Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The End Is Near!: The Apocalyptic Revelation of a Jewish Mystical Prophet (Part 4)

Aside from a vast amount of evidence in the synoptics, E.P. Sanders argues that Jesus should be seen as an apocalypticist for three primary reasons. First, Jesus predicted the imminent destruction and replacement of the temple by God. This notion is clearly derived from apocalyptic literature. Second, Jesus significantly chose twelve disciples as future leaders over the restored twelve tribes of Israel. This is in apocalyptic literature as well, and a later Jewish messiah named Sabbatai Sevi does a similar thing, choosing twelve rabbinic scholars as leaders over a future restored Israel. Lastly, Jesus was mentored by John the Baptist and immediately followed by the early Christians like Peter and Paul, all of whom were Jewish apocalypticists.

It is a stretch of the imagination to believe that Jesus did not share the worldview of his mentor John and his later followers whom he had taught. Still, many scholars attempt to deconstruct the apocalyptic Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, who are otherwise quite brilliant scholars, have been the most persistent in this deconstruction. Their solution is to essentially cut out large portions of the synoptics, claim that they are the product of later Christian imagination, and thereby forge a more convenient non-apocalyptic Jesus. Unfortunately, this solution beggars belief and seems to be a misuse of historical critical methods.

Another solution comes from scholars like N.T. Wright, who try to make the case that apocalyptic language is primarily metaphorical. Wright would even have us believe that Jesus was actually predicting the destruction of the temple in 70CE in the “little apocalypse” of Mark 13. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic as other modern scholars including Ehrman, Allison, Fredriksen, and Sanders all convincingly insist. Allison explains, “Most eschatological language…has a literal referent…and a symbolic dimension…when the Jesus tradition envisions the Son of man coming on the clouds or foretells the general resurrection, we should…think of the redeemer literally flying upon the clouds and of the redeemed literally coming forth from their graves – and also of all that those events represent – the vindication of Jesus, the triumph of believers, the judgment of the wicked, the fulfillment of prophecy…That many Jews took their eschatology more or less literally seemingly follows from their struggles with unfulfilled prophecy.”

Some scholars will always resist and reinterpret, but the best evidence seems to continue to point toward an apocalyptic Jesus who believed he had been called by God to spread the gospel of imminent liberation for those on the bottom of society and the warning of judgment to those on top. God was literally about to overthrow the forces of evil, raise the dead, send the Son of Man to judge the world, replace the temple, and rule his eternal kingdom through the Messiah Jesus as earthly king, and the twelve disciples as rulers over the tribes of Israel.

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