Last week I wrote about preterism and the work of N.T. Wright.
Specifically, we discussed how when Jesus speaks about a coming judgment, especially in his Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21), he wasn't talking about an otherworldly hell but about the destruction of Jerusalem. As N.T. Wright has observed, "in those famous passages in the Gospels, Jesus is talking not about the end of the world but about the fall of Jerusalem."
In a comment to that post a reader asked the following question:
"If Jesus was simply telling people not to rebel against Rome, how is that relevant to us today? Or should we not try to find personal relevance in the words of Jesus?"
That's a great question, one I wrote about last year:
Again, as scholars like N.T. Wright have pointed out Jesus seemed acutely aware that his people were on a lethal collision course with Rome. If Israel did not repent, if Israel did not listen, she was going to revisit the catastrophe when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. It was all going to happen again, Jesus prophesied. History was repeating itself.
Only this time it would be Rome dropping the hammer.
Jesus saw it coming. And he tried to stop it. But he had failed. And it brought him to tears.
Luke 19.41-44Jesus's lament over Jerusalem helps us unpack how Jesus saw his mission, what he meant when he proclaimed "the Kingdom of God."
And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Specifically, why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem? It was because Jerusalem had failed to learn "the things that make for peace." And because Jerusalem had failed to respond to Jesus's kingdom proclamation--had failed to learn the things that make for peace, failed to learn that the Kingdom of God was "in their midst"--Jerusalem had set herself on a path of destruction.
What I find important in these observations is how Jesus's teachings regarding salvation and judgment are rooted in the concrete and historical conflict between Jerusalem and Rome. Jesus's kingdom proclamation wasn't about an otherworldly heaven and hell. The kingdom was about learning "the things that make for peace" in this world. Responding to Jesus's message was learning that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, "in our midst."
Repent and turn back from the path of self-destruction. Learn the things that make for peace.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Relatedly, let's again note that the judgment Jesus spoke of--that place of weeping and the gnashing of teeth--wasn't hell. This was the judgment that Jesus wept over: violent death in this world. Jesus wept that those living by the sword in this world would continue dying by the sword. The "coming judgment" was a personal and communal annihilation because a people had failed to learn "the things that make for peace."
And it seems to me that Jesus's message--his proclamation of the kingdom and judgment--is extraordinarily relevant to this day. Perhaps even more so.
With Jesus we continue to weep over a world that refuses to learn "the things that make for peace." Interpersonally, socially, economically, politically, and ecologically.
The Kingdom of God is in our midst. May we repent and be saved from destruction.