Preterism and the Gospels: Part 7, Prophet of Love and Peace and Prophet of Apocalyptic Doom

I've been taking us through a preterist reading of the gospels, keen to trace out the eschatological imagination of Jesus.


I've mentioned how liberal and conservative Christians tend to pick and choose their way around Jesus. Liberals thrill to Jesus' message of love and care for the "least of these." Conservatives, by contrast, point out that Jesus liked to preach about hellfire and brimstone.

Two Jesuses, pick your flavor.

Our preterist reading of the gospels helps us overcome this liberal/conservative divide.

Specifically, as we've seen, Jesus was preaching both messages.

On the one hand, Jesus was preaching the advent of the kingdom, but an "upside down" kingdom that eschewed the "will to power" that was motivating the violent impulse to overthrow the Romans. The kingdom, Jesus said, was already available, but in humble and small ways. The kingdom comes when we welcome children, care for the least of these, forgive each other and bless our enemies. This is how the reign of God is established on earth. And this is the material that liberals tend to focus on in the gospels.

And yet, this kingdom proclamation was being proclaimed by Jesus at a time of crisis. If Israel heeded Jesus' message it would be spared and saved. Israel would fulfill her vocation, to be a light and blessing unto the nations, a city set on a hill that would call the nations to Zion and the worship of God. But if Israel rejected its vocation and persisted in its "will to power" it remained under the thrall of Satan and would only bring bloodshed, darkness and violence to earth. Israel would self-destruct.

And so Jesus sounded the alarm and gave dire warnings. These warnings grew in intensity and urgency as opposition to Jesus mounted, culminating in Jesus' lamentation over Jerusalem in the last days of his life.

This is the material of judgment that threads all through the gospels, the material conservatives grab to point out that Jesus routinely talked about a place called "hell" where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But with our preterist reading of the gospels we see this material regarding judgment in a different light. The "Judgment Day" Israel was facing wasn't some personal moral accounting that individuals have to face after death to determine if they are bound for an eternity in a place called heaven or hell.

Israel's "Judgment Day" was today, the moment of choice upon hearing Jesus' gospel message. Salvation and the kingdom of God was available today, right here and right now, in our midst. Repent and believe the good news, or face the dark and dire consequences.

That was John the Baptist's message. And that was Jesus' message.

All this is neatly summarized in the gospel of Luke in Jesus' lamentation over Jerusalem:
Luke 19.41-44
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.”
Jesus was Israel's judgment day, the time of her visitation. As promised by the prophets, YHWH had returned as the Good Shepherd to gather up the lost and scattered sheep of Israel. The Sower was sowing His seed and some of that seed was falling on good soil. The prodigal sons in the far country, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were returning home. As promised by the prophets, the glory of YHWH had returned to tabernacle among His people. From Cana onward, the wine of the wedding banquet was beginning to flow. The kingdom of God had come.

But Israel refused to learn the things that make for peace. And in refusing peace Israel would now face enemies who would tear the nation down.

That was the choice, and it remains the choice.

Learn the things that make for peace or walk the path toward cataclysm.

This is how you avoid the liberal/conservative picking and choosing to appreciate the whole of Jesus' message.

Jesus was both/and, prophet of love and peace and prophet of apocalyptic doom.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply