is what Jesus meant by righteousness. These righteous individuals belong to the potential transcendent community
"prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

Here are some passages from the book of Daniel that are relevant to these chapters in Matthew:

Daniel 7:13-14
13         As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being 
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

9: 25 - 27
25 Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

12: 1-4  
There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky,[b] and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

12: 8 -13

I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. 12 Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days. 13 But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.”


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