Summary: “Both God and Jesus can be portrayed in two totally incompatible manners. For example, Jesus can be the wisdom teacher or he can be warning of an imminent apocalypse. Are believers called to obedience in fear of the wrath to come, or to discernment and charity in the middle of life’s complexities?”
In this article I shall place the arguments for and against the apocalyptic view in pairs: with the words ‘Pro’ first in bold type, then ‘Con’ second in italic type.
The argument is over what sort of religious faith Jesus inspired. Two New Testament texts illustrate the choices involved.
Pro: “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. and then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (Mk 13:24-27)
Con:“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say,’Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Lk 17:20-21)
We have to ask ourselves whether Jesus can really have said both these things – they are clearly incompatible. Was he really such a confused, incoherent preacher?
When will the kingdom come?
Pro: the ideal time is the future: there are signs of its coming. It follows the cataclysm that is to come.
Con: the ideal time is the present: the kingdom is already here. Jesus’ parables and aphorisms speak of how to live lives responsive to God’s wisdom and justice in the here and now.
How is God made known?
Pro: In Patterson’s words “God is revealed through the esoteric interpretation of signs in scripture or history. Revelation is coded; to receive it one must possess the decoder key.”
Con: “In wisdom, God is revealed through contemplation of the human situation. It is available to anyone willing to look for God in the world; it is not secret or hidden, though it may well go unnoticed.”
How God is present in the world
Pro: God is not present now, but will arrive with violent random destruction in his wake.
Con: God is already present, though seldom noticed and heeded. God is present in insight and wisdom, and is made known through acts of wisdom, justice and mercy.
Pro: One observes the commandments of God in fear and trembling of the wrath to come. Apocalyptic ethics requires obedience.
Con: One seeks after the good, the right thing to do in the midst of life’s complexities. wisdom ethics requires discernment.
How is justice achieved?
Pro: through violence and war.
Con: In wisdom justice is achieved through wise living.The images wisdom invokes are frequently educational. The God of wisdom is frequently the God of learning.
“The apocalyptic Jesus and the sapiential (i.e. wisdom) Jesus are two quite different figures, and they inspire different religions. This is what is at stake for modern Christianity. If Jesus and his preaching still matter to Christian faith today, then the debate we are having is really about what sort of religion Christianity is. What is its claim about God? Is the Christian God the fearsome God of apocalyptic, who brings about justice through violent intervention? Or is the Christian God the one who beckons in the voice of Wisdom, standing on the street corner calling the world passing by to a new commitment to love and justice? Or, as Dom Crossan has so succinctly put it: should we be waiting for God to act, or is God waiting for us to act?”
This post is an abbreviated version of Prof Stephen J Patterson’s piece “Is the question pertinent?” in Miller, R.J., ed. “The apocalyptic Jesus. A debate.” Polebridge Press (2001) p.160ff. It has been edited by Peter Turner.
Related Zingcreed Post:
155: Jesus was a sage, not a priest prophet or king
161: A kingdom of nuisances and nobodies
376: temporary autonomous zones and the kingdom of god
612: the kingdom of god in the Old testament
Apocalypse in the gospels 485
519 Why isn’t Thomas’ gospel apocalyptic too?