Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bait and Switch Jesus

A week or two ago, a young friend and I were having a chat about life, faith and everything (shout out to Douglas Adams!).  In that discussion, the question of interpretations of the book of Revelation came up.  I have some serious difficulties with many of the "literal" interpretations of this book (I put it in quotes because even the "literal" interpretations resort to symbolism for most of their interpretation, dragonflies become helicopters, a beast is Satan, bowls are metaphors for judgment).

The two biggest problems I have are:

1.)  Such interpretations neglect the genre of literature to which Revelation belongs and the purpose for which apocalyptic literature is used - to communicate a message in vibrant, shocking metaphor.  Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible Book by Book observes that, "the imagery of apocalyptic is primarily that of fantasy" (p. 429).  Think Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

2.)  Such interpretations present a bait-and-switch Jesus who gave us a good show during his incarnation of loving and caring for all people; forgiving and reconciling us with God, but then becomes an entirely different Jesus at "the end of time"in the book of Revelation.  A genocidal, mass-murdering Jesus.  A schizophrenic Jesus.  A Jesus who cannot be trusted because he has one too many faces.

It's worth noting that most of us have inherited certain eschatalogical expectations from Revelation because of it's position in the ordered canon.  The scriptures, perhaps even the canon, can be said to be inspired.  The order of presentation is NOT.  The book of Revelation is a letter (series of letters) of exhortation to the church which includes a selection of supporting imagery that points people through mind-boggling, fantastic, sci-fi quality symbolism to the ultimate victory of Jesus over evil.  We shouldn't get so caught up in the imagery that we forget this point.

If Jesus is portrayed in Revelation as the cosmic wrath bearer, mightn't it well be because people needed to know that the crucifixion and their own suffering under persecution wasn't God's last word.  Jesus was indeed the King who would ultimately return in victory.  We should keep in mind how Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy.  The victorious king came as a lowly servant instead of a victorious messianic David.  By the way, that thoroughly hacked off the prevailing Jewish sentiment about the Messiah.  Perhaps our expectations of the final coming could be similarly misplaced.

If in his life on earth (his "tabernacling" with us according to John 1) Jesus was the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15) and the "exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3), why in God's name (literally) would we expect him to become something at the end of time that he wasn't in time, during his roughly 33 years with us.

No amount of theologizing about Jesus' first coming being a coming of reconciliation and his second coming one of wrath can justify the kind of deception we have to attribute to God to make the theology square.  The equation just won't balance when the writers of scripture describe him as the image of God and the exact representation of God.  They couldn't have been talking about an image of God that hadn't happened yet.  They were clearly referring to the Jesus who died on the cross for his enemies and with his dying breath prayed, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing" (Luke 23:34).  And I'm sorry, Jesus driving some animals and people out of the temple with a whip just does not tip the scales enough to validate the bait-and-switch suggested by so many people's bloody interpretation of the end.

God must be true to himself.  Ironic that the letter(s) titled "revelation" (apokalupsis, "uncovering") are so habitually interpreted in contradiction to the clearest revelation God has ever given to humanity (if we rightly understand the Trinity):  himself, in Jesus.


Matt Ray said...

Interesting post.

However, I don't see a bait and switch Jesus at all. In the O.T. the promised Messiah was a consquering warrior and a suffering servant. The Jews were upset that they got the suffering servant instead of the conquering warrior. But God, in His mercy, sent us a Savior but who would later conquer sin and death completely. God hates sin. No question about it and those who sin are God's enemies. But thank God that "While were we still enemies Christ died for us."

Interesting post. But on the bait and switch point I will have to politely disagree.

Spot said...

That's the lovely thing about the Body of Christ... we don't have to agree about everything. ;)

Thanks for your thoughts.