Which Jesus Are We Talking About?



Brian McLaren states on page 143, of All Things Must Change, the following:
“I’m not thinking of the fictitious Jesus of the Da Vinci Code, nor of any of the manifold Jesuses evoked by the various Gnostic Gospels. I’m thinking of a certain portrait we could call the “Second Coming Jesus,” a Jesus evoked by a certain eschatology or theory of the future.

A friend of mine, referring to how groups form and behave, says, “Architecture always wins,” meaning that people’s behavior is always shaped by the spaces in which they gather. Theologically, I think we could say, “Eschatology always wins.”

Far from being an esoteric and speculative distraction, our beliefs about the end toward which things are moving profoundly and practically shape our present behavior. This is especially true in regard to violence and war, and is one of the reasons many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly. The implications for, say, military policy (not to mention church politics) are not hard to imagine.

The phrase “Second Coming of Christ” never actually appears in the Bible. Whether or not the doctrine to which the phrase refers deserves rethinking, a popular abuse of it certainly needs to be named and rejected. If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn’t his “real” and decisive coming — it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing — then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture. This vision reflects a deconversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight. This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we’ve said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.

If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so-called redemptive violence in the end. The gentle Jesus of the first coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of a violent second coming.

This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral. By way of ignorance, they are oblivious to the conventions of Jewish Apocalyptic literature in particular, and literature of the oppressed in general. As a result, they wrongly — one might even say ridiculously — interpret obviously metaphorical language as literal. For example, they misread Revelation 19:15, where Jesus, in a blood-stained robe, “strikes down the nations” using a sword; they fail to notice that the sword comes out of his mouth — a rather unmistakable case of symbolism to a reasonable adult reader. I would think, unless he imagines Jesus actually thrashing his head around, slinging a sword between his teeth like a giant cigar of mass destruction.

In light of the literary conventions of both literature of the oppressed in
general and Jewish apocalyptic in particular, and assuming that Jesus’
coming as told in the Gospels was not a fake-me-out coming, but actually was the climactic revelation of God as the New Testament seems to affirm (Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4), Jesus'”striking down the nations” with a sword “coming out of his mouth” has a very different meaning. Jesus’ word — the unarmed truth of the gospel of the kingdom — is the force that overcomes “the kingdom of this world,” the dominant system, the suicide machine. It conquers not with physical weapons but with a message of justice (Revelation 19:11), and the blood on Jesus’ robe is not the blood of his enemies, but his own blood (12:11, cf. 5:6).

Read in this way, we don’t have a violent “Second Coming” Jesus who finishes what the gentle “First Coming” Jesus failed to do, but we have a poetic description of the way the gentle First Coming Jesus powerfully overcomes through his nonviolent “weakness” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25), a prince of peace whose word of reconciliation is truly mightier than Caesar’s sword.” [Brian McLaren, ALL THINGS MUST CHANGE, pages 143-145]

Where is the Prince of Peace? Which Jesus Christ are we promoting, or living out? I for one went through a long ongoing transformation that began at age 14, when my dad gave me Calvin’s Institutes. This lead to my not being brainwashed by my Pentecostal brothers and sisters as insistent as they were that I dot every “i” and cross every “t” of Pentecostalism. Part of that journey was the rejection of Pre-Millenialism, and embracing first Post-Millenialism and then a form of Amillenialism, and then a complete Preterist view of the “end of the times,” that culminated with the destruction of the Temple, the sacking of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Judean people in AD 70. This went hand in hand with my battle with pacifism, having been a soldier for 8 years, it was not an easy struggle, but I discovered the Prince of Peace and the Way of Peace as a lifestyle, that revealed the essence of the Upside Down Kingdom, the very heart beat of what is the Kingdom of God.

Re-reading over and again, what Brian has written, has really convinced me that if the body of Christ to be both biblical, and relevant to the culture, and not its own resounding embarrassment to the oppressed and a voice of conscience against injustice, poverty and oppression, then it must not only rediscover this Jesus of the “First Coming,” the One who came as the Prince of Peace, but must likewise rediscover the radical nature of the Early Church that stood in opposition to the “suicide machine” of the oppressor, the Roman Emperor. North American Christianity, and I include Canada here, is revealing just how enmeshed the Evangelical community is with right wing politics and the government agenda in its foreign, and domestic social policies, as well as the economic agenda of the mega corporations and their sphere of influence. It is time to break Jesus free from the control of the current “imperium” that makes Jesus out to be a war monger rather than a Prince of Peace.

How can we best embody the ideals and values of Jesus, the Prince of Peace? Perhaps first by evaluating our own lives and contexts, where Jesus is not really shining His life through aspects of our own living. Do we embrace violence, by embracing and viewing with regularity violent TV programs, and Hollywood block busters that are filled with gratuitous violence? What kind of hypocritical message are we sending to others, when we watch what everyone watches, and yet supposedly live the ethic of another Kingdom? Do we support and are we involved in issues of social and economic social justice? Are we involved in the peace movements opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? How can we support these wars and even how our governments are running this “war on terror” by using violence in our name? Why can we not stand in the way, as Christ would and envision and live out an alternative to the violence, the way of peace?

My prayer and my hope as a Christian, one that embraces the emergent values, and sees the need for a radical reformation of the Church, not only in how it expresses itself (I have embraced the house church model as the most basic and simple reflection of the Early Church), but how it speaks to itself and to the world and the issues facing our world. I encourage you to examine, de-construct, and review once more what Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God, and then asking Him to re-construct and re-shape that understand and how to live out that reality in your day to day living.

Cheers,
Sam

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About Sam Buick

A lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. Married to my best friend, Lori-Anne. Father to 3 incredible daughters, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn, and sons-in-law Alex, and Stephen Davis. An avid reader, a Droid user, a Mac addict, a lover of footy ball and football (there is a difference), and hockey. Once a soldier. Once a youth worker. Once an ordained minister. Once a claims adjuster. Once a charismatic, now a pacifist. A disciple of Christ, Gospel of grace proclaimer, pursuing union with Christ. There is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus unites, dogma divides.
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