When trusting Jesus more, leads to questioning traditional lore

What is a “Coming of God?”

What is a “Coming of God”?

Part 1 of 4

There is much confusion in Christianity today surrounding the milieu of biblical eschatology. Specifically, there is widespread misunderstanding about the nature and timing of Jesus’ coming, arrival or presence (parousia in Greek). In popular preaching and imagination, it’s often called his “second coming” or “return.” Many life-long Jesus-followers are surprised to learn that these are notterms found in the Bible – and then to consider how these terms effect our thinking on just what this all means.

But the rabbit-hole goes even deeper: What if the confusion about Jesus’ coming reaches even farther back, to a more basic misunderstanding about what a ‘coming of God’ really was in the first place? What was a coming of God according to the Hebrew Scriptures?

In this series, I’d like to try and shed some light on this concept of a ‘coming of God,’ and why it matters to us today.

Before looking at what a ‘coming of God’ is according to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), let’s see if Jesus fit the pattern of a ‘coming of God’. Did Jesus come when, and to whom, he said he would come? Can we show that Jesus kept his promise to come again, in the glory of his Father, to his first-century believers?

Where Do We Begin? Jesus.

In taking a deeper look at this often-taken-for-granted concept, let’s refresh ourselves on when and how Jesus said he would come again. Most Christians today have picked up a futuristic paradigm through osmosis – it’s in the religious air we breathe. Because of an a priori commitment to the idea of a future second coming of Jesus, we bring the baggage of a futuristic paradigmto Scripture, not even stopping to question whether a solid interpretation of Scripture allows for this or not!

Our inherited futurism causes us to inadvertently run right over the plain teachings of Jesus about when and to whom he said he would come. It causes confusion because ministers have not been taught how Jesus fulfilled his prophecies to come, and yet they feel compelled to preach that “the Bible is true.” So while Christians believe Jesus is trustworthy – even the Son of God – their futuristic worldview causes them to necessarily (and yet needlessly) deny what Jesus plainly taught. And that’s a big deal.

Just for a moment, let’s set aside our futuristic presuppositions and open ourselves to questioning the idea of a future second coming – a proverbial “sacred cow” in conventional Christianity. Let’s ask: What do the Hebrew Scriptures show a ‘coming of God’ to be? Then let’s compare this to what Jesus actually taught about his coming. Then let’s hold this in light of what actually happened during the time Jesus said his prophecies would come true.

If a divine pattern emerges out of this that substantiates Jesus’ promise to come to his generation of believers, and if this pattern is different than what traditional Christianity has taught us to expect, then we may need to be open to questioning our previously-held beliefs. We may need to ask ourselves: Who do we trust more – the teaching of tradition or the promise of Jesus?

Let me introduce a thought that will help the rest of this make sense: why did this ‘coming of God’ need to happen, and why did it need to happen when Jesus said it would? Because Jesus didn’t teach that he was coming back to judge the whole physical world – this is something we read into Scripture. He was coming back to judge his conceptual world: the generation that crucified him, and to reward his first century saints.

Jesus was coming to end the world of political and religious power that the old temple system centered upon. It was called the ‘heaven and earth’ of the Old Covenant world. It was a world of concentrated power, burdensome laws and temple sacrifices. It had served its purposes, but its time was up. That world killed Jesus and yet, Jesus made this system obsolete with his life, death and resurrection.

My possibly-provocative assertion – that we will flesh out in upcoming posts  – is that after the Great Revolt beginning in AD 66 and subsequent Roman siege of Jerusalem and destruction of its temple in AD 70, God no longer lived in a temple made with hands. God lived in a temple of people now – his Kingdom of people on earth. So Jesus was coming back to establish the ‘heaven and earth’ of the New Covenant world. And Jesus would be the Sun of Righteousness who would never stop shining in this new Kingdom of hearts and lives. Like the new wine that burst the old wineskins, Jesus was coming to establish the new ‘heaven and earth’ and to speed the passing of the ‘heaven and earth’ of the Old Covenant world.

When – and to whom – did Jesus promise to come?

When? This first question is so important. All New Testament eschatology is based on Jesus’ teachings about his coming. And Jesus’ teachings are based upon earlier teachings in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Jesus taught that he would come to his first generation of believers, both explicitly in direct statements, and implicitly in parables and other typological fulfillments of Hebrew Scriptures. I will only be able to touch on a small sample of Jesus’ many consistent teachings to this end.

To Jesus’ followers:

Truly I tell you, some of you who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:28, cf. Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, emphases mine here and throughout)

To Jesus’ followers:

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)

To Jesus’ disciples who explicitly asked him when he would come again to end the Old Covenant age:

So also, when you see all these things [seven signs], you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away untilall these things take place. (Matthew 24:33–34)

To Jesus’ disciples:

These are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is near…when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:22, 28 31)

Therefore I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.’ …When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they understood that he was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:40-41,43,45)

From now on, you [Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the whole Sanhedrin] shall be seeing the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69)

To Peter:

If I want him [John] to remain until I come, what is that to you? (John 21:22)

When did Jesus say he would come? Certainly within the lifetime of his first believers. Jesus taught he would come to his then-living generation of followers to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures, end the Old Covenant age, fulfill the Kingdom of God and dwell with them forever.

But instead of trusting this teaching of Jesus, we are taught from traditional pulpits that Jesus did not come when he said he would come or fulfill what he said he would. This nonoccurence is thought to be so obvious that evidence for it is not even needed. After all, we are all still here, people are still crying and dying, and no new ‘heaven and earth’ or utopian world has replaced our world. But is a physical body floating down from the clouds to take up residence in a new physical planet really what Jesus promised? And did Jesus massively fail in doing this?

If we deny the clear time statements of Scripture pertaining to when Jesus’ coming would occur, then Jesus failed. And if we interpret the nature of the presence of Jesus and the new ‘heaven and earth’ through a physical-literal lens, instead of seeking to use Scripture to interpret Scripture as to the nature of these events, then Jesus failed to keep his promise. If Jesus missed to boat on such a frequent and blatant assertion, we have no reason to believe or follow him. There is no getting around this. We cannot make excuses and call a 2000 year nonoccurence a minor “delay.” It is a massive failure. Especially when Holy Writ holds itself to the mat in asserting that this great coming of God would be happening, posthaste:

For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. (Hebrews 10:37, circa 60s AD)

Looking anew at what a ‘coming of God’ was according to Scripture will shed new light on what Jesus and the whole Bible teaches about the nature and timing of Jesus’ coming into his Kingdom. If we set aside futuristic presuppositions for just a moment, letting Scripture and Jesus speak for themselves, these very time statements that have confounded so many become a reliable guidepost for Jesus’ right-on-time arrival. And Scripture itself helps us define the nature of the presence of Jesus and the new ‘heaven and earth,’ or Kingdom that was to come.

This work of discovery is taking context into consideration. It is reading Scripture in light of the ancient near-eastern apocalyptic context that these words were first breathed in. Jesus taught to a predominantly Jewish audience, and he used Jewish ideas – often quoting directly from the Hebrew Scriptures – to communicate with them in a way that his hearers would have understood more readily than we do today. This contextual view must be taken into account. When we do this, a whole new world – and a whole new kind of ‘coming of God’ – appears.

“Did Jesus’ AD70 coming fit the biblical pattern of a ‘coming of God’?” If it does, then far from being wrong, failed, or inexplicably delayed, as many teach today, Jesus’ promise to return to his first followers came right on time.

Stay tuned to this series to see how Jesus is quite vindicated in the pages of both Scripture and history – and why this matters to us today.

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Part 2

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Last week, we looked at what Jesus had to say about the timing of his ownparousia, or “coming.”

So where else does the ‘coming of God’ show up in Holy Writ? Was a ‘coming of God’ like the world-devourer Galactus‘ herald Silver Surfer, gliding in from the sky all bright and shiny? Or was it a demonstration of God’s power in spiritual, physical and the visible realms? Let’s delve into the internal language of Scripture to discover what this concept means to its original speakers.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, a ‘Coming of God’ had many forms; a voice in the Garden, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire. A ‘coming of God’ in judgment was usually when God used the means of an enemy army to discipline a city and its inhabitants. God’s presence was recognized in that hostile army because God sent a prophet to warn of the event beforehand. In the biblical narrative, the pattern looks like this:

  1. A Prophet uses apocalyptic language to Tell people that ‘God is coming‘ to change the ‘heaven and earth’ of their society ->
  2. The Prophet tells people to repent and turn to God->
  3. The People don’t turn to God ->
  4. An Enemy army comes. and people “see” God – meaning, they recognize that God visited them in judgment ->
  5. God reorients the ‘heaven and earth’ of the political and religious order of their society.

Like Father, like Son:

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27)

We sometimes forget the poetic stirrings in the ancient Hebrew writers, setting their evocative words in concrete, beyond all original recognition. Max King’s depiction of prophecy, though, brings me back to a primary understanding of how prophetic language functioned for its earliest hearers: “Prophecy is figurative language describing the spiritual significance of temporal events.”

This is how God came in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and this is how Jesus was prophesied to come “in the glory of the Father” in the New Testament. Many Christians do not know this, but in 70AD, that is exactly what happened. The presence of God, in the paradoxical form of Roman armies, trampled the city of Jerusalem for 42 months, or 3 1/2 years – just as prophesied, “…it is given to the nations, and they will trample the Holy City for 42 months” (Revelation 11:2). Afterwards, even the Jewish historian, Josephus, recognized that this was a Divine intervention – a Coming of God – breaking into and changing history forever.

But Different?

The main difference between God’s comings in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus’ coming was that Jesus’ coming would be the climax of comings of God in history. His coming would consummate the New Covenant age of God’s Kingdom of people on earth.

Now once at the consummation of the ages he has been manifested to put away sin.” (Hebrews 9:26)

Jesus’ coming would simultaneously cause the heaven and earth of the Old Covenant to become obsolete, disappearing from the relationship between God and humanity. And it would give way to the dawning of the New Covenant age, the heaven and earth of the New Covenant Kingdom of people.

“When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)

Jesus’ glorious arrival would be into his New Kingdom – and that New Kingdom is us! Jesus arrived to give life to his own body on earth – the body of Christ.

Through Us, Not To Us

It’s time to adjust our lens. The purpose of God’s coming wasn’t to physically renew the earth into a utopian state in an instant. It was to consummate the marriage relationship begun, the New Covenant relationship, with the New ‘Israel of God’ in Christ. Historically, marriage has had the purpose of producing legally recognized descendants who could be designated as heirs to a father’s land or Kingdom. Such is the case with God, his bride and his children. God came and consummated a New Covenant world, making a new relationship with his bride, the New Humanity, so that they could begin producing spiritual children, heirs with rights to all the promises and benefits as God’s all-pervasive Kingdom.

This consummation has nothing to do with the end of the material world, or the beginning of a utopian earth. It is about belonging to a spiritual reality that we can live in now, amidst our material world. It is a Kingdom that is coming into the physical world through us. You can opt into it and recognize your belonging to it at any time.

It is not that God isn’t changing and powerfully transforming this world toward God’s own victorious influence of  justice, mercy, hope and glory. No, its that these changes are breaking into the world through us, as we live out our lives seeking to be a benefit and blessing to all the world, opening ourselves to the very real and powerful presence of an all-in-all God. God is coming into this world through us, right now, not coming in one earth-ending future installation “to” us.

To End a Covenant World

So let’s look at the pattern in the text again.

There were many “Coming of God” events prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, complete with earth-ending and cloud-coming apocalyptic language, signifying great change. But was this language describing the end of the physical planet? Or was it the end of a society’s religious and political order – the end of their world as they knew it?

The Bible and history both confirm that this apocalyptic language was consistently describing the end of political and religious worlds  – or societies – like Greece, Edom, Babylon, Egypt and Israel, as you can see from Scriptures we’ll explore below.

A Coming of God, in biblical literature, was never literally a physical deity dropping out of the ‘sky,’ although this cloud-coming language occurs to many modern ears that way. But an ancient person at all familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would have recognized that Jesus was quoting the Hebrew descriptions of past comings of God from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Thus, they would have reason to hear Jesus’ words in the same way – as a poetic and apocalyptic way of describing God’s end of Israel’s Old Covenantal world through the use of an enemy army. Jesus was not describing the end of the material world – not in his future, nor in ours.

Jesus, a prophet in the line of Hebrew prophets, predicted a ‘cloud-coming’ judgment on Jerusalem in his generation. Jesus was not predicting the end of the world, time or history! Jesus simply quotes his Hebrew Bible and follows the same Hebrew biblical pattern set by many before him, in a way his first century Jewish audience would understand. Jesus was predicting great covenantal change, as signified by his paradoxical presence in Jerusalem being given over to its violent strategies via Rome in AD 70, having ignored Jesus’ Way of Peace (Luke 13:34-35).

Stay tuned – we’ll be exploring more about the coming of God next week!

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Part 3

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In this series, we’ve been exploring the possibility that Jesus’ “coming on the clouds” was a symbolic way of speaking about the spiritual meaning of the one of the most significant events in the First Century CE: The Jerusalem civil war, and subsequent Roman attack, culminating in the destruction of the Hebrew Temple.

But is this the only time Scripture describes God “coming on the clouds”? If there are others, do we see these “cloud comings” of God in history following a similar pattern of nature and timing?

Here I want to show how the nature of the rich, evocative language of trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations are ways the biblical writers envisioned God coming with armies in judgment.

The timing of these ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events is within one generation of when the prophet spoke the words of warning.

Jesus and his earliest followers stand in precisely this lineage of the Hebrew prophetic pattern when they proclaim a coming of God in the coming judgment on Jerusalem and the new paradigm that was emerging.

Let’s take a look at several of these Hebrew prophetic precedents.

God’s Coming to End Saul’s Kingdom – 1000 BC

Then the earth shook and quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling and were shaken, because he was angry. Smoke went up out of his nostrils, fire from his mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it.

He bowed the heavens also, and he came down with thick darkness [on the earth] under his feet. And He rode on a cherub and flew;

And he appeared on the wings of the wind. And he made darkness canopies around him, a mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky…The Lord thundered from heaven…And he sent out arrows, and scattered them, lightning…at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.

(2 Samuel 22:8-16, emphases mine)

Notice the descriptions: God came down and God appeared. Did God visibly appear, like a Stan Lee Marvel movie walk-on cameo?

This would be difficult to comport with the worldview of the ancient biblical writers. God is Spirit, and later Scriptures say that no one has seen God (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). So we have no reason to believe that these prophetic authors held that these ‘comings of God’ were bodily or even visible. Nonetheless, they were very real and perceptible in the spiritual and social worlds of their hearers, for those who had “eyes to see” and minds to perceive the spiritual significance of divine involvement.

Notice also that the ‘shaking of heaven and earth’ were symbolic ways of describing the decline of a nation. For example, in Haggai,

Tell Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations…

(Haggai 2:21-22)

For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations…

(Haggai 2:6-7)

Likewise, the shaking of the temple system of Old Covenant Israel is symbolically described as God shaking the ‘heaven and earth’ of old in 70AD:

Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.’ And this word, ‘Yet once more’ symbolizes the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken…

Hebrews 12:26-28

God Comes in a Cloud Against Ancient Egypt – 700s BC

Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall tremble at hispresence; and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians.

(Isaiah 19:1-2)

Notice that God’s coming to Egypt is described as sending the Egyptians to fight a war. The Egyptians are depicted as acting as God’s instrument, doing the divine will, in this prophesied war.

God Comes to Judge Nineveh – 600s BC

The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries, and He reserves wrath for his enemies…in whirlwind and storm is his way, and clouds are the dust beneath his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by his presence; the world and all the inhabitants in it.

(Nahum 1:2-5)

In this cloud-coming judgment God’s presence is prophesied to destroy the world. But we know from the context and from history that the biblical authors mean the world of Nineveh – not planet earth.

I hope you’re beginning to see a biblical-language paradigm for this-worldlysymbolic Divine appearing, in the form of temporal events whose spiritual significance was intelligible to their hearers as fulfilled within a generation of their prophesying. This stands in marked contrast to the literalistic, far-futuristic, science-fiction caricatures that – through our collective cultural amnesia – have pervaded our public discourse on prophecy and eschatology.

Join me right here at the Presence blog next week as we look at five more Hebrew biblical examples of God’s comings in history.

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Part 4

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In this series, we’ve been exploring the Bible’s rich, haunting, and sometimes-confusing language of trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations.

What I’m suggesting is that just as Jesus’ “coming on the clouds” was a symbolic way of speaking about the spiritual meaning of first-century temporal events, so there are other recorded “cloud comings”of God in history following a similar pattern. These can shed valuable light on an often-overlooked aspect of biblical prophetic speech.

Last week we looked at several of these cosmic occurrences – predicted and fulfilled – in ancient Israel’s history. This week we’ll examine several more examples that take place during the time of Israel’s exile.

God Comes to Judge Egypt in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC

The day is near, even the day of the LORD is near; It will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come upon Egypt, and anguish will be in Ethiopia; When the slain fall in Egypt…And they will know that I am the LORD, when I set a fire in Egypt…I will also make the hordes of Egypt cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the most ruthless of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land; and they will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. (Ezekiel 30:3-4,8, 10-11)

Notice the “Day of the Lord” mentioned here is a local judgment – or war – on Egypt. According to the author of Ezekiel, God says the acts of Nebuchadnezzar are really from him, and God intends to make his presence in that war known. The army is used as an instrument of judgment in God’s hand to judge Egypt, just as the Roman army was used to judge Jerusalem.

God Comes to Judge Edom in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC

YHWH is enraged against all the nations, and angry with all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them…the stench of their dead bodies will come up; and the mountains will melt in their blood. All of the host of heaven will be dissolved. The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll, and all its armies will fade away, as a leaf fades from off a vine or a fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven. Behold, it will come down on Edom, and on the people of my curse, for judgment. Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood… a great slaughter in the land of Edom…For YHWH has a day of vengeance…From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34: 2-6, 8-10)

Notice that Jesus quotes from this passage in Isaiah when Jesus prophesies the Destruction of Jerusalem to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Isaiah says that the whole host of heaven will be destroyed, the very sky will be rolled up like a scroll and God’s sword will be bathed with blood and in the sky. This is cosmic and universal-sounding language describing local events with spiritual implications.

God Comes to Judge Israel at the Time of the Babylonian Exile – 500s BC

…I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face… All flesh shall see that I, YHWH, have kindled it…Thus says YHWH: Behold, I am against you, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. …all flesh shall know that I, YHWH, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath.

(Ezekiel 20:33-35,47-48; 21:3-5, emphasis mine)

Behold, [God] goes up like clouds

And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, That you may be saved…I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void;

And to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,

And all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness,

And all its cities were pulled down Before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, The whole land shall be a desolation,

Yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it. At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees;

They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, And no man dwells in them. And you, O desolate one, what will you do?

(Jeremiah 4:13-14, 23-30)

Notice the references back to creation. Is the prophet saying that God is going to terraform the planet? No. This is poetic and apocalyptic language to describe a war – the end of the world as they knew it.

God Comes To Judge Ancient Babylon Using the Medes – 500s BC

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity…

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished. See, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

(Isaiah 13:6-11, 13,15-19, emphasis mine)

Is this verse saying that the earth was blasted with asteroids and falling stars? Were the sun, moon and stars all destroyed so that they wouldn’t shine anymore? Did the earth come out of its usual orbit and shake?

No.

This is apocalyptic and symbolic language describing the shaking of the political powers of a nation – specifically, the ramifications of the Medes on the social, political and religious order of Babylon. The ‘heaven and earth’ or ‘sun, moon and stars’ language here refers to the shaking political order of the nation itself, just like the symbols you see on a nation’s flag today – a red sun for Japan, an earth for Brazil, the crescent moon and star for Islam, the 50 stars for the States of America. All universally recognized national, political and religious symbols. This same use of symbols in language is present in Biblical times.

God Comes During the Maccabean Period

For I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim; and I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man. YHWH shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord YHWH will blow the trumpet, and will go with whirlwinds of the south. YHWH of Hosts will defend them; and they shall devour, and shall tread down the sling-stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar. YHWH their God will save them in that day (Zechariah 9:13-16)

Bows and Arrows, Swords and Slings, Wine and Bowls, and altars. Battle meets ritual in this prophetic depiction of war.

I hope the biblical-language paradigm of using symbolic language to uncover the spiritual meaning of  this-worldly symbolic Divine appearings is plain now. Temporal events were interpreted according to their inner significance to the soul of a nation, in a way that their original hearers understood. This stands in marked contrast to the woodenly literal, endlessly-deferred, sci-fi interpretations that – through pious repetition – have lit up our airways, bookstores, and movie screens with tales of a highly abstract future woe.

Riley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blog, at Living the Question.

 

12 Responses to What is a “Coming of God?”

  1. Rachel says:

    Riley,

    All I want to do, after reading several of your blog posts, is sit down, grab a coffee, and have a long, illuminating, and deep theological discussion with you. Your insights amaze me. I’m at the cusp of just trashing it all…my faith that is…after 20 years of mainline to evangelical Protestantism followed by the last 10 of Catholicism, I feel spiritually spent. Then I found your blog. Thank God is all I can say. My husband, who I completely adore, doesn’t hold my same fascination with christian theology and philosophy. Come to think of it, many of my friends don’t either. Well, those who do are very set in their theological paradigms. So, I never get to hash this stuff out with anyone. Nice to know I can read the fruits of your hashing.

    Pax,
    Rachel

    • Riley says:

      Wow! Thank you Rachel for your encouragement! I’m glad you are still seeking…there is so much good in theology and spirituality to learn and experience. Who else are you reading these days? Who has helped you in your journey?

      • Rachel says:

        Gosh, Riley,
        I’ve been reading everything: from traditional Catholic and Protestant, to progressive Christian, to atheist authors. Authors historical and present. And of course the Bible. I feel like I’m reading and studying myself into Deism. And then some days it all seems too fantastical like Arthurian Legends. Then I think, this is all crazy man made stuff…every last religion. There is so much infighting in all 3 of the great Abrahamic faiths. One would think there would be a bit more unity. Then when it comes to Jesus, you have people saying historical Christianity is where it’s at, fire and brimstone stuff. Then some go so progressive that they deny the resurrection that you wonder why they’d be Christians at all. For 30 years I’ve dedicated myself to some form of Christianity and now I’m wondering if it was all for naught. Just realize this sounds very Debbie Downer, but as a theology loving kindred, you might understand. ~Rachel

  2. Angie says:

    Riley – I was ingrained with the pre-tribulation rapture kind of teaching. I have been exploring the preteristic views on your site to compare them. I have a relative who got into an end times cult, not a mainstream denomination, that got me realizing the dangers of some of that line of teaching & why I started looking closer at those beliefs. I also see that line of belief generating animosity & harm that doesn’t really reflect the way of Jesus nor how Jesus treated people. I asked another Christian if they knew about preterism & their difficulty with it is that the peaceful lion laying down with the lamb & no more tears nor sickness existence hasn’t been fulfilled. How is that viewed under preterism? And what is yet to be fulfilled? Thank you

    • Riley says:

      Thanks for sharing. Those images of lion and lamb were covenantal metaphors depicting Jesus’ work of destroying enmity between God and man. Jesus is all and all now – he is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. He destroyed “the sin” and “the death” of Adam, which, if you study this further, you see it was spiritual or relational death that Adam died in the day he ate the fruit. Separation from God – not physical death. He lived hundreds of years physically after eating the fruit. But he was not yet made alive in Christ or Resurrected with him yet like we are today. Also to understand the crying and tears that the bible is talking about, look at the OT book called crying — Lamentations! Written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet! Why was Israel crying? Bc they kept breaking the law and being separated from Gods presence and blessing. In Jesus there is no more law, he is the end or fulfillment of the law, as Pail says, “all the ordinances of the law are fulfilled in Christ”, so we do not cry with Israel anymore. We rejoice bc God has come and made his home with us, among us and in us now! These are covenantal prophecies speaking apocalyptically about the redemptive work if Christ. If one is looking for them to be literally fulfilled so that you can have utopia on earth I believe you are missing the true meaning and looking to the wrong things. Jesus did not promise utopia or escapism but promised his presence with us during our lives on earth so we can call on him to dry our physical tears and also show up for each other to be the body and dry each other’s tears with compassion and gestures that bring healing. I hope this makes some sense. It’s a more consistent explanation keeping closely with the categories of Scripture and the story of our spiritual and relational redemption.
      And the future? I think that as more and more people come to embrace the view that God is all in all now, there will be a tipping point when it actually will change the world and the way we relate to each other so that the lions of war will lay down with the lambs of peace and cathartic restoration and even physical renewal will happen. But it will not happen bc jesus breaks into the world on a white horse– it will happen bc he breaks into the world through OUR hearts and minds and actions. We are his method to change the madness into glory.

    • Angie, I will also say that as you begin to study this view more intently and, in particular, begin to view the wider criticisms lodged against it, you will almost instantly begin to see a distinct pattern in them. Almost every argument made against the Fulfilled Covenant or Covenant Eschatology view falls into the realm of demanding literal, physical fulfillments for Hebrew scriptures that are of a decidedly figurative, and spiritual nature. People today suffer from the very same paradigmatic problems that Jews in the 1st century did….they want everything to be fulfilled temporally, literally, physically. Why? Because, for the most part, people today are carnally and temporally minded.

      Romans 8:5-6 [KJV]
      For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

      The Bible plainly says that the temporal things of the Old Covenant “world” or “age” were merely types and shadows of the heavenly things that Christ would bring when he came into his Kingdom.

      Hebrews 9:19-28 [KJV]
      For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

      Colossians 2:13-16 [KJV]
      Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

      Hebrews 8:1-7 [KJV]
      Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

      Though many will refuse to see it, both the scriptures and the temporal historical record DEMAND that the Kingdom was plainly finalized at AD70. Just like the 1st centry Jews, those who claim to be modern day Jews are demanding a literal, physical “temple” to be rebuilt. But this flies in the face of ALL of Paul’s teachings and that of the other apostles. Paul said the “Mystery of God” was being revealed in the gospel which the apostles all preached. And this “Mystery” was that the REAL TEMPLE of God was to NOT to be made with human hands, hewn out of temporal stones…rather, it was to be made with “lively stones” of human hearts built up into a house BY FAITH, fit to be the chosen dwelling place for our God.

      Romans 16:25-26 [KJV]
      Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

      Ephesians 3:3-5 [KJV]
      How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

      And what, exactly, IS the “Mystery of God?”

      Ephesians 1:9-10 [KJV]
      Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

      And further clarified…

      Ephesians 2:13-22 [KJV]
      But now in Christ Jesus ye [Gentiles] who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both [Jews and Gentiles] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you [Gentiles] which were afar off, and to them [the Jews] that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

      So then, the “Mystery of God” involves the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles together in CHRIST, making one “New Man” from both groups. Resulting in a new body being formed and making up the “household of God” and “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

      Compare this with what Peter also says:

      1 Peter 2:4-10 [KJV]
      To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

      The Mystery of God is the reconciliation of all men unto God through CHRIST into ONE NEW MAN, the Body of Christ, which is the REAL TEMPLE OF GOD. The Jerusalem Temple made of human hands was destined to be torn down because it prevented us from coming into the Holy of Holies and communing with God in Christ.

      Hebrews 9:6-10 [KJV]
      Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

      Isaiah 66:1-2 [KJV]
      Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

      Acts 17:24 [KJV]
      God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

  3. Kim says:

    I stumbled upon your blog and LOVE it! I wish I had a week to do nothing but read :). I guess I’ll need to take it slowly. Over the past 5 or so years, everything I thought I knew from growing up in the church has been challenged. My faith was at first shaken but has grown stronger for it. You’re posts are fabulous! Have you written anything on the role of women in the church in light of Paul’s teaching? After reading your post about H.E.A.R.T., I am wondering if my perspective on that should change as well.

    • Riley says:

      Hi Kim,
      Wow! Thank you so much for your encouragement! I’m SO glad you found my articles to be helpful.

      I have not posted anything on Paul and women yet. My own views on this topic have evolved quite a lot over the past five years. Yes the hearts hermeneutics helps. And do do some other things. I do think women should feel free to follow their gifts, calling and desire to lead in ministry. I think, in short, the two verses cited against this were addressed to one congregation of first century worshiped because they were speaking to them in their particular situation. They were not making a mandate for all women for all time. Certainly the trajectory of all of Jesus, Paul and the NT is toward more and more equality – and that was written before the Parousia, so when a vestige of the law was still present and yet fading. After the Parousia, that remnant was fulfilled and passed away. And, I believe the limitations on women did too. Now there is no make or female in Christ. Ministry should be the last place we hold anyone back, especially women.
      Lastly, even if this is not convincing to some, on a more practical level, really, I’m pretty sure God has bigger fish to fry in the world than complaining that women are wanting to serve in ministry TOO MUCH. REALLY? If we think that, in light of all the pain and injustice in the world – like the millions MILLIONS (!!!) of children that are right now dying under the weight of slavery, back breaking work in factories, homes and brick kilns, and horrifically as forced sex slaves serving 30 people a day until they’re used up and disease ridden teens and die from exhaustion — and some well equipped, educated and deeply compassionate women want to work for beans in ministry in a church and shepherd the hearts of Christians into caring more about the plight of the abused and forgotten in society and shake the rest of us out of our first world slumber – if you think God is sitting back whining and angry about how awful it is that they’re just not men… THINK AGAIN!! Really.
      I think God is happy that anyone would want to delve into the overwhelming amount of work cut out for people in ministry. He has bigger fish to fry than caring about how a few of his most dedicated servants aren’t male.

      • Don says:

        Riley,
        Thanks for all your work, I have learned much for your post and others on this site.
        I have 1 question and 1 comment.
        Question: The end time (our day) destruction Jesus described, Can you expound on this ? Where does the USA fit in and what about the gathering of Israel (the 10 tribes are Israel) and the conversion of Judah at the again destruction of Jerusalem.

        Now for a controversial comment : What if I said Paul was a false teacher and the beginning of the divisions we see today in Christians ? Does Christ tell me to follow Paul (as he suggested) or any other man. When Jesus came he answered many questions but when he left he had created more questions. When he was on earth Gods Spirit was here and brought truth when he was resurrected and physically left, he sent the Holy Ghost to communicate with us.
        Paul presumed to answer all unanswered questions and even provided answers that were ask. Why should I follow Paul or try to unravel his mind twisting explanations. Paul cannot be an .Apostle, go to Acts and read the requirement to be an Apostle. They were witnesses of his life, teachings, death and resurrection, this was their message and Paul witnessed none of these. Paul was ordained at Antioch at the same time as Barnabas, read the Book of Barnabas, he and Paul were companions for a short time but separated over doctrine, Paul described or assumed himself to be a Apostle and ego told him he was not the least of them. All or most Christian Churches today are based on Paul’s teachings and not on Jesus’s.
        Jesus actually warned Peter about a future figure that would lead him astray. Go to “Peter lovest tho me” this was repeated 3 times, Key on the link at the bottom and read v 15, 16, 17, 18 and be aware v 19 is not part of the original conversation but is an editors comment or a translators insert to reflect their own view, really it was the devil concealing his agent.
        Now key on the Strong’s for the original Greek word used for love and the answer comes, Peter loved Jesus as a brother not Unconditional Godly love and Jese said because of this another will lead you astray, and who did he follow and where did he die and who proclaims to have his body entombed and proclaims proof that he was their first Bishop.
        Jesus also warned that he (Jesus) would come and be rejected but another would come in his own name and him they would follow.
        Kim, The nice lady above, relax you are doing as Jesus would have, forget Paul and recognize him for what he is and was.
        Most rely on Paul as it is easy and not necessary to search and pray for the truth, we are mostly lazy, but there is a big price tag on this one.
        Try reading only Jesus’s teachings and a whole new message appears,

        If you cannot key to open the scripture load this link in your browser

        https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jhn/21/15/ss1/s_1018015

        Jhn 21:15

        So G3767 when G3753 they had dined, G709 Jesus G2424 saith G3004 to Simon G4613 Peter, G4074 Simon, G4613 son of Jonas, G2495 lovest thou G25 me G3165 more than G4119 these? G5130 He saith G3004 unto him, G846 Yea, G3483 Lord; G2962 thou G4771 knowest G1492 that G3754 I love G5368 thee. G4571 He saith G3004 unto him, G846 Feed G1006 my G3450 lambs. G721

        Sorry guys, lots of study to learn this
        your friend don

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