Coming king, coming to rule. Words carry meaning and we can change the meaning of words by our preconceptions. I referred in a previous post to the teaching of Reconstructionism (Theonomy) that we might be turning another cheek now, but then – and they are post-millennialists with the kingdom of God coming, being expressed in the world before the ‘coming’ of Jesus through the exercise of law – we will not be turning the other cheek for the Old Testament law lays out in no uncertain manner how those who do not go God’s way are to be treated!
Every knee will bow… and we have understood that to be (excuse the clumsy language) an imposition of God’s good will whether people really want it or not. Language!
The language used for the parousia is full of imperial imagery as is the entire ‘good news’ proclamation in the NT (even the word parousia was imperial after all). The mistake I think though we can make is to make the way that Caesar ruled as the lens through which we see the future reign of Jesus (the language being parallel is a contributing factor, though I suspect it is really fuelled by how we understand the rule of God, who comes to crush all his enemies). The NT point, though, is that Caesar and Jesus are not parallels, but they are contrasting opposites. Caesar ruled by the sword (hence Paul’s rather tongue in cheek ‘submit to the governing authorities’ instruction), Caesar took life to maintain peace; Jesus refused to take up the sword or even to defend his own life, his ‘rulership’ is released through the laying down his life, peace being established through his death.
I have referred to Phil 2: 6,7 in previous posts and want to go there again, quoting the NRSV (I wonder what the translators will do when the Updated Version comes out this year). I quote it below with unjustifiable word in bold:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…
There is no ‘though’ in the Greek. It could write:
Lionel Messi, being one of the best footballers ever was inducted into the hall of fame… but if I changed that to:
Lionel Messi, who, though being one of the best footballers ever was inducted into the hall of fame…’
My change is anything but subtle and furthermore makes no sense at all! The added ‘though’ in the translators for Phil. 2 only makes sense if we are inferring Jesus is acting in a way that is counter to how God acts. And I think that is often how we see it. His incarnation is not a revelation of God, it is not really ‘God’ with us, but a god in disguise who is with us with the parousia then truly revealing this God, for then Jesus will not be the one laying down his life but the one who (like Caesar) will crush all before him.
I hope you are not disappointed in this. Why follow Jesus? Not in order to avoid hell-fire, but to become God-like, to be freed to lay down our lives. That is why the going to heaven / going to hell divide is not even close to the centre (for me of the Gospel). Salvation is not a saved from (other than ‘from our sins’ our many failures to be human, to be God-like in insisting we will create our own destiny) but a salvation for, the for being as per the one we follow, for the world.
In Acts 1:11 those seeing Jesus ascend were told that he will come in like manner as to how they saw him go. Maybe that was a simple reference to ‘you were looking up into the sky and he ascended, so one day you will look up into the sky and he will descend’, but any future parousia is so different to how he left. Seen by a few, then to be seen by all; they are left, he is gone; but in the parousia all those who have died returning, total transformation and all to happen in a moment – no time for gazing into the sky when that happens!
In the same way – tropos – often carries with it the sense of ‘way of life’. The Jesus who came as human, came truly representing God; the Jesus who lived is the one who is to come, the same revelation of God will be present, he will come in the same way, the same Jesus, the same life-motivated Person will be seen and welcomed. Truly peace on earth and good-will to all, regardless of location.
The return of Jesus is not in order that we can self-justify ourselves with ‘see we picked the right side and now you will see who is powerful’, it is not ‘so he came as Saviour, now he comes as judge’. First time round he came as judge, and brought all things to a place of judgement; second time he will come as Saviour… or better whenever he comes he comes as Saviour and judge. The same Jesus.
More of my conventional approach in the next post.