The doctrine of the Second Coming and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel

Read time: 8 minutes

According to Luke, when Jesus is taken up with the clouds into heaven, two men in white robes are watching on. They ask the disciples why they are still gazing into the empty sky. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the way that (or simply ‘as’: hon tropon) you saw him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). I didn’t discuss this in my post on the doctrine of the Second Coming, but it’s the sort of text that might be cited in defence of the Evangelical Alliance’s affirmation of belief in the “personal and visible return of Jesus Christ”.

So does the account of the ascension of Jesus into heaven offer support for the traditional evangelical view that he will descend literally from heaven, in person, visible to airline pilots and other onlookers, at the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it? I don’t think so.

To understand what the men in white were talking about we need to consider the larger narrative not only in Acts but also in Luke’s Gospel.

The war against Rome and the coming of the Son of Man

Jesus tells his disciples that the war against Rome will result in the death of massive numbers of Jews, many others will be led into captivity, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Lk. 21:20-24). At this time, there will be signs in the heavens and distress on the earth. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. Why? Because to the apocalyptic mind power structures on earth are mirrored in the spiritual realm. Then people “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk. 21:25-27). All these things will happen before the current generation of Jews has passed away (Lk. 21:32). It will mean the salvation or “redemption” of the persecuted disciples, who have been entrusted with the task of proclaiming to Israel the coming intervention of God (Lk. 21:12-19, 28).

Does Jesus mean that he will descend personally and visibly to earth? Perhaps. But it is also possible that he means only that people will see, in a secondary fashion, what Daniel saw—they will see in these dramatic historical events the vindication of the Righteous One who suffered and who has been given kingdom, authority, and glory by God. It belongs to the mirroring in heaven of events on earth. It has roughly the same rhetorical status as the cosmic signs, which are conventions of prophetic discourse.

The restoration of the kingdom to Israel

The eschatological narrative is picked up again in Acts 1. The disciples ask whether Jesus will at this time restore (apokathistaneis) the kingdom to Israel. His response is that it is not for them to know the time which the Father has fixed for this outcome, but until it happens, they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection and his future “coming” (Acts 1:6-8). This is what mission consisted of in this early setting: the disciples have been sent by Jesus to tell Israel (and perhaps also the nations) that YHWH will judge his people—to put things right in Israel—within a generation. The only viable and saving response is to repent and believe that YHWH has made Jesus Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36-38).

Jesus is then lifted up and taken out of their sight by a cloud. There’s no real reason to doubt that this was conceived as an upward ascension into heaven, given that he directly takes his seat at the right hand of the Father (cf. Acts 2:34-35). In his Gospel Luke says that Jesus “was brought up (anephereto) into heaven” (Lk. 24:52). The angels assure the disciples that Jesus will again be seen coming with the clouds, and we may infer that it is at this moment that the kingdom will be restored to Israel. There is no thought here of the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people.

Are we to understand the “coming with the clouds” literally or symbolically? It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the future event was expected to look like the ascension of Jesus into heaven, only in reverse.

Since we no longer believe that the dwelling place of God is above the sky, we could perhaps quite reasonably say that the whole episode is essentially “mythical”. So the future coming of Jesus (understood, of course, within the constraints of the New Testament narrative) would be theologically real but would have the same ontological status as the ascension into heaven.

Perhaps a better option would be to suppose that the involvement of the angels makes the future “coming” the eschatological fulfilment of what is symbolically anticipated in the real event of the lifting up or elevation of Jesus in the clouds. The angels would be an apocalyptic device similar to the voice from heaven at the transfiguration. In both instances, the dramatic visual “transformation” of Jesus is interpreted from heaven with reference to his eschatological signifiance—on the one hand, as the Isaianic servant-son; on the other, as the future judge and ruler of Israel.

It is also significant that two angels “in dazzling apparel” explain to the women at the tomb that the Son of Man had to suffer, be crucified, and rise on the third day. The two men “in white robes” at the ascension tell the second part of this story. In view of this close connection with the Son of Man motif, I think it is less likely that Jesus is likened to YHWH coming on clouds to judge his enemies or deliver his people (eg. Is. 19:1).

The restoration of all things

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost Peter tells the gathered crowd that God has raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand “until I make your enemies your footstool” (Acts 2:32-35). He then warns them that if they do not repent, they will not escape the devastating punishment that is coming on this “crooked generation” of Israel. In this context, therefore, the thought is that Jesus will sit at the right hand of God in heaven until the enemies who conspired to put him to death—including Herod and the Roman occupying power (cf. Acts 4:27)—have been defeated.

Following the healing of the lame man at the temple Peter urges the people to repent and turn back “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastaseōs) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:19–21).

The “refreshing… from the presence of the Lord” is presumably a reference to the gift of the Spirit in the meantime. The sending of the Christ “appointed” for the Jews (cf. 2:36) corresponds to the reappearance of Jesus from heaven with the clouds, of which the angels had spoken. The “restoring of all things” is when he would “restore the kingdom to Israel”. Josephus uses apokatastaseōs to speak of the “restoration” of Jerusalem after the exile (Jos. Ant. 11:63, 98).

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says to the disciples: “Elijah does come, and he will restore (apokatastēsei) all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased” (Matt. 17:11–12). He means, of course, John the Baptist, but the allusion to Malachi makes clear the scope and eschatological implications of the saying for Israel:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Mal. 4:5–6)

Whether the restoration of all things was conditional upon the widespread repentance of Jews is unclear. My view is that Paul hoped that his people would repent en masse, if not before then after the catastrophe of divine judgment, in which case “all Israel” would be saved. Perhaps we have a similar line of thought in Acts. The coming of Jesus with the clouds of heaven, the vindication of the Righteous One, would mean judgment on a crooked generation, but if the Jews repented, it would also mean the restoration of kingdom and glory to national Israel.

The prophetic expectation was that God would raise up a prophet like Moses, and those Jews who did not listen to him would “be destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:23). So although the people killed the Author of life (Acts 3:15), although they rejected the prophet like Moses, the possibility is still there that they might repent and save themselves “from this crooked generation”, which faced destruction (Acts 2:40).

Personal and visible maybe, but context is everything

So in Luke-Acts we have a clearly circumscribed time frame and historical application. Jesus would be seen coming with the clouds of heaven within a generation, immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, when God would defeat not only the Jewish authorities who had condemned Jesus but also the “lawless men” by whose hands he had been killed (Acts 2:23). If in the course of these events the Jews had repented in large numbers and confessed Jesus as Lord and Christ, the kingdom would have been restored to Israel. It wouldn’t happen, but Peter wasn’t to know that.

However we imagine that the disciples in Jerusalem thought about the future coming of Jesus with the clouds, whether as a literal return from heaven or as prophetic vision, the event cannot be separated from this tightly controlled story of the judgment and possible restoration of first century Israel.

Stewart Felker | Wed, 01/10/2018 - 21:58 | Permalink

Will all due respect, I think that the horrors of Jewish-Roman War — with all its suffering and enslavement of countless innocents, etc. — being thought of as just deserts against Jesus’ theological opponents is morally repugnant, no matter how you slice it.

How the hypothesis remains something that doesn’t in fact go toward further highlighting the potential *absurdity* of Christianity but is actually used to *vindicate* the early Christians (ideologically, ethically, and against charge of eschatological error, etc.) is beyond me; but I think it just further demonstrates how Christianity and religion in general can force otherwise good and rational people into terrible and irrational apologetics. (I know this is harsh and unfriendly, but I truly believe it.)

@Stewart Felker:

Stewart, I think that’s a good point. Even though the Jewish-Roman war fits the OT pattern—Yahweh punishes his disobedient people via pagan nations—the fact that so many innocents are brutally destroyed makes you question the morality of it all.

In fact, if we keep with this pattern, we about have to say the Holocaust was another one of Yahweh’s judgments on his people (unless you’re into replacement theology).

@Stewart Felker:

A good honest comment. Nevertheless…

The hypothesis is not a Christian one, it is a Jewish one. It is rooted firmly in the Old Testament, it is found everywhere in the prophets, it is recapitulated in the literature of second temple Judaism, and it is shared by Jesus, who saw his own rejection by the authorities merely as the climactic moment in a long narrative of rebellion against YHWH.

These were not “theological opponents”. He regarded them as a corrupt, hypocritical and self-serving leadership, and under the terms of the covenant, it was reasonable to think that it would all end in tears. Jesus and his followers believed that the nation was on course for a destructive conflict with Rome, and it is inconceivable that faithful Jews, in general, could have contemplated that and not seen it as “punishment” for rebellion against God. Read Daniel 9.

Yes, many “innocent” people lost their lives, but that’s how history works.

So if Jesus had warned that this was going to happen, had wept over the future of Jerusalem, and had at great cost to himself offered an alternative, narrow path leading to life, surely his followers were entitled to feel vindicated by the way things turned out?

In my view, the Holocaust is beyond the horizon of the scriptures. The logic of the biblical narrative runs through the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to the conversion of the nations. Then we’re off the map.

@Andrew Perriman:

We can’t say for certain whether or not the Holocaust was God’s judgment on his people, but throughout Jewish scriptures, anytime foreign nations punished them, it was understood as God’s judgment. This is why I also agree with you that Jesus and his disciples understood the Jewish Roman War as God’s judgment.

@Peter Simmonds:

I think this post is very fair and even-handed. I think Andrew is quite careful in how he describes the Roman Jewish war:

Jesus tells his disciples that the war against Rome will result in the death of massive numbers of Jews, many others will be led into captivity, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Lk. 21:20-24).

It’s quite clear that the war against Rome did result in this kind of suffering and destruction. It need not have happened, if Jesus and his teaching had been heeded.

The larger question is whether God was directly inflicting punishment on Israel, as an expression of wrath and judgment. This was debated at some length in comments following The “historical” Jesus is anything but gentle, meek and mild, and so the issue rumbles on under the surface, occasionally erupting into chunks of textual lava. My particular series of responses was timed out (by myself) here, but I would like to have responded further to Andrew and Phil.

The gospels are reluctant to attribute vindictive words directly to YHWH in the passages where Jesus is explicitly describing the destruction of Jerusalem; and even when they are used, uniquely I think, in Luke 21:22-23, they are open to scrutiny. “Vengeance” in v.22 is occasionally used elsewhere in the NT. “Wrath” in v.23 is also used elsewhere in the NT, but not always in a way we would recognise from the OT, or even as we would normally understand it to mean. A somewhat different meaning of “wrath” is said to be ‘revealed’ in Romans 1:18-32 for instance.

In both OT and NT there is a mechanism at work, which is that Israel chooses a course of action, usually disloyalty to YHWH and violence of one kind or another (injustice, or futile violence against her more powerful neighbours), which lead to her suffering violence, as a process of cause and effect. A different course of action that would lead to a favourable outcome is usually rejected. Behind these choices lies Israel’s heart attitude and relationship with YHWH, the most painful illustration of which is Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Joel 2:1-27 is a paradigm of how the mechanism might work to Israel’s good, though usually the prophets are pessimistic, and look to a more distant and greater deliverance, which Joel himself hints at in 2:28-32.

In the OT, the prophets’ warnings may be couched in the language of God directly inflicting the violence which is to come. Jeremiah is notorious for this, but reflects a commonly held mindset about God. This is less the case in the NT, and almost completely absent in Jesus’s predictions of the Roman Jewish war (leaving aside some parables and less directly associated warnings for the moment which require separate attention).

In the case of the holocaust, some of the deepest insights provided by those Jews suffering in the concentration camps have been like Elie Wiesel’s description of two men and a child in a reprisal hanging. The child took half an hour to die.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where He is? This is where — hanging here from this gallows …”
(Elie Wiesel - Night).

This is a long way from wrath and judgment, and echoes those parts of the OT in some of its profoundest moments when it describes suffering.

Context is everything, but in Acts 1:9-11, importing an in part perhaps questionable construct seems also to me to suppress significant detail in the immediate context.

@peter wilkinson:

Peter, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with your view that the NT characters viewed Yahweh’s actions in this world differently from OT characters (at least in any significant way). We do see some differences in other areas, for example the greater role of the Satan and the demons in the NT; however, I agree with Andrew that Jesus’ statements demonstrate his belief that Yahweh would be directly involved in the coming judgment.

Ancient holocausts, such as the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria, were said to have been carried out by Yahweh. Now obviously Elie Wiesel’s view departs from the OT & NT view; however, we should expect nothing less after the Middle Ages, Enlightenment, and a few world wars.

@Peter Simmonds:

If you go to the post on the link provided, you’ll see extensive evidence for the view I’m proposing, in addition to the evidence cited in the comment to which you responded. I quoted Elie Wiesel to rebut the extraordinary idea that the holocaust was a judgment of God, paralleling OT judgments which, according to you, continue into the NT. In fact even the OT does not speak with one voice on the judgment and violent wrath of God. Elie Wiesel contributes to an ancient tradition.

The NT does not perpetuate a simple view of God’s violent anger in judgment, and certainly not in the destruction of Jerusalem. Apart from the questionable words cited from Luke, find me any clear statement which says God directly inflicted the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent devastation of Israel in the NT. It isn’t there.

@peter wilkinson:

Hi Peter, I did read your comments on the other post and I agree that the Bible sometimes talks of God withdrawing or turning his back, but these passages are coupled with him pouring out his wrath, not passively standing by (see Lam. 2, Hos 5).

I think the evidence is there in the NT and Andrew has pointed it out, so I could copy and paste what Andrew already wrote, but I won’t. :)

@Peter Simmonds:

I don’t think there’s any further mileage in this, is there? There is actually no reference to God pouring out his wrath in any of the temple destruction passages. Romans 1:18-32 redefines wrath as God allowing people to go their own way, giving them over to a ‘reprobate mind’, something similar to which is described in 2 Thessalonians.

The prophets, Jeremiah in particular, may well ascribe violence to the direct infliction of punishment by YHWH, but we are entitled to ask whether this is literally true, or prophetic rhetoric. Since it contrasts so starkly with what Jesus says about Israel’s God, I would value his view over Jeremiah. No amount of pasting what Andrew says will circumvent the difficulties.

I don’t especially doubt the strong strand of description in the OT of a violent YHWH. However, that isn’t the whole story, even in the prophets. The prophets themselves were fallible people, given to the distortions of viewpoint and language that we are all prone to.

As the heir of the prophets, I take Jesus to be a more accurate guide, though even he was seen through the lenses of human editors. One thing is clear, he never said that God directly judged Israel in a way that violent punishment was directly inflicted by him. The Roman Jewish wars were not his direct anger and punishment. He never said that.

@peter wilkinson:

Peter, it seems you are trying way too hard to make your theory work. You say the OT presents a mixed picture so we can’t really use that. You say Jesus’ parable that speaks of God’s violent wrath on his people can’t be given too much weight because it’s a parable. And finally you say Paul shows in Romans 1 that God’s wrath was redefined.

What I think you are missing is that God removing his arm of protection (or turning his back) was viewed as synonymous with God striking his people; this was not a later development of God’s providence. Furthermore, the passage you say redefined things in Romans 1 cannot be divorced from Romans 2. Giving them over to their depraved minds was not the endgame. It was how they abused the freedom God gave them, which would result in God’s wrath being poured out on them.

@Peter Simmonds:

Peter — I sent a reply to this, and it’s disappeared! Maybe it gave up the will to live on its way over the ether. Anyway, just to answer briefly your points:

- The OT does present a mixed picture, but it doesn’t mean one view can be dismissed in favour of another. It means we pay attention to all the voices in the OT. There is not a uniform account of God’s dealings with Israel For instance, Deuteronomy makes quite clear the principle of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, with warnings which seem remarkably applicable to the Babylonian exile. However, Job calls into question, on a personal level of course, such a simple mechanism; the Psalms also question the personal and national applicability of this rule. The NT throws it out of the window. When did Jesus ever blame anyone he healed for disobedience?

- I’ve already addressed the parables in some detail. There is a warning of forthcoming disaster in the parables: punishment of those who rejected the servant and the son of the vineyard owner, (“He will miserably destroy them”); likewise the man without a wedding garment at the wedding banquet (“Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”) and so forth.

I think first of all we can see a difference here between literal language, and language appropriate to the fable-like atmosphere of the parables. If we make allowances for this, can the idea of actual direct punishment to come in history also be questioned? I think it can, bearing in mind that the punishment of those who ignored Jesus and opted for violent resistance to Rome bore the consequences of Roman might, in terrible ways. The “outer darkness” for the Pharisees was the loss of everything they had hoped for, not least their own lives.

I think we need to read these parables in the same way that we read the parable of the wicked steward, which is not a literal warning of violent punishment by a vindictive God on those who fail to forgive. Likewise in the parable of the unjust judge, we are not meant to think that God only answers prayers in order to stop us bothering him. Parables are not literal accounts of what they describe, are often polemical, and use the conventions of polemic to reinforce a point.

- Romans 1:18-32 is actually very important. It does not say, as we would expect it to, that the wrath of God is the angry and violent punishment of those who turn from him (to idolatry, in this case). It says that the wrath of God being revealed is that “he gave them over” to their sins and God-rejecting ways — v.24, 26, and 28. The conclusion is: “He gave them over to a reprobate mind”, and not violent destruction.

Romans 2 warns of trouble to come as a day of wrath, but “of God” has dropped out. “Wrath of God” as a phrase is only used once in Romans, and the considerable revision of its meaning might make us pause before jumping to conclusions about “wrath” in subsequent uses.

As an example of jumping to conclusions„ the NIV has “God’s wrath” in Romans 2:5, but the Greek text has “store up wrath in a day of wrath and revelation of righteous judgment of God”, not “God’s wrath”. The only other uses of “wrath of God” in the NT are Ephesians 5:6 (echoed in Colossians 3:6), and Revelation 19:15. Revelation 6:6 has “the wrath of the Lamb”, and just imagine an angry lamb. Revelation is written by the conventions of apocalyptic, so again we need to pause before overhasty reading of it as literal description and prophecy. This does not mean, of course, that there is nothing else in the NT which associates “wrath” with God.  

- I do think that “God removing his arm of protection (or turning his back) was viewed as synonymous with God striking his people” in the OT. That does not mean that it was synonymous, or that in the light of Jesus especially (Luke 6:35-36 etc), we should still view God that way.

However, another NT character also demonstrates wrath. “But woe to the earth and sea, because the devil has gone down to you. He is filled with fury, because he knows his time is short” — Revelation 12:12 (thumos, which is a variant of orgē for “wrath” in reference to God). The operation of this character in relation to the story of God’s purposes should not be underestimated. Would you believe it that the word used of Paul’s delivering the immoral brother to Satan in 1 Corinthians is paradidōmi, and the same word is used to describe the working of the wrath of God as “giving over” in the Romans 1passage, vss. 24, 26 and 28. It’s worth asking, in the light of the NT, and on a national level, whether the violence and suffering of “wrath” is actually God, or God handing people over to the violence of Satan.

It would anyway be a convenient shortcut to say, as you do, that 

Giving them over to their depraved minds was not the endgame. It was how they abused the freedom God gave them, which would result in God’s wrath being poured out on them.

The problem is that this isn’t exactly what Romans 1 or Romans 2 is saying, is it?

All for now. Odd about that first comment I submitted.

@peter wilkinson:

Peter, I’m just not seeing what you’re seeing (or you’re not seeing what I’m seeing).

Yes, Job questions the idea of God’s retributive justice and some of the psalmists would like to see more of it, but it is so strong of a theme throughout the rest of the OT that it seems foolish to me to argue this was not a predominate theme in Judaism expressing how God interacted with his people.

Of course parables are not to be taken literally, but they are to be taken, and when the parables of judgment are taken, I think they tell a consistent story of Yahweh’s punishment of the disobedient. You write:

“It would anyway be a convenient shortcut to say, as you do, that ‘Giving them over to their depraved minds was not the endgame. It was how they abused the freedom God gave them, which would result in God’s wrath being poured out on them.’ The problem is that this isn’t exactly what Romans 1 or Romans 2 is saying, is it?”

To which I would respond, somewhat incredulously, “Yes, I think that is exactly what it is saying!”

Again, I think you are trying to hard. If the text does not have the exact wording in the exact order, you won’t accept it.

I have enjoyed going back and forth on this but I suspect there’s little new either of us can add to this.   

@Peter Simmonds:

Well, there may be a little more. I think you conveniently (for you) leapfrog the actual meaning of Romans 1:18-32. No comment on the introduction of another master of wrathful destruction and the parallel between “giving over/up” by God and to him.

Nobody has been able to cite any statements by Jesus in the passages where he is addressing the issue directly (not parables or isolated sayings) that the Roman wars demonstrated God’s direct, angry, violent punishment of Israel. The silence is deafening.

I do both see and understand what you are saying, of both OT and NT. Let’s push the problem with God’s violent, angry punishment back further. Did God really sanction the annihilation of the ancient world, if not the entire globe, apart from Noah and his immediate family? Yes it’s what the narrative says, but are we to accept what it says about God? Or do we say it’s simply what people believed about God then, but it’s just a children’s story now? (Or is something else going on — maybe to do with the dark meaning behind Genesis 6:1-4?).

Did God really slaughter the firstborn of Egypt? The narrative seems uneasy about this, substituting the Destroyer for YHWH.

Did God really destroy Pharaoh and his army in the sea? Are we meant to sing along with Moses and Miriam about this?

Did God really tell the Israelites to commit genocide in Canaan? Did the conquest really take place as described in Joshua? Some weighty archaeological evidence strongly suggests not.

What are we to think even about a narrative which praises genocide? It seems quite clear that Jesus substantially changed the narrative, with his Passover meal leading to the cross, not conquest of the land. Not Paul or any of the apostles disagreed with this rewriting of the story, and nowhere in the NT are these events called on to support the narrative as it turns out. It looks like a rewriting of the old narrative, as far as the activities of God are concerned and how He is viewed. Maybe some OT viewpoints are questionable in the light of the NT. Or at least superseded. None of this is admitted in the interpretation which you are endorsing.

The whole proposition of Israel defeating her enemies by violence (or God’s violence) seems increasingly called into question following the exile. This is why we should question a viewpoint which says violence can continue as normal in the NT, (I’m talking about God’s violence here; Jesus clearly opposed violence). This is essentially how the geopolitical argument is underpinned.

Apart from anything else, the idea of violence in war and judgment runs counter to Jesus’ own teaching (which I pointed out in the previous post).
This is simply overlooked in the argument that the slaughter during and after the siege of Jerusalem was God’s angry violent punishment in judgment.

These are all further reasons in themselves why we should not accept that OT practices and assumptions carry over unbroken into the NT. It seems obvious when you put it like that. The same applies to a warrior God, acting and judging in violence, from the OT to the NT.

Paul clearly says that Torah was not only temporary, but never really was God’s plan to justify his people (Romans 4:11), in the light not just of Abraham, but a resurrected Jesus, through whom Paul rewrote much of the OT. So too the violent judgment of an angry God needs to be brought to a risen Jesus for some thoroughgoing critical examination. If Jesus didn’t advocate violence (he didn’t), then who is?

Anyway, that’s probably it for now. Have a great weekend, whatever is left of it in whatever time zone you inhabit. I wonder if that first comment is floating sadly around in cyberspace somewhere, looking for a digital platform on which to land? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

@peter wilkinson:

Hi Peter,

Timewise, you’re a bit ahead of me since I’m in the eastern part of the US.

I was thinking about our exchange while working out, and although I still disagree with many of your points, I’m beginning to think you may be right about the Jewish-Roman War not being clearly identified as Yahweh’s judgment.

I think it’s obviously anticipated and referred to as a period of great tribulation, but now that I look more closely, it appears the actual judgment of Yahweh (the winnowing) was to take place when the son of man returned after the tribulation.

Was there a theological shift that can be seen in the words of Jesus and Paul regarding Yahweh’s retributive justice? As I said in my earlier comment, I suspect NT characters were less superstitious than OT characters and not as quick to attribute every misfortune to God (and I don’t think this was unique to the Jews); however, I don’t think this shift was as great as you think, and I don’t think the examples you have given support your claim.

I’ve gone back and read and reread Romans 1 & 2 and I still don’t see anything being redefined. I also don’t see Paul clearly (or unclearly) saying the Torah was only temporary in Romans 4. I do see him saying that being a Jew and possessing the law is not enough to save Jews since Yahweh will judge ALL people according to their faithfulness/righteous actions. 

@Peter Simmonds:

Romans 1 & 2 — We agree to differ. I guess you are saying that “the wrath of God” begins with God giving people over to turning from God, which becomes a “reprobate mind”, which ends up with angry violent punishment (“day of wrath”). I don’t think Romans 1 & 2 says that an angry God inflicts directly violent punishment. I think that “wrath of God”, “day of wrath” are formulaic terms carried over from the OT, and with a new perspective on God brought by Jesus (very evident in his teaching and actions), the term itself is undergoing some change of content.

If it came to it, I’d bring Satan more into the frame (which Jesus also does from beginning to end). What has been called God’s wrath has become God allowing people who turn from him to experience what it means to choose his domain, which leads to the violence of his (Satan’s) anger. I’d argue this from various texts, but more importantly from Jesus himself, who at the climactic moment did not threaten his enemies with the wrath of God.

The temporary torah is evident from passages like 2 Corinthians 3:11 etc. That it never was God’s way of justifying us is seen in Romans 4 (eg vss 9-11 especially). This is s separate issue from being “saved”, in which faith is assessed by the works that proceed from it.

You will be able to evaluate this, if you have the inclination, with the freshness that comes from time on the eastern US seaboard. I’m already drooping in deepest Surrey, England.

@peter wilkinson:

A problem I would have with thinking first-century Jews attributed bad things as coming from the hand of Satan is the fact that when the disciples asked Jesus why the guy was blind, they assumed it was because he disobeyed God or his parents disobeyed God; the devil never entered into the discussion. Now Jesus did say it was neither, but he didn’t say their thinking was universally faulty, just faulty for this guy.

We see Jesus saying God forgives those who forgives, rewards those who do right, and tortures those who fail to show mercy. (Matthew 18:35, as you can see, is not a parable; it is the explanation of a parable.)

I suspect we will have to agree to differ on 2 Cor. 3:11 as well. As you know, this is a difficult and problematic portion of scripture; however, it seems your interpretation harkens back to pre-NPP days when Paul was considered a supersessionalist. I don’t think this view is sustainable.

@Peter Simmonds:

You must be getting tired Peter! The point about the man born blind in John 9 is that the disciples take the default view: either the man or his parents sinned; blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience. Jesus says neither. In fact Jesus never says of anyone he heals or delivers that they were suffering the consequence of sin. Neither does he here attribute the blindness to the work of the devil. However, Jesus did seem to spend a lot of his time casting out demons.

Matthew 18:21-34 not a parable? What is it then?

There are aspects of the flow of Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 3 that are complex, but the meaning of 2 Corinthians 3:11 is quite clear. The law, or old covenant which came with glory is fading. The new covenant which will last has greater glory. NPP or no NPP, that’s what it means.

We’re a long way from the 2nd coming and restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Isn’t it time to get back to that?

@peter wilkinson:

You’re ahead of me, so it’s not that late here. (Perhaps you’re suggesting I must be tired of this debate? :) )

I think you might be tired. What I wrote was Matthew 18:35 is not a parable; it is the explanation of a parable.

So we agreed to differ on pretty much everything, but you did cause me to reevaluate my view of the Jewish-Roman War, so all in all, not a complete waste of time.


@Peter Simmonds:

Well thanks, and it’s actually been helpful to me to be pressed on my argument. BTW Matthew 18 — you’re right of course. The parable is about forgiveness. It also reflects on what happens if we don’t forgive. In that sense it’s a warning. The king then clearly stands for God, who generously forgives us. If we don’t forgive others, the fate of the servant is a dire warning. This is a reminder of Matthew 6:15.

The exaggerated punishment doesn’t invite us to believe that God will do just the same. That’s absurd. God isn’t a monster who employs physical torture on his recalcitrant servants. On the other hand, even psychologically, unforgiveness brings a continuing torment. At this point the parable plays into my argument about God’s wrath as ‘handing over’. The torment feels demonic. It’s also a cause & effect consequence — we are psychologically wired to be tormented if we don’t forgive. Spiritually, we place ourselves in the demonic, the realm of ‘anti-forgiveness’. God allows that — he can’t force us to forgive. That would deny the meaning of forgiveness.

Whether the punishment is actively inflicted by God is almost by the by. It’s just what happens; you don’t have to believe in God to know that. So the parable, in my view, speaks to the subject of the discussion. I’m flying a kite Peter. I need somebody to shoot me down in flames. Enjoy Sunday when it comes!

Now, it’s really time to get back to the second coming of Jesus and the restoration of Israel

@peter wilkinson:

Right after saying there was probably nothing further to say, I realized I didn’t respond to your point about the devil.

It’s obvious the devil plays a much bigger role in the NT; however, I don’t see that replacing the concept of God’s retributive justice. The devil entices people to sin but unlike to book of job, we don’t see him killing people.

We do see demons causing various illnesses, which you could argue would have been attributed to Yahweh in the OT, but again, I don’t see that this in any way nullified the concept of Yahweh blessing his children when they were obedient and punishing them when they were disobedient.

I think you could persuasively argue NT characters were less superstitious than OT characters and not as quick to attribute every misfortune to God; however, the disciples question about why the man was born blind shows that the concept was still very much alive and well.

John the baptizer said the one who would come would gather his own and destroy the rest and Jesus called him the greatest man born and agreed with his analysis. Jesus also identified the means of God’s wrath as the armies that would surround the city (Luke 21).

Your view, that God is not directly involved in punishing people here on earth but instead just watches them reap the consequences of their bad decisions, is a normal view in this day and age, but exporting it back to first-century Palestine distorts everything.

Since the day of the Lord was to follow the tribulation at the hands of the Romans (Mark 13:24), I wonder if it was like in Amos 5 where the Jews longed for the day of the Lord, thinking it had to be better than what they were going through.

Only his disciples saw him go, so only disciples will ‘see’, behold understand his return and the nature thereof. Jesus can’t because as Israel’s final atonement and second Passover sacrifice is as dead as those gone before. However God’s only begotten son, for whom the sheep Jesus substituted as did the sheep to save Abraham’s only-begotten son Isaac, is very much alive as h had inherited all offices and names of Jesus, who must remain dead for the saved to retain theirs, in the manner of the handover from Elijah to Elisha, a type purposely ignored.

Have a look at my home page menus for a change of perception.