Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jesus' Ministry and the Parousia

For today's write-up on volume 2 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I will talk about the relationship between Jesus' ministry and the parousia (the coming of the Son of Man).

I have long wondered what the relationship was between Jesus' ministry and the parousia. I agree with Meier and others that, in some sense, the Kingdom of God was believed by Jesus and the early Christians to be present in Jesus' ministry, as Jesus healed people, cast out demons, and encouraged people to repent. The Kingdom was breaking forth into the world. And the world was resisting when it put to death John the Baptist and then Jesus. But Jesus triumphed when he rose from the dead, and the Kingdom was still on the way and imminent (notwithstanding setbacks), for the Son of Man would come soon.

So what's my problem? The Kingdom being present in Jesus' ministry implies a process of the Kingdom coming. I think of the mustard seed that grew into a tree, or the leaven that leavened the whole batch (Matthew 13:31-33). Jesus' ministry was the Kingdom on a small level, as Jesus defeated Satan in the lives of individuals. But that would grow to encompass the whole world. The coming of the Son of Man, however, does not appear to be the Kingdom coming through a process, but rather the Kingdom coming through a quick cataclysm that immediately puts to an end the old order and replaces it with a new order.

Is there a way to reconcile these two concepts? One way is perhaps to say that Jesus was setting the stage for the coming cataclysm by showing people what the imminent Kingdom would be like. Jesus was putting demons on notice that their time of dominion would soon come to an end, for God would dramatically intervene and set up God's Kingdom. And Jesus was showing the demons what they could expect through his own acts of ending their dominion over individual lives. Imagine an idealistic sheriff in a Western kicking a powerful villain out of the bar, even though the villain's dominion has not yet utterly ended. The sheriff may have somehow chipped away at the villain's power, which is why he feels confident enough to kick the villain out of the bar. But the sheriff will soon end the villain's power in a dramatic cataclysm----a shoot-out, for example. The sheriff kicking the villain out of the bar is a sign that the villain's dominion will soon end.

Meier presented other explanations that scholars have proposed. Meier refers to T.W. Manson's view that Jesus believed that the world needed to be cleansed of demons before the parousia could take place, which was why Jesus' exorcisms were setting the stage for the parousia. I do not know if this was the view of the historical Jesus and the synoptic Gospels. The impression that I get from Paul's writings and from the Book of Revelation is that demons would be active when the Second Coming of Christ takes place----which is why the Second Coming is necessary to end Satanic dominion over the earth. Jesus says in Mark 3:27 that, through his exorcisms, he is binding the strong man (demons) so that the house can be plundered. Was the strong man somehow unbound after Jesus died and rose again?

Another view is that, according to Luke 10:18, Satan fell from heaven during the time of Jesus' ministry. As a result, Satan's dominion over Israel has come to an end. The implication here may be that the demons supporting the Gentile powers over Israel have been defeated, and so the time of Gentile dominion is coming to a close. But my question here is the same as what I asked about Manson's view: did the demons get their power back? And how was Jesus' ministry advancing the Kingdom if that were the case?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog